Alcohol, fitness and balancing weight gain.

Alcohol Exercise and weightgain

So we're nearly at the end of Dry January.  How did you do?  Whether you managed a few days, a week or the whole month, CONGRATULATIONS!!!!

It's definitely been the most challenging Dry January I've experienced but it's also been so wonderful talking to ladies about their different approaches, I've heard Damp Jan, Dry-ish Jan, Nearly Dry Jan and Dry at the Weekends Jan! It's been an incredible and thought provoking month.

So what's next?
Whilst the focus on the booze for January often changes at the end of the month our enthusiasm to keep up with an exercise pattern can keep going into February. That said, whether you used to be a fitness fanatic or you had bursts of enthusiasm and then periods of less intense activity, lockdown has certainly disrupted all of our exercise regimes.

Here's the answer to a few questions I've been asked about alcohol, exercise and weight gain.

Why do we want to eat so much when we drink and what happens when we exercise after drinking, is that even good for us?

I used to think I could drink what I wanted as long as I exercised to counterbalance the calories and all would be well.  I also believed I could ‘sweat out the alcohol’ if I exercised the day after drinking and recover more quickly. But no matter how much I exercised it seemed weight loss eluded me and I just kept on piling on the pounds and (if I actually made it to the gym or the run I planned) I felt tired more quickly and often worse when I finished!

Why are these two myths so common and what is the reality?
I’ve since discovered alcohol actually erodes your fitness and there is a clearly documented link between drinking and obesity.

Myth 1: I can balance alcohol and my weight.

It is a medical fact that alcohol is an appetite stimulant. It not only causes us to feel hungrier but it numbs the triggers that tell us we’re full which causes us to overeat. I’ll never forget one drunken night when a friend stood at the food table, literally falling asleep standing up but was still putting her hand into the Pringles tube and eating the crisps at a steady pace on autopilot! It was very funny but she doesn’t remember a thing. 

All those calories just ended up being stored as fat! How do I know that? 

Here’s what I know to be true.
According to William Porter in his book Alcohol explained

  1. Alcohol can be used by the body as energy but it can’t be stored as fat. 
  2. Energy from food can be used by the body immediately if it is needed but if it isn’t it’s stored as fat.
  3. Alcohol causes deficiency in certain vitamins and nutrients
  4. Alcohol stimulates our appetite but anaesthetises the triggers that tell us when we have had enough
  5. It also impacts our sleep

So when we drink our appetite is stimulated and we think we’re hungry, so we eat. When we eat we don’t know when to stop because our triggers aren’t working properly so we eat way more than we need (or intend) to. Because alcohol calories can’t be stored we burn these first, food (and excess sugars from the alcohol) are stored as fat for use later.

The alcohol means we don’t absorb nutrients from the food we consume so we become nutrient deficient and crave more food in a bid to try to get what we need. On top of all that we don’t sleep well and end up suffering from tiredness. When your body is not rested properly it needs more energy and nutrients to compensate, so we eat more...again!

I know I got caught in this trap.  I’d be drinking and want to snack which would progress to ‘eating to soak up the alcohol’. Now I consider myself to be quite a groovy mover on the dance floor but there was no way I was burning off enough calories to balance consumption. I wouldn’t sleep well, would wake up exhausted the next day, and would crave all kinds of food to make myself feel better.  I now know the truth was I was nutrient deficient but the stuff I was eating as recovery food was definitely not full of the nutrients I needed!

Onto myth 2: I could sweat out the alcohol to help get rid of my hangover more quickly.

The general lethargy that drinking causes is a barrier to exercise in itself. Poor sleep, headache, churny tummy...we’ve all been there!
Nothing can help you recover from a hangover more quickly. Time (while your liver processes the alcohol which can only be done at your body’s pace, depending on your metabolism) is the only thing that can get you through.

Alcohol makes us produce more urine which dehydrates us and when we exercise we sweat which dehydrates us further. Whilst our liver is working extra hard to process the alcohol it is less able to produce glucose. This means we under-perform and feel increasingly exhausted which can also lead to muscle cramp. Plus, alcohol is a depressant so any mental health benefits from exercise may be lost.

If you plan to exercise, the best advice is to not drink the night before or stick to alcohol free alternatives. If you do drink, avoid the extra pressure on your body and stay at home to rest, repair and drink plenty of water to re-hydrate.

I hope this sheds some light on two myths I believed for years.  I lost 21lbs in weight just by taking a break from the booze, no extra exercise (unless you count ACTUALLY getting out with the dogs on a Sunday morning instead of recovering on the sofa!), no change in my food…..just not taking on the empty calories!

As always if you want to discuss or have anything you’d like to add regarding your experiences, head over to our community to share. See you there!

Claire xo 

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