Ask Your Trainer: How Does Alcohol Affect My Workouts?

A nutrition and training post from Emily:

Is alcohol the “fat gateway” drug?

7 Calories per Gram


There are mixed associations between alcohol intake and body fat.  Adding alcohol to one’s usual food intake can lead to obesity if total calories are regularly in excess of daily needs.  However, substituting alcohol for one’s usual food intake often leads to muscle loss and protein malnutrition

Alcohol impairs judgment, people who drink socially may find that they are more likely to engage in problematic eating behaviors while drinking. (A big plate of nachos or chicken wings seems like a great idea by the third beer!)


Chronic alcohol ingestion impairs pancreatic enzyme secretion, which can result in nutrient malabsorption, particularly of fat and protein.   Even if you are eating good nutrient rich foods with your alcohol you are not going to absorb as much of them. Along with pancreatic digestive function, pancreatic endocrine function can be affected: Insulin resistance is a common side effect of alcoholism, which results in a lack of glycogen formation and energy store depletion.  Anaerobic energy production can predominate within the cell, resulting in excessive lactic acid production. Meaning if you drink after you work out, or before, there is more a chance to be sore.


Alcohol influences blood vessels and fluid volume.  This can result in a headache after excessive drinking.  Tylenol should never be taken for a hangover headache, as it can interact with ethanol’s byproducts and damage the liver.  Nausea is related to the toxic byproducts of alcohol elimination and irritation to the stomach.

Alcohol can suppress anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) release.  This means more urine.  One standard drink can add 150 mL to urinary output.  A few successive drinks can result in a trip to “dehydration-land” (and the restroom).


Chronic alcohol intake is one of the most powerful mediators of sex hormones. Ethanol is a testicular toxin and can increase the activity of aromatase, an enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen in the body.  Chronic male alcoholics develop an assortment of endocrine disorders, including infertility, gonadal atrophy, and feminization, caused in part by elevated production of estrogens and low testosterone levels.  Alcohol abusers tend to have lower testosterone (and LH and FSH). Lower testosterone and high estrogen can lead to less muscle more fat!

Alcohol & Fat Storage

Let’s quickly review how nutrients are stored and burned after a mixed meal.

1. Carbs and protein suppress fat oxidation via an elevation in insulin.

2. Since fat oxidation is suppressed, dietary fat is stored in fat cells.

3. As the hours go by and insulin drops, fat is released from fat cells. Fat storage is an ongoing process and fatty acids are constantly entering and exiting fat cells throughout the day. Net gain or loss is more or less dictated by calorie input and output.

If we throw alcohol into the mix, it gets immediate priority in the in the substrate hierarchy: alcohol puts the breaks on fat oxidation, but also suppresses carb and protein oxidation.

This makes sense considering that the metabolic by-product of alcohol, acetate, is toxic. Metabolizing it takes precedence over everything else.


Drink smart and enjoy, do not eat fatty food with alcohol or after consuming alcohol. Count alcohol calories as part of your calories. Drink lots of water before you consume and after.

Best alcohol choices: red wine, straight liquor, liquor with fresh fruit and seltzer water