Author disclaimer: While I’m not a doctor or a registered dietitian, I have been on a body building team for four years and have had great success improving my own body composition and lowering my body fat percentage. Everything in this article is sourced from scientific research; references/citations are listed accordingly.


Summer is a few months away and you might be aspiring to lose a few pounds or keep the weight off during bikini season. Before you crash-diet and cut out all alcohol, consider the following scientific information that is in your favor. Spoiler alert: you can have your wine and drink it too!

Can I Drink Alcohol If I Want to Lose Weight?

Weight loss comes down to the basic equation of calories in vs calories out. If you consume more calories than you can burn off each day, you gain weight. If you consume less calories than you burn, you lose weight… it is that simple[1].

But where does alcohol fit in? Before a friend scares you and tells you a series of myths concerning wine and fat gain… here are a few concrete statements to consider:

Alcohol itself is NOT fattening. Most wine is NOT high in carbohydrates. Therefore most wine is NOT fattening.

I’m not making things up; I’ll explain the role of alcohol and weight gain and the basics of macronutrient consumption, and provide suggestions for food choices and diet-friendly alcohol options so you can hit your goals this summer and beyond.

Woman in gym doing lunge holding bottles of AIX Provence rose wine as weights

The Basics

Pure alcohol has 7 calories per gram, whereas fat has 9 calories per gram, carbs have 4 calories per gram, and protein has 4 calories per gram. Your body will store excess calories as fat, but on a night-by-night basis, the breakdown of the nutrients you consume matters, especially when dieting or when alcohol is a factor in your diet.

The Role of Alcohol

When you drink alcohol, your body will prioritize the processing and elimination of alcohol before any food sources that are waiting in the pipeline. The alcohol will be directly transported to the liver and converted to acetate and from there, less than 5% of alcohol can be converted to body fat[2]. That means the remaining 95% of the alcohol consumed is shuttled towards excretion.

So why do people gain weight from drinking alcohol? The weight gain comes from the caloric surplus when food and alcohol are combined. If you typically eat 2000 calories a day, and you add 500 calories from alcohol sources, your body will store fat from your food intake. Because alcohol is prioritized in the digestion process, food takes a backseat in the metabolic process. Once the calories from alcohol have been processed, the body then works through the calories from food. If your body doesn’t need the excess calories from your meals, those calories will be stored as fat. This is especially the case when it comes to dietary fats because alcohol severely inhibits fat burning over the other macronutrients (protein and carbs)[3].

It should be noted here that many alcohols, namely dry wines and distilled spirits, are low-carb and  considerably low-calorie. So, these are preferred choices if you’re looking to improve your body composition and still want to enjoy an occasional alcoholic beverage. Because there aren’t substantial carbs or fats in these drinks, the body will process these alcohols and is almost unable to store body fat in that process. It’s the mudslides and margaritas (both containing substantial carbs and sometimes fat) that you need to be careful about.

Woman in gym lifting two bottles of AIX Provence Rose as dumbbell weights

Food

If alcohol is not the source of fat gain, we need to consider wise food choices when making the decision to indulge in the occasional beverage. Not all macronutrients are easily stored as fat in the body, especially when someone leads a healthy and active lifestyle. So, how should YOU prioritize your diet when you want to lose weight or improve your body composition?

Protein:

The first element of your diet that you should prioritize when drinking is lean protein. Protein is the macronutrient with the highest thermic effect of food (causes your body to burn more calories while digesting it) and is the most satiating macronutrient[4]. Protein is also not easily absorbed as (fat) in the body[5]. In fact, most Americans don’t get enough protein in their diet to begin with. Increasing your lean protein intake will help you achieve your weight loss goals, and contrary to popular belief, it will not have an adverse effect on your kidney function[6].  Then, when you want to factor in a few drinks, make sure to prioritize healthy portions of lean protein like chicken, turkey, tuna, or Greek yogurt. Not only is lean protein one of the lowest-calorie food sources, but it will fill you up and keep you from late night Domino’s, nachos, and other munchies.

Carbohydrates:

Carbohydrates are a secondary consideration when it comes to food sources on a diet. Excess carbs are not as readily stored as fat in the body[7]. While carbs are not always the most diet-friendly option, there is no reason to demonize carbohydrates. They provide you with energy, fiber, and most vitamins and minerals. When you’re looking to diet, it’s best to include larger servings of fibrous carbs like oats, vegetables, fruits, and natural starches such as potatoes, quinoa, or rice. The key with carbs is you can fill up on nutrient-dense vegetable and fruit sources and still hit your caloric targets—you just want to moderate your carb sources, especially when looking to fit in a glass of wine.

Fat:

Fats are the primary concern when planning a diet and trying to make room for a night-cap. Fat is the highest calorically dense macronutrient and is the body’s first source when looking to store body fat. Typically, people don’t even know how much fat they’re consuming, especially if they’re eating out and not preparing their food themselves (think about the excess oil, butter, and cheese a restaurant uses when serving you a delicious meal). In addition to that, bar snacks and classic charcuterie items like nuts, cheeses, olives, and salami are all high in fat. When you drink alcohol, remember that the body treats alcohol like a toxin and will process the alcohol before any other nutrients. Fat will be the last macronutrient to process if you’re in a caloric surplus after drinking. If your body doesn’t need those excess calories from fat, it will be the quickest (and easiest) resource your body will designate for body fat storage.

Moderation

When you want to lose a few pounds, set a caloric goal and subtract calories from your dietary fats, then your carbohydrate intake if you want to make room for a few glasses of wine. In addition to that, make sure to keep your lean protein intake high. When push comes to shove, food is essential, and you should not sacrifice too many calories to make room for alcohol—the key, as they say, is moderation. Making the flexibility in your diet to accommodate a few drinks throughout the week will keep you satisfied and make your diet easier to stick to. In addition to that, moderating alcohol consumption will protect against hangovers, which can lead to cravings that have the potential to throw you off track. We can all have fitness or weight loss goals, but when it comes to drinking, the key is being mindful about our food and moderating our overall alcohol consumption.

Woman taking AIX Rose magnum wine bottle from dumbbell rack

Wine Recommendations

If you want to make room for some wine or alcohol, skip out on sweet designer cocktails and try the following low-carb, low-calorie wines.

Weight loss is a multifaceted process, but most of the work is driven by how you conduct yourself in the kitchen. The key to achieving your goals is to have a plan and make lifestyle choices that you can stick to. Whether that’s cleaning up your diet or partaking in daily exercises that you genuinely enjoy, you have the power to reach all of your goals.

And if you do go off track, don’t sweat it too much. You might notice after a weekend away or maybe a bachelorette party, your weight spikes up the following 2-3 days. Then, after a few days of your normal, healthy routine, your weight is back down to your pre-weekend standard. Your body has its own way of self-regulating, so the fun you indulged in won’t kill your progress. Just remember that moderation is essential, and if you want to indulge, follow the advice in this article and plan ahead.


Additional Reading : How excess carbs will inhibit fat oxidation and how you will store fat when consuming any caloric surplus: Body Recomposition | How We Get Fat


Sources Used:

[1] Andrea C Buchholz, Dale A Schoeller, Is a calorie a calorie?, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 79, Issue 5, May 2004, Pages 899S–906S, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/79.5.899S

[2] Scott Q Siler, Richard A Neese, Marc K Hellerstein, De novo lipogenesis, lipid kinetics, and whole-body lipid balances in humans after acute alcohol consumption, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 70, Issue 5, November 1999, Pages 928–936, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/70.5.928

[3] Lawrence Feinman, Charles S Lieber, Ethanol and lipid metabolism, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 70, Issue 5, November 1999, Pages 791–792, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/70.5.791

[4] Aragon, A.A., Schoenfeld, B.J., Wildman, R. et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: diets and body composition. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 14, 16 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0174-y

[5] Antonio, J., Peacock, C.A., Ellerbroek, A. et al. The effects of consuming a high protein diet (4.4 g/kg/d) on body composition in resistance-trained individuals. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 11, 19 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-11-19

[6] Michaela C Devries, Arjun Sithamparapillai, K Scott Brimble, Laura Banfield, Robert W Morton, Stuart M Phillips, Changes in Kidney Function Do Not Differ between Healthy Adults Consuming Higher- Compared with Lower- or Normal-Protein Diets: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 148, Issue 11, November 2018, Pages 1760–1775, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxy197

[7] T J Horton, H Drougas, A Brachey, G W Reed, J C Peters, J O Hill, Fat and carbohydrate overfeeding in humans: different effects on energy storage, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 62, Issue 1, July 1995, Pages 19–29, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/62.1.19

Author

Gabrielle earned a Level 2 certificate from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) and has continued her wine education by becoming a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) in 2020. In addition to writing for Wine365, she also provides creative contributions and research analytics.

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