This morning one of my clients asked me about the effects on fat burning that alcohol has. This was prompted by something she had recently been told; drinking alcohol prohibits your bodies ability to burn fat for a period of 72 hours. With the weekend upon us I thought it was a good time to pass on the information I gave to her!
First and foremost I just want to point out that I am no angel and I have a tendency to have one or two drinks on a night out (ok, maybe more than one or two but you get the point) and by no means should you take what I'm writing here as me saying that you shouldn't ever have a drink! I just thought it was a good opportunity to provide you with some actual information about this subject rather than relying on the wacko bullshit that is floating around out there....
Your body prioritises what it uses as fuel based on what it runs on most efficiently, i.e. how easily it can convert the macronutrients into energy. In normal circumstances it's Carbohydrates, Fat and then Protein. Alcohol jumps in front of all 3 of those as your body prioritises getting it out of your system before it switches back to carbs as it's primary fuel source. For this reason you are essentially restricting your ability to burn fat!
If you overconsume carbohydrates then they are converted into fat and stored in fat cells to be used at a later stage however the body really struggles to convert alcohol into fat in any great volume. Studies in fact show that less than 3% of alcohol synthesized in your liver is then converted to fat. So if you had 24g of alcohol, you'll store just 0.8g of it as fat! The left over alcohol is then left in your body waiting to be used as fuel and only it has been will you start using the carbs and fat again.
So imagine that you get really drunk on a Saturday night, you also have some food in the evening and are extremely hungover on Sunday. You don't exercise and you eat some junk to make yourself feel better - we've all been there! You'll take a while to burn off that alcohol and because of the food choices you've made you'll have even more calories stored to burn off. I think this is maybe why my client had been told that 72 hour thing!
The other thing to consider with alcohol is that it's nutrient empty but calorie dense - i.e. it doesn't really give you anything useful and it won't satisfy you in terms of hunger despite coming in at a whacking 7kcals per g. Being drunk can also encourage you to eat more as it switches off your inhibitions so it's a bit of a double whammy!
Personally I don't think there's an awful lot wrong with having the occassional glass of wine, beer or spirit. Just try to limit it to once or twice a week and when you do it might be worth eating a higher amount of protein during the day to increase satiety and means you will be less likely to overeat in the evening or buy a kebab on the way home!
Ultimately these things come down to balance and what your goals are. If you have weight loss goals then I strongly recommend that you restrict your alcohol intake or cut it out completely until you have reached your goal to ensure that you are burning fat to the maximum level then you can start reintroducing alcohol and having the occasional glass of wine in line with recommendations.