The Truth About Alcohol

Culturally and socially, drinking alcohol seems to be a favourite pastime for many Australians. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional drink or two, but you do need to be mindful of the quantities you’re consuming to ensure optimal health.

Let’s find out ‘why’ by taking a look at some known alcohol truths.

1)   Nutrient lacking calories!

Calories, calories everywhere! We know that eyes may roll as our party pooper list comes out, and hey… we all want some fun! But when weight maintenance or loss is your goal, this information is important to remember so that your choices are as wise as possible.

Pure Alcohol contains a whopping 7 calories per gram, compared to protein and carbohydrates at 4 calories per gram. And unlike food, alcohol doesn’t contribute any good nutrients, like vitamins and minerals, alongside those calories. 

Liquids are also much easier to consume than food solids (and empty faster from the stomach) which makes it very easy to over-consume alcohol. 

SO….what are the calorie numbers we’re dealing with here?

  •     1 vodka soda: 64 calories
  •     1 glass of white wine: 100 calories
  •     1 glass of sparkling wine: 100 calories
  •     1 glass of red wine: 120 calories
  •     1 full-strength beer (250ml bottle): 155 calories
  •     1 cocktail: 400-700 calories
  •     1 gin and tonic: 200 calories
  •     1 rum and cola: 248 calories
  •     1 espresso martini: 285 calories

The typical daily dietary calorie recommendations for an average adult is 2000 calories per day. So if we drink 2-3 gin and tonics (400-600 calories) we’ve already consumed one-quarter of our daily calorie intake, before any food has passed our lips. Not only does frequent drinking put us at the risk of gradual weight gain but, if we frequently attempt to adjust those calories elsewhere in our diet by skipping meals, we then run the risk of becoming vitamin deficient. 

 2)   The ‘not so’ STANDARD drink! 

Alcohol is quite toxic to the body. As such, our body tries to metabolise and clear it from our system as quickly as possible, but this process is prioritised over many of our other metabolic processes, including fuel storage and fuel utilisation.

So…how quickly does alcohol get cleared from our system, you may ask! 

This brings us to the standard drink fallacy.

By definition, a standard drink contains 10 grams of alcohol (12.5ml of pure alcohol) which experts suggest takes roughly 1 hour to metabolise (for most people). The problem is that most alcoholic beverages are more than one standard drink, meaning if you want to ensure you stay under the limit you need to keep to 1 standard drink per hour (which is just shy of 2 glasses of wine over 3 hours). 

See below….

Beverage Average bar serve Standard drinks (gm alcohol) ~Time to metabolise
Red wine 150ml 1.6 (18 gm) 1 hr 48 min
White wine 150ml 1.5 (17 gm) 1 hr 42 min
Sparkling wine 150ml 1.5 (17 gm) 1 hr 42 min
Full-strength beer schooner 1.6 (18 gm) 1 hr 48 min
Whisky 30ml 1 1 hr
Vodka with soda 30ml spirit + soda 1 (9 gm) 54 min

*You can check out more info on specific alcoholic drinks in the Australian Government’s standard drinks guidelines.

3)   Affects our metabolism immediately AND the next day!

Alcohol in your system is metabolised first. This slows down fat burning, because any ‘food’ calories you may have eaten at the same time are unable to be used as fuel, and are instead being stored as fat by the body. 

Alcohol also acts as a diuretic, increasing the production of lactic acid, worsening exercise performance and increasing fatigue the following day. Your intake can also affect the levels of hormones in the body, especially testosterone, which plays a pivotal role in many metabolic processes, including muscle formation and fat burning.

4)   Impacts our sleep quality

Drinking alcohol may appear to help you nod off quickly… BUT it means you often bypass the first stage of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and so the following sleep stages (and your sleep quality) are negatively affected. It takes an hour to process a single unit of alcohol. So if you’re sharing half a bottle of wine at your 8pm dinner (five units), you won’t get decent REM sleep until the alcohol has left your system at about 1 am.

So, the ‘truth is’...although it is possible to enjoy alcohol in moderation please be mindful of just how it can affect us, both mentally and physically, over the long term, and how it will impact your health and fitness goals.

 Also read: Do I Need To Cut Sugar To Lose Weight?