It's pretty common knowledge that drinking alcohol regularly isn't the best thing to do for our health, particularly if you're trying to lose weight or have any underlying health issues. The Government guidelines recommend no more than 2 units per day (which is about a 175ml glass of wine or just under a pint of beer) and they also discourage binge-drinking... guilty as charged.
But, in our society, drinking is a sociable thing to do.. we go to the pub with friends, we have a dinner party with lots of wine or we go on a big night out and get absolutely steaming. Do we want to be boring and say no to these kinds of things? Definitely not! Life is about enjoyment and we should be able to have fun with our friends and family if that's what we want to do.
But it's also important to look after your health and so, if you want to go out and get shit-faced (excuse my language) every single weekend, then you've got to accept that this ultimately will have an effect on your health and/or body goals.
There are a lot of ways in which alcohol has an effect on our health and fitness levels and I am just going to cover a few of them today - I won't go into the details on the health side of things (e.g. risk of diseases) but instead I'll focus more on the effect it can have on fitness.
1) How alcohol is processed in the body
When you consume alcohol your body recognises it as a macronutrient just like carbohydrates, fats and protein. This is because alcohol is essentially a sugar which contains 7kcal per gram (whereas carbohydrates and protein contain 4kcal per gram and fat contains 9kcal per gram). The issue here lies in the fact that your body will preferentially use alcohol as your first fuel to burn before it uses any carbs or fats. What this means is that, whilst your body is using alcohol for your energy, your body will not burn fat. This leads to any excess carbs or fats consumed being stored in the body as fat.
As I mentioned in the point above, there are 7kcals per gram of alcohol and each unit of alcohol contains about 8 grams of pure alcohol. This means that, if you consume 10 units of alcohol on a big night out (which is very easily done), you will be consuming an extra 560kcals in one day! Think how quickly this might add up... 2 big nights out per week and you're already consuming over 1,000 extra kcals.
3) Impaired judgment
Not only will alcohol provide you with extra (often unplanned and unwanted) calories, but you often end up eating more food with alcohol in your system. Ever got home from a night out and eaten a kebab, chips, a bowl of cereal, toast or a large pizza? Or all of them?! Yep... that's the problem! It's not necessarily the extra calories from the actual alcohol that's a problem but it's actually often the food we eat whilst we are drunk that is the culprit.
So I used to blame my seriously bad leg DOMS on a great workout until I realised that I always train legs on a Saturday and then go out drinking the same day... then I finally put two and two together and realised what the real problem was! Not so much the good workout but more the lack of recovery due to alcohol. Not only that, but the day after a big boozy night is never going to be the best workout ever (if you even get yourself there in the first place... and congrats if you do).
So what should you take from all this? Alcohol, in small amounts, is not going to make a huge amount of difference to your health or fitness. But the problem lies with binge-drinking, where we consume way over the recommended intake and therefore consume extra calories and tend to eat way more food.