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Effects of alcohol on weight loss & muscle recovery

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What is alcohol?

Alcohol is a compound made of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, produced from yeast ferment sugars. The amount of alcoholic content in a drink is determined by the amount of yeast and length of fermentation. Department of health advises that safe drinking levels for both men and women are 14 units per week. Effects of alcohol on weight loss and muscle recovery lye in the amount of units and calories within that drink. We will discuss this further in this article.

How to calculate alcohol units?

A lot of the time alcohol units are displayed on the alcohol bottles but if you do need to calculate this, you can use the following equation.  Firstly, multiply the total volume of your drink (ml) by its ABV (%) and dividing that by 1,000.

So for example, lets work out number of units in a pint (568ml) of strong lager (ABV 5.2%)  5.2 (%) x 568 (ml) / 1,000= 2.95 units (NHS, 2018).

If you hate maths, you can also use Alcohol Concern’s unit calculator that can be found on https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/alcohol-support/calculating-alcohol-units/

Why do I need to know how many units I drink?

Well apart from alcohol being one of the causes for cancer, strokes, liver disease, hypertension, coronary heart disease, reduced bone density, stomach ulcers, dementia and mental health problems, it also cause weight gain. Weight gain can lead to more illnesses and places more stress on your body’s defence systems.

How can alcohol cause weight gain?

Drinks, especially alcohol are overlooked because these are liquid and don’t necessarily fill you up. Therefore, you can drink so much liquid without realising when you’ve exceeded your daily calories. The main driver of weight gain is excess calories.

Moreover as said above, alcohol can cause weight gain by increasing your daily calorie intake. Therefore, to minimise weight gain caused by alcohol you need to know how many calories you can eat per day and how many calories you are drinking from alcohol to ensure you don’t exceed those daily calories.

How to calculate calories in alcohol?

To calculate calories in alcohol you firstly need to know how many units are in your drink which you learnt earlier in this article. Each unit of alcohol is 10ml and weighs 8g, and 1g of alcohol is 7 calories. With this information you can now calculate how many calories are in 1 unit.

1 unit = 56 calories (8g per unit x 7 calories per gram)

Although this seems to be quite low, please remember that the equation above only calculates pure alcohol, it does not include your mixers or any extras you can add to your drink. Also, don’t forget that you’ll probably have more than 1 drink that contains more than 1 unit so all these calories can truly add up to a high amount of calories.

For example, let’s take a hypothetical pint of strong lager which we calculated had 2.95 units of pure alcohol.

So we would multiply 2.95 by 8 = 23.6g.

Then, multiply 23.6 by 7 = 165.2 calories of pure alcohol.

To minimise weight gain from alcohol, you simply need to calculate how many calories you are consuming and control these calories so that you don’t exceed your total daily calorie allowance.

Solutions to cut down on alcohol

Solutions to cut down on alcohol may include:

  • Setting yourself a limit on how much you’ll drink on that night 
  • Spend a fixed amount of money on alcohol 
  • Let others know you are trying to cut down so they can support you 
  • Try smaller glasses to limit excess calories from juice 
  • Have a lower strength drink 
  • Stay hydrated and most importantly cut back gradually. Let’s be realistic, not all of us have strong wills to give up on our habits or things we simply enjoy from day-to-day.  

Alcohol may become a bigger problem during some uncertain times, like the corona virus so check out this great article that provides some further support on how to control your alcohol intake.

Effects of alcohol of muscle building and recovery

Large quantities of alcohol, 4-5 drinks, inhibit a gene called mTOR. MTOR is a gene that provides instructions for making a protein. This protein is one responsible for cell growth and recovery. In other words, mTOR gene supports muscle growth and recovery.  

Another way that alcohol affects muscle building and recovery is by inhibiting muscle protein synthesis. Muscle protein synthesis is a method by which our body uses the consumed protein to help our muscles recover and build stronger.  In other words, it impairs the signals that are responsible for muscle growth and rebuilding.

Therefore, if you exceed 4-5 drinks then your body will be very limited to how much muscle can be recovered and rebuilt.

Summary

To summarise, alcohol can have a great impact on your weight loss and weight gain if you don’t watch your calories. In addition to this, it has shown to limit your body’s ability to grow and recover muscle by impairing mTOR gene and Muscle Protein Synthesis. If you are unsure how many calories you can eat per day, you can use our macronutrient calculator that will help you calculate both daily calories and macronutrients.

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References 

Nhs.co.uk (2018). Alcohol Units [online] Nhs.co.uk Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/alcohol-support/calculating-alcohol-units/ [Accessed 25 April 2019] 

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