In the first part of this post, I looked at alcohol consumption in general, and how moderate drinking might affect long term health and longevity.
After looking at the research, it certainly seems clear that some moderate alcohol consumption (up to 2 glasses per day), will certainly not impair your health – On the contrary, some of the research actually indicated that you may be compromising your health by not drinking enough!
Of course, I would not recommend taking up drinking alcohol for health reasons if you don’t drink already, as there are definitely some issues with the above conclusion! If you do enjoy a regular tipple, however, there appears to be no reason you can’t continue this habit from a health or longevity perspective.
The Live Now, Thrive Later philosophy is about more than extending life expectancy however, equally important is maintaining optimum fitness, physique and happiness on a day to day basis.
Alcohol consumption is not typically associated with an athletic physique and elite physical performance. After all, they don’t call it a beer belly for nothing, do they?
Again, the research brings forth some surprising results, with moderate drinkers (1 drink 3-7 days per week), having the lowest BMIs, and being significantly less likely to be obese than teetotallers (it should of course be noted that individuals that consumed more than a couple of drinks daily, or consumed an equivalent number of drinks but over 1-2 days were considerably more likely to be overfat/obese).
This would seem counter intuitive, as alcoholic drinks are essentially empty calories with no satiating effect. One might expect that by consuming an additional 100-200kCal everyday in liquid form in addition to your normal food intake the weight would gradually start to creep on, but this does not appear to be the case, leading to what has been termed “The Alcohol Intake and Bodyweight Paradox“
Hopefully, however, those of you already familiar with this blog will have already realised that things are a little more complex than calories in vs calories out.
One thing is for sure, binge drinking (that is consuming 5+ drinks in one evening) is a sure way to pile on the pounds, through a number of different mechanisms:
1) Additional Calories from the drinks themselves:
Calorie contents of drinks vary tremendously, but if we take a typical figure of 200kCal for a pint, a heavy night of 8 jars would rack you up an additional 1600kCals on top of the calories you’ve already consumed from food.
2) Fat burning switched off:
Once in your system, alcohol metabolism becomes your body’s number one priority (it is after all a potential toxin). As a result all fat burning it halted until 100% of the alcohol you consumed has been burned off. If you’re drinking steadily for several hours, this is a long time in no fat burning/potential fat storing mode.
3) Reduced Will Power:
I seriously doubt many kebab shops would be in business were it not for the liberal consumption of alcohol by the British public! The post booze kebab/pizza/kfc results in even more extra calories on top of your usual consumption. As your body is busy metabolising the alcohol, this all gets shuttled straight into your fat cells, great.
4) The Hangover:
Feeling like crap the following day, most people tend to plump for the junk food/lethargy option rather than the salad/exercise option, and perhaps even hair of the dog, thus instigating the whole cycle of excessive consumption again!
Binge drinking, therefore, definitely not compatible with the Live Now, Thrive Later lifestyle. But what about the odd pint here and there, the research seems to indicate that the same quantity of alcohol spread throughout the week has no negative impact on weight gain, despite the same additional empty calories?
1) Additional calories from the drinks themselves:
A gram of alcohol contains around 7kCal, however, due to the thermic effect of feeding this actually only equates to nearer 5kcal. A couple of drinks therefore is unlikely to contribute much more than 300kCal to your daily intake – Not a great issue for an active person with a high daily calorie requirement.
2) Fat burning switched off:
Although it is the case that consuming alcohol effectively switches off fat burning until all the alcohol has been metabolised, the same is also true when you consume food.
When you consume a meal containing protein or carbs your body releases insulin, which effectively puts your body in the mode of fat production and storage, and if you consume a high fat meal, the body will burn this rather than its own stores, and will more than likely also store some of the fat in the short term even without the presence of insulin.
If you are having one drink with or after a meal then, there is very little difference metabolically speaking between consuming the extra calories as extra food or as a beverage. Whether an extra 200kCal comes from a pint of ale or an extra side dish would not in my opinion make any difference to the amount of time you spent in the fed state (i.e. not burning fat).
While alcohol may inhibit fat burning, like protein, the conversion of alcohol to fat is a highly inefficient process and does not tend to happen to a great degree. Consume carbs, or carbs and fat combined however, and you are likely not only to switch off fat burning, but to shuttle most of the calories you consume directly into your fat cells.
When dining out, I like to indulge myself a little – Although I am pretty well disciplined, I am under no pretences that I could live the rest of my life eating only meat, fish and veg! It seems to me that when dining out, alcohol could well be the wisest indulgence. Could a main course comprised of meat and veggies, complemented with booze as a cheat in place of a sugar and fat laden desert result in less fat storage, even if the caloric content of the two possible meals were the same?
3) Reduced Will Power:
Reduced will power is not going to be an issue after just one or two drinks, particularly if consumed with a meal. Having said this, you are probably more likely to be tempted into having several drinks than you are to order several deserts, so as always some will power is required!
Again, one or two drinks is not going to result in a hangover, unless of course you’ve opted for pints of vodka…
So as far as maintaining a low body fat percentage goes, a few drinks per week is not likely to cause any problems. On the contrary, switching from a cheat of high sugar and fat treats, to alcohol, could actually be a better choice.
As far as alcohol and athletic performance goes, I think we can already see a clear trend forming here. Excessive consumption can lead to a lowering of testosterone, in turn leading to reduced strength/muscle mass/performance etc. Also, in the short term, training in a dehydrated state (i.e. with a hangover) is never good. There is also research out there indicating that alcohol is not the optimum post workout drink (What a surprise!).
Providing you don’t become an alcoholic, partake in binge drinking, or start implementing a post-workout pint of ale a few drinks a week should have no effect on athletic performance whatsoever.
So it seems moderate alcohol consumption in general is fully compatible with the Live Now, Thrive Later lifestyle, but does it make a difference what types of alcohol you consume?
Red wine is the preferred tipple of most “health conscious” individuals, but personally I am just not a huge fan. Real ale is my drink of choice – Does the fact that it is grain based make it an inferior choice to fruit based drinks such as wine or cider?
Grains are certainly not a good food – They are known to contain anti-nutrients such as lectins and phytates, and there are some strong correlations connecting grain consumption and numerous diseases.
The key is all in the preparation however. In his research, Dr Weston Price found that where grains were properly prepared via soaking, sprouting and fermentation, much of the anti-nutrients within were broken down, and the nutrients and enzymes in the grains were made more available.
Proper beer – I.e. Real Ale, Belgian Beers and German Lagers for example, are fermented over a long period of time, and are usually left unpasteurised to continue fermenting in the bottle or cask. This produces a nutritionally dense, live product. This is in stark contrast to the mass produced, pasteurised, chemical filled products that are usually passed off as beer on the hand pumps of chain bars and supermarket shelves.
So, in conclusion:
Moderate alcohol consumption (up to 1-2 drinks per day for men), is certainly not a cause of obesity or premature death, and is actually correlated with increased life expectancy and a low BMI (just remember correlation does not equal causation). Neither will a few drinks per week have any negative effect on your training or performance.
Whether you opt to drink wine, beer, cider or spirits is probably inconsequential, it is the quality of the product itself that is important. Go for an artisan product that is made with real ingredients, free from additives, fermented for a long time and preferably unpasteurised. If you drink spirits, sip them (slowly) either straight or diluted with water. (Avoid using sugar or artificially sweetened soft drinks as a mixer, as these are definitely bad news! That said, I have been partial to a Paleo Mojito or two in the past – Rum mixed with Coconut Water).