Is Alcohol Really The Enemy?

Joe DynesBlog

The festive season is upon us and with it comes a diary jam packed with parties and dinners where, no doubt, there will be the opportunity to enjoy the odd tipple or two. With alcohol long portrayed as the enemy of health and fitness this post will delve into the reasons why this is a valid portrayal.

For a large number of clients the main goal is to either lose weight or to keep off weight that they have already lost and, as we already know, this relies not only on exercise but also on the meticulous tracking of calories. So, with that being said, let’s start by looking at how many calories are in your drink of choice:

Large glass of white wine    187kcal
Small glass of red wine    160kcal
Glass of champagne    90kcal
Pint of lager    220kcal
Gin (Shot)    60kcal
Whiskey (shot)    72kcal
Vodka (shot)    72kcal


As you can see, it doesn’t take a lot of drinks to really start seeing the calories add up and before you know it you’re daily calorie limit has been long surpassed with little to show for it. Further to alcohol being high in calories, it offers very little nutritional value. You will have heard the term “empty calories” being used in relation to alcohol which means it is providing your body with energy (calories) without delivering any nutrients such as vitamins or minerals.

Surely alcohol’s super villain status wasn’t earned just from the emptiness of its calories; what about the effect it has on the body in relation to exercise? Let’s look at the way the body responds to alcohol and how this can have an adverse effect on exercise.

Firstly, the consumption of alcohol interferes with the body’s energy systems – when the body is metabolising alcohol, the liver is unable to maintain it’s levels of glucose production. This means that less energy can be delivered to the muscles, resulting in slower movement and decreased intensity. Further to this, the liver will be less effective at removing lactic acid produced from exercise so intense exercise may be more painful than normal.

Whilst you hopefully won’t be exercising after drinking, if your body is still breaking down alcohol from the night before, you won’t be able to train as effectively and those calories you drank last night will not be getting used up through exercise as much as you think.

In addition to this, as most of you will know, alcohol is a diuretic and can cause dehydration which in turn has adverse effects on exercise. This is because the body needs to be hydrated in order to maintain the flow of blood around it. When you are dehydrated, the reduced blood flow will result in less oxygen, glucose and all the other nutrients that blood carries, being delivered to the muscles. Again, this will reduce performance during a workout meaning you do not get the same benefits had you not been drinking.

Now lets look at alcohols effect on sleep. Whilst alcohol is a depressant and can help to send you off to sleep more quickly, it also contributes to lower quality sleep as it blocks REM sleep patterns. Disrupted sleep patterns will not only have you waking up feeling groggy and tired, but in the long term can lead to an increase in the secretion of cortisol, a hormone that can have adverse affects as explained in Pete’s post 8 Natural Ways to Lower Cortisol. Maintaining sufficient levels of sleep is well documented as being of extreme importance in health and fitness and alcohol’s negative affect on it rightly contributes to alcohols portrayal as the enemy.

It is also the activities complementary to drinking alcohol that lead to adverse health effects, namely, less than perfect eating. Take, for example, the humble half time pie at a football or rugby match; would it have looked so appealing had several pints of beer not been consumed or would it have been left sweating in it’s plastic wrapper behind the counter? These eating habits are caused by something known as the “aperitif effect” where alcohol induces the brain into starvation mode, causing food cravings.

With all of that being said, it would be unfair to say that alcohol is going to ruin all health and fitness endeavors and not allow full potential to be realised. There are many other habits that arguably have the same, if not bigger, detriment to health and fitness. For example, smart phone usage can be linked to a multitude of issues such as inactivity, poor diet and poor posture. The saying “everything in moderation” couldn’t be better suited to drinking alcohol – enjoying one or two drinks with friends every now and then can be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle that promotes balance, helping to prevent the “all or nothing” approach to health and fitness.

Enjoy the holidays,
Joe D

Joe Dynes

Personal Trainer at PGPT
With a varied sporting background that includes basketball, rugby and cross-country to name just a few, Joe’s passion for sport and exercise progressed him naturally from participant to trainer. Experience coaching CrossFit underpins Joe’s training style that focuses heavily on impeccable technique whilst still delivering interesting and highly varied sessions that will bring it your very best and help you achieve your goals.

Favourite film: Jarhead
Favourite food: Panang Curry

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With a varied sporting background that includes basketball, rugby and cross-country to name just a few, Joe’s passion for sport and exercise progressed him naturally from participant to trainer. Experience coaching CrossFit underpins Joe’s training style that focuses heavily on impeccable technique whilst still delivering interesting and highly varied sessions that will bring it your very best and help you achieve your goals. Favourite film: Jarhead Favourite food: Panang Curry