Alcohol and Progress in the Gym

Over the holidays, many opportunities to have a drink with friends and family arise. There is a lot of misunderstanding around alcohol and how it works in the body. In this article we will attempt to clue you up on how alcohol is dealt with by the body, what to do after drinking a little too much, and when you should just say no.


Do alcohol calories count?

Although it may be easy to pretend that liquids are calorie free, as large volumes can be consumed so quickly and easily, this is certainly not true. Alcohol can be considered the fourth macro. At 7.1kcal/gram, it is denser than both carbs and proteins, and can quickly decimate your daily intake if you can put away several pints in a night. When alcohol is present inside the body, it oxidises faster than any other macronutrient. What this means is that, before your body can process any other calories that you have consumed, it must burn off the alcohol. Protein, carbs and finally fat will follow- making us especially vulnerable to storing the fat as adipose tissue in this state, thereby making the term 'beer belly' scarily accurate. Further making us more susceptible to fat gain, there are clear links between alcohol consumption and craving ‘junk foods’, such as a takeaway on the way home or bags of crisps and pork scratchings in the pub.

Short term indications?

Assuming an isolated occasion of binge drinking, you can expect to experience the following side effects, among others, in the next day or so:

  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhoea
  • Weakened immune system for up to 24 hours
  • Inflamed stomach affecting ability to digest food
  • Sickness

All of these, for a trained individual, likely mean an inability to get to the gym and a higher likelihood of continuing to indulge in comforting, convenient foods.


So, is it worth it?

There is no reason why someone shouldn’t enjoy one alcoholic drink, or whatever they know they can tolerate personally and still feel well, on occasion. This prevents any of the above health effects and allows you to enjoy time with friends and family. As for the calories, someone who tracks macros may choose to plan their drinks and subtract the calories from their fat or carb requirements. For general health conscious individuals, I would recommend eating enough protein and vegetables throughout the day and going a little lighter on fats and carbs to keep your energy balance closer to normal and avoid feelings of guilt in the aftermath.


What to do after

Many hangover side effects come from dehydration. Electrolyte drinks and vitamin supplements should help to ease some of this.


About the Author

Savannah Westerby, BSc Sport and Exercise Nutrition. IG:@savannahwesterby
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