One Drink Of Alcohol A Week Can Significantly Reduce Fat Loss 15

One drink of alcohol a week inhibits fat loss

Just One Drink Of Alcohol A Week Can Significantly Reduce Fat Loss


Can just one drink of alcohol a week reduce your weight loss? In 1991 when I started out as a personal trainer in Trinidad and Tobago I did not believe that one drink of alcohol a week could inhibit fat loss, or that an occasional social drink could have a negative effect on weight loss. Where I come from, drinking is very much a part of the culture, and while I myself did not imbibe, many of my friends and personal training clients did indeed have a drink of alcohol from time to time. I have always been meticulous when it comes to record keeping, and for the first several years of my career I kept very detailed records of my client’s dietary habits and their progress. (Dozens of notebooks and looking back I can hardly even imagine how I kept it all up!!!) At the time my recommendation was that my clients could have just one alcoholic drink or two a week, but not every day as there were several studies that showed no real association with weight gain among those who drank moderately. And so I saw it as a suggestion felt was reasonable as long as they were strictly adhering to their diet. However, as time passed, I had a few clients complain that they were not making as much progress as some of my other clients. Complaints that I initially ignored. With my response being that comparison is the mortal enemy of happiness when it came to weight loss and that they should focus on their own progress, since they were still losing weight and that everyone responds based on a number of factors. But after one complaint made by a client who was the very model of dietary compliance, I decided to take a closer look to see if there was anything I might be missing. What I consulted the logs my findings came as a bit of a shock, as there seemed to be a discrepancy of anywhere from 30% to as much as 70% difference in relative weight loss (based on percentage of body weight lost) between the men and women who were having a drink or two on the weekends and those who were not drinking alcohol at all. Now with all data sets involving relatively small numbers, findings should always be suspect and it would have been bad science to immediately assume that alcohol was the causative factor. Could it be that the people drinking were sleeping less, using certain medications, or all just coincidentally were all genetically predisposed to slower weight loss? My research showed that some studies found links between alcohol consumption and higher body weights, and some found the very opposite. None of the studies were of men and women training with weights and following a controlled diet, nor were the very controlled ones of any significantly large number or extended duration. So, I decided to conduct a bit of an experiment of my own to see just what the issue could possibly be and in this article we will explore those findings along with some possible explanations for why even small amounts of alcohol might be a problem when trying to lose weight.


Without the ability to conduct a randomized controlled experiment, as I could not have my clients in a chamber for a few months monitoring everything they ate and drank, I did the best I could with them self reporting. I had one group who were self reporting as drinking more than once a week, and another group who reportedly were drinking just once a week. In the name of trying to help them get better results, I asked them to stop drinking completely for the next three months and to make a note of every time they broke ranks and did have a drink of alcohol. Additionally, I had my group of clients who never drank at all as a control and I paid very careful attention to their weight loss and performance in the gym for the next three months to see if I there were any changes if people stopped drinking. They all had the same dietary protocols that called for an avoidance of processed foods and a high protein, moderate fats and moderate carbohydrate intake set at exactly their estimated daily energy expenditure while performing a high intensity training protocol three times a week. All involved were also training for at least 3 months or longer with me at the start of my observations and as expected, some of the clients who agreed to not drink on the weekends slipped up, but some of them stood steadfast. And the differences in their weight loss profiles over the next three months was remarkable. So much so that I was able to look at the profile of one of my clients and by her relatively lowered rate of weight loss I could tell with the utmost confidence that was indeed having at least a drink a week, even though she said she was not drinking. She later confessed that she was indeed having just one drink and she was rather surprised that I could tell with such certainty. What was fascinating to me, was that those reportedly drinking just once a week and those openly admitting to having more than one drink, all had the same lowered weight loss profiles compared to those who didn’t drink who all lost more weight. There was also a bit of a lowered performance in their training, (more so among men), measured by how quickly they achieved momentary muscular failure or reduced focus for most, but not all of the clients who were drinking. Consequently, I had no choice but to change my recommendations, which, as you could imagine was very unpopular at that time, and continues to be unpopular today.

woman refusing a glass of wine for weight loss

I never stopped looking for holes in my findings as there is still always a potential error in looking at data from a relatively small group. My little experiment started off with no more than 15 people, (which was just about the same as any formal study), but over the years I continued to look for patterns as my client base grew and the differences in weight loss progress between those who drank and those who didn’t remained the same, regardless of whether they were light or moderate drinkers. What seemed to matter most to slowing down weight loss was consistency more than anything else, though I will say that none of my clients ever drank heavily. Today in my practice as a personal trainer in New York City, clients are still surprised when I ask if they had a drink or two, after seeing a dip in performance during their high intensity workouts. I also can tell over time if body fat losses are not what they should be whether alcohol might be a factor if all other aspects of their diet are spot on and about nine out of ten times I am correct. So much so that I would even go as far to say that having a drink of alcohol is one of the most detrimental factors when it comes to losing body fat, more so than the occasional bout of junk food. One of the other reasons I initially thought that a drink of alcohol here and there could not affect weight loss was the examples of some of the bodybuilders around me at the time, who were in amazing shape even though some of them drank like fishes, (especially around Carnival time!) Coming to America, I saw it again, as there is a very popular party culture in the personal training community, where they drink (and do all manner of things) while still maintaining impressively lean physiques. One of the main reasons alcohol inhibits fat loss is due to suppression of testosterone and human growth hormones production. Both important factors in how our bodies burn fat and maintain lowered fat stores. The practice of taking anabolic steroids, human growth hormone, thyroid medication, insulin, ephedrine, clenbuterol and other drugs make it possible for those individuals to drink alcohol and still have lowered body fat. All the natural bodybuilders I know who sport great physiques all year round do not drink at all, and it’s sad that they tend to not be as popular as their drug using counterparts and so the message of drinking being really a factor in getting lean never gets the platform it should have. It makes sense that many who make a living based on how they look  use drugs, as it allows them to have their cake and eat it and it’s a practice I have observed first hand for decades. The problem occurs when those same “fitness personalities” advise others that a drink here and there won’t make much of a difference while using these substances. On social media it’s a huge problem, as we so often see the guy or girl in excellent shape with a drink in their hand and some deduce that perhaps they too can imbibe and still get great results. Some very young men and women also drink and sport great bodies, but take a look at them in their 30’s and 40’s if they keep up the habit and you will see that it simply isn’t sustainable. Even for those blessed with good genetics to start out with as in my years of being in the field I can tell you that it does not end well.

drinking alcohol reduces fat loss

Not drinking can lead to a sense of social isolation but if you truly want to maximize your results drinking simply is not an option.

It’s human nature to want to be able to do something that you enjoy and not have to sacrifice such an important social aspect of not only personal but business life as well. Deals are often sealed over a few drinks, friendships are cemented around activities where drinking is center stage and even meals create situations where not drinking leads to a sense of marginalization from the group. Along with a marked amount of peer pressure to have alcohol like everyone else. If I had one superpower, it would be to be able to have my clients have that one drink a week and it not have any negative impact on their fat loss or their performance, but there is a saying that if wishes were horses that beggars would ride, and the reality is that this simply is not possible. Even though it might be difficult to hear, having worked with and alongside hundreds of people over the course of 29 years decades I can tell you from personal experience that by having as little as one drink of alcohol a week weight loss can be reduced by as much as 60-70% when compared to those following the same dietary plan and exercise regime. More importantly, alcohol consumption has it’s greatest effect when it comes down to getting rid of those final extra pounds of body fat. None of my clients having as little as one drink a week were ever able to attain flat and rippling abdominals and the lower levels of muscle definition while those that did not drink were consistently able to do so while following the same prescribed dietary and exercise protocols. Why does alcohol have such a negative impact on weight loss and performance? The standard idea has always been that alcohol is high in calories and it’s high energy content thus affects your efforts to to lose weight since it can easily make you consume more calories that you are burning on a daily basis. However, this is perhaps the least important factor in why alcohol has such a negative effect on weight loss, as even low calorie alcoholic drinks remain problematic. The real problem is that alcohol works to reduce the amount of fat your body is able to burn while increasing your appetite and lowering your testosterone levels for up to 24 hours after your last drink.

How alcohol can inhibt your fat loss efforts!Here’s How Alcohol Inhibits Fat Loss After Having Just One Drink:

  • Some of the alcohol consumed is converted into fat.
  • Your liver converts most of the alcohol into acetate.
  • The acetate is released into your bloodstream, and replaces fat as a source of fuel.
  • The alcohol raises levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, which acts to increase muscle breakdown.
  • The alcohol consumed reduces testosterone levels which inhibits fat loss.
  • The alcohol consumed reduces human growth hormone levels which inhibits fat loss.
  • The alcohol intake will increase your appetite thus making it more likely that you will overeat without being aware of it, thus sabotaging your weight loss efforts.


The Role Of Alcohol and Acetate In Inhibiting Fat Metabolism


As we said earlier conventional thought used to be that beer bellies were caused by alcohol calories being stored as fat- but studies have found this to not be the case. Rather, the problem with alcohol is that it reduces the amount of fat your body is able to burn for energy. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, subjects were given two drinks of vodka and sugar-free lemonade in half hour intervals. Each drink contained less than 90 calories and fat metabolism was measured both before and after consumption of the drinks. For several hours after drinking the vodka, whole body lipid oxidation was reduced by 73%[1] After the consumption of only 24 grams of ethanol (the technical name for consumable alcohol) there were significant changes in fat metabolism even though less than 5% of newly synthesized fatty acids released into the circulation came from the ingested ethanol. Other studies have had similar findings and the consensus is that most ethanol is metabolized into acetate in the liver. Blood acetate levels can rise to levels 250% higher than normal after a drink of alcohol and this spike in acetate availability to peripheral tissues is significant as studies show that acetate inhibits fat mobilization.[7,8,9] The way that acetate inhibits fat loss is that it takes priority as an alternative fuel source over fats when it is present and available in your system.[10,11] So when acetate levels rise from alcohol consumption your body prefers to oxidizes acetate over lipid fuels, thus stopping any fat burning that may occur as a result of diet and exercise.[1]


Alcohol Makes You Eat More


The combination of alcohol and a high-calorie foods creates an even bigger problem as alcohol works to stimulate your appetite. The word aperitif is French in origin and refers to the alcoholic drink taken before meals to increase your appetite and has been a tradition for hundreds of years. A Canadian study showed that an aperitif increased calorie intake far more than a carbohydrate-based drink [2]. Many other studies have validated this and the bottom line is that you will always eat more when you consume alcohol with your meals.

Testosterone is lowered from alcohol consumption

Alcohol Reduces Testosterone Levels

As if it wasn’t bad enough, not only does too much alcohol inhibit fat loss, but it also decreases testosterone levels. Studies have shown that one bout of high alcohol consumption drinking raises levels of the muscle-wasting hormone cortisol and increases the breakdown of testosterone for up to 24 hours [3]. Even more alarming is the fact that it was found that the damaging effects of alcohol on testosterone are made even worse when you exercise before drinking.[4] Research has demonstrated that both acute (small amounts) and chronic alcohol exposure are associated with low levels of hypothalamic LHRH and pituitary LH and suppresses testosterone secretion in adults. Testosterone, while usually thought of simply as the male hormone, has several effects on weight loss and metabolism. Testosterone regulates carbohydrates, proteins and fat metabolism [12,13] and lowered levels affect energy production.  Upsetting the physiological checks and balances in our bodies resulting in increased fat storage and fat creation. [12–94] Which may explain why alcoholic men tend to have bigger waists than those who abstain from drinking.[5]


Can You Have Maximum Weight Loss And Still Drink Occasionally?

Having alcohol with a meal will increase your metabolic rate, but will also reduce the amount of fat your body burns for energy — far more so than high protein, high carbohydrate, or high fat meals [6]. A drink once in a blue moon might not do that much but it is important to understand that if you really want to maximize your fat loss and muscle building efforts to create a truly lean and sculpted physique, alcohol is more of a liability than an asset. See my article Alcohol Inhibits the Effects of Exercise. It isn’t always easy especially in many social situations, but at the end of the day it is important that we understand fully the consequences of our actions rather than pretending that a drink or two a week won’t make much of a difference.

Updated 3/27/2018

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Featured everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to CBS News, Kevin Richardson is an award winning personal trainer, natural bodybuilding champion, creator of Naturally Intense High Intensity Personal Training and one of the most sought after personal trainers in New York City. 

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One Drink Of Alcohol A Week Significantly Reduces Fat Loss References:

1. Siler, S.Q., Neese, R.A., & Hellerstein, M.K. De novo lipogenesis, lipid kinetics, and whole-body lipid balances in humans after acute alcohol consumption. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1999
2. Buemann, B., Toubro, S., & Astrup, A.  The effect of wine or beer versus a carbonated soft drink, served at a meal, on ad libitum energy intake. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 2002
3. Valimaki, M.J., Harkonen, M., Eriksson, C.J., & Ylikahri, R.H. Sex hormones and adrenocortical steroids in men acutely intoxicated with ethanol. Alcohol, 1984
4. Heikkonen, E., Ylikahri, R., Roine, R., Valimaki, M., Harkonen, M., & Salaspuro, M. The combined effect of alcohol and physical exercise on serum testosterone, luteinizing hormone, and cortisol in males. Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research, 1996
5. Kvist, H., Hallgren, P., Jonsson, L., Pettersson, P., Sjoberg, C., Sjostrom, L., & Bjorntorp, P. Distribution of adipose tissue and muscle mass in alcoholic men. Metabolism, 1993
6. Raben A, Agerholm-Larsen L, Flint A, Holst JJ, Astrup A. Meals with similar energy densities but rich in protein, fat, carbohydrate, or alcohol have different effects on energy expenditure and substrate metabolism but not on appetite and energy intake. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2003

7. Nilsson NO, Belfrage P. Effects of acetate, acetaldehyde, and ethanol on lipolysis in isolated rat adipocytes. J Lipid Res 1978
8. Crouse JR, Gerson CD, DeCarli LM, Lieber CS. Role of acetate in the reduction of plasma free fatty acids produced by ethanol in man. J Lipid Res 1968
9. Yki-Jarvinen H, Koivisto VA, Ylikahri R, Taskinen MR. Acute effects of ethanol and acetate on glucose kinetics in normal subjects. Am J Physiol 1988
10. Pouteau E, Piloquet H, Maugeais P. Kinetic aspects of acetate metabolism in healthy humans using [1-13C]acetate. Am J Physiol 1996
11. Shelmet JJ, Reichard GA, Skutches CL, Hoeldtke RD, Owen OE, Boden G. Ethanol causes acute inhibition of carbohydrate, fat, and protein oxidation and insulin resistance. J Clin Invest 1988
12. Corona G, Rastrelli G, Monami M, et al. Body weight loss reverts obesity-associated hypogonadotropic hypogonadism: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur J Endocrinol 2013
13. Maneschi E, Morelli A, Filippi S, et al. Testosterone treatment improves metabolic syndrome-induced adipose tissue derangements. J Endocrinol 2012
Høst C, Gormsen LC, Christensen B, et al. Independent effects of testosterone on lipid oxidation and VLDL-TG production: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study. Diabetes 2013
14. Traish A, Abdallah B, Yu G. Androgen deficiency and mitochondrial dysfunction: implications for fatigue, muscle dysfunction, insulin resistance, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Horm Mol Biol Clin Invest 2011
15. Abel ED. Obesity stresses cardiac mitochondria even when you are young. J Am Coll Cardiol 2011
16. Niemann B, Chen Y, Teschner M, et al. Obesity induces signs of premature cardiac aging in younger patients: the role of mitochondria. J Am CollCardiol 2011
17. Yin X, Lanza IR, Swain JM, et al. Adipocyte mitochondrial function is reduced in human obesity independent of fat cell size. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2014



15 thoughts on “One Drink Of Alcohol A Week Can Significantly Reduce Fat Loss

  1. Tom @ Foresight Personal Training Jul 24,2010 8:31 am

    Great post, alcohol is a very under estimated barrier to weight loss!

    First time I have come across your blog, great stuff, really enjoyed reading through some of teh posts!


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