Christmas drinking

Santa beer belly
It’s that time of year again when people begin consuming significantly more alcohol than they do during the rest of the year, especially if you’re British. So, how will this affect all the progress you’ve been making with the exercise and nutrition program you’ve been following in the months leading up to Christmas?

First of all, it’s good to be aware of the amount of calories alcohol contains: 7 calories per gram (compared with 4 per gram of carbohydrate or protein, and 9 per gram of fat). This is why although a lite beer may only contain 2.5 grams of carbs, it still packs 100 calories due to the alcohol content.

What can be worse than the alcohol itself is the stuff you mix it with – sugary sodas that can mean one drink contains 300+ calories. More than a few of these in one session can mean you’re getting close to your daily calorie quota in drinks alone.

And as anyone who has experienced post-drinking munchies already knows, it’s not just the calories from the drinks that you need to worry about. “You have to remember that alcohol lowers your blood sugar, making you hungry,” says Sian Porter, consultant dietician and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association. “The more you drink the more your desire to eat may increase, and the less likely you are to eat sensibly.”

Unfortunately, the calories aren’t the only cause for concern…

When alcohol enters your body, fat burning literally shuts down. Your body perceives it as a toxin and needs to break it down and burn it up before it can start using your fat stores for energy again. The more you drink, the longer this takes. One binge-drinking session can therefore stop your body metabolising fat for a significant period of time.

One way to counter all these extra calories consumed and slowed down metabolism of fats is to do more exercise. However, if you’re doing resistance training to increase your lean muscle mass (in order to burn more calories while you’re resting), your recovery will actually be impaired if you consume alcohol. This is because it slows down the synthesis of protein, meaning your muscles can’t repair themselves as effectively.

Experiments have shown that protein synthesis in skeletal muscle decreased by 39% in rats injected with alcohol (compared with saline-injected control animals). Meaning the benefits you should be getting from following your resistance training program and protein-rich diet may in fact be significantly reduced.

In conclusion, the more alcohol you consume, the more your ability to burn fat will be affected. This doesn’t mean to say that you can’t have a few drinks in moderation over Christmas. But it does mean that if you’re serious about fat loss then giving it up for a month or so will definitely help. Something to consider for January maybe!