Does alcohol make you gain weight, or can it even help you lose weight?
Many people think that drinking makes them gain pounds, but that’s not always the case. As strange as it sounds, there are times when alcohol consumption can make you even lose weight. This blog post will discuss the truth about alcohol and weight gain.
Alcohol definitely contains higher calories than other macronutrients, but these calories aren’t processed the same in your body. So it’s essential to know how your body metabolizes alcohol for you not to put on weight but also to use it to your advantage to help with losing weight.
There are many grey areas when drinking alcohol and if it will actually cause weight gain. The biological mechanisms that happen once you drink alcohol can hinder fat burning in your body.
And this will have a more significant impact on you gaining weight from alcohol rather than just the calories the alcohol contains.
So keep reading to uncover the truth about alcohol and weight gain. I’ll also provide tips for maintaining a healthy body weight while enjoying a drink or two!
How Much Alcohol Contributes to Weight Gain
First, alcohol contains a higher amount of calories per gram than both protein and carbohydrates. Protein and carbs both have four calories per gram. But alcohol contains 7 cal per gram, almost double the amount (1).
If you’re trying to slim your waistline and count your calories, you should be aware that alcohol will contribute more calories than other macronutrients. There is no doubt calories play some role in weight loss and weight gain, so the amount of alcohol you consume will impact it.
But the calories from alcohol are not processed in your body the same way as calories from protein, carbs, and fats are. As a result, your body stops burning fat after consuming alcohol (2).
Your body will prioritize burning the calories from alcohol first over other calories you consume from food. This means you will most likely store those additional calories as fat while your body is trying to clear the byproducts of alcohol calories (3).
Your liver processes alcohol and your metabolism slows down as it tries to burn off these calories. Only once your liver is finished metabolizing alcohol, your body then moves back to burning fat and glycogen stores for energy.
How long does alcohol stop fat burning?
If a shot of vodka contains about 100 calories. The average person burns about 75 calories at rest. So just one shot of vodka will keep you from burning fat for over an hour.
And if you consume other calories and alcohol, your body will want to store them as fat for future energy use since your body doesn’t like to leave energy lying around in your bloodstream. So consuming alcohol will not increase your metabolism but slow it down in the short run.
If you’re doing everything else right in your diet and exercise program, then having an alcoholic beverage or two shouldn’t contribute much to weight gain. However, as long as you keep your calories, macronutrients, and meal timing correct, it could even lose weight.
Does Drinking Alcohol Make You Gain Belly Fat
Alcohol consumption can lead to weight gain and increases in belly fat (4). However, the most significant cause of weight gain in the stomach due to alcohol consumption is the empty calories your body has to burn off and then consume bad foods.
Alcohol lowers inhibitions, and most people don’t make the wisest food choices when drinking (5). This is why we call Pizza Hut at 11 PM for an extra-large pepperoni pizza.
These high-calorie, starchy, and sugary foods that you crave from alcohol intake will increase stomach fat as your body stores the starchy carbs for a future fuel source.
Think of stomach fat as your body’s piggy bank of stored energy. It’ll dump any excess calories and carbs for a rainy day when it needs more fuel.
You could blame your ancestors for this as they needed a way to store energy if they didn’t always have food. Otherwise, they may not survive.
But nowadays, this abdominal fat is much more of a hindrance now that we all have food readily available… in fact, a little too available!
Drinking too much alcohol can also negatively impact your sleeping patterns. Now you may fall asleep quicker after consuming alcohol, but your body will not achieve the deep sleep it needs for proper recovery in the night (6).
This can cause you to feel tired and groggy the next day, leading to increases in stomach fat. If you’ve ever been even a little hungover, you know how challenging it is to exercise the next day. Lack of exercising can keep you from burning off those alcoholic calories and eat bad foods the night before.
Studies have also found that your self-control is lower after a poor night’s sleep (7). You’ll also have higher hunger and less satiety after a night of drinking and poor sleep. Of course, this makes it easier to eat bad foods and even more alcoholic drinks.
Insulin resistance is also higher after not getting enough proper sleep after consuming alcohol, making it more likely your body will preferentially store calories as fat (8). So achieving insulin sensitivity is a big part of losing weight and getting rid of abdominal fat.
Alcohol use can also negatively impact your digestive system. Alcohol can break down your intestinal walls leading to leaky gut and other health issues (9). This can lead to eventual weight gain if not corrected.
In addition, your body may not be able to absorb nutrients properly. Hunger and satiety hormones can also become thrown off, causing you to eat more.
So alcohol will change your body shape with increased body fat, weight gain, and abdominal fat. But keep in mind this is exponentially increased if you’re a heavy drinker, eat bad fattening foods, and aren’t exercising.
How to Drink Alcohol and Still Lose Weight
Think it’s impossible to drink alcohol and not gain weight? Well, the good news is you can still lose bodyweight from consuming alcoholic drinks if you’re doing it right. However, there is a thin line that is easy to cross if you aren’t keeping your drinking and choices under control.
The biggest tip is to have moderate drinking and avoid heavy drinking at all costs. 1 to 2 alcoholic beverages in a day should be able to be burned off by your body before they lead to weight gain.
The next most significant tip is keeping healthy habits and making sure you don’t eat bad foods with alcohol intake. Most of us like eating pizza, hamburgers, and pasta when drinking alcohol, but these are the worst choices.
High-calorie, high carb, and high sugar foods, when consumed with alcohol, will cause weight gain and a beer belly. The calories from alcohol won’t make you feel full leading you to eat more and more.
Eat more protein when consuming alcohol instead of carbs and sugars. Your body will feel fuller and you’ll boost your metabolism by eating high protein foods. This is the trick to drinking alcohol and still losing weight (10).
If consuming alcohol in the evening, do so at least 3 hours before going to bed. This will allow your body enough time to metabolize the alcohol properly. Then you should be able to avoid poor sleep quality as your body can achieve a night of deep sleep.
Best Alcohol to Drink on a Diet
If your goal is to be able to still drink and get skinny, then you’re going to need to pick the healthiest alcoholic beverages.
The worst alcohol you can drink is anything that contains sugar. Many mixed drinks contain a high amount of sugar that’s quickly dumped into your fat stores while your body is busy burning off the alcohol. Be sure to avoid any alcohol that also contains fruit juice.
This also goes for beer which is usually higher in carbs and starches. These carbs will most likely be stored as fat, leading to the dreaded beer belly.
Will light beer cause weight gain?
If you are going to drink beer, find a light beer with low carbs. IPAs are generally the highest in carbs and should be avoided. Switching to a low-carb alcoholic seltzer is also better if weight maintenance or loss is your goal.
Spirits, when drunk neat, can be one of the better choices for alcoholic drinks for losing body weight. They’re straight alcohol and don’t contain any sugar or carbs. A simple vodka, lime, and club soda will be one of the best bets if you don’t want to keep the pounds off.
You can also mix them with soda water or another mixer if it doesn’t have any calories. Vodka sodas with lime are an excellent choice. However, you should consume them moderately as they’re also easier to overconsume.
Red wine is generally a wise choice if you’re trying to lose weight. Many like having a glass or two of red wine at night to wind down, and you can still drop pounds as long as you’re eating the right foods at the correct times.
Pick a dry red wine or white wine and stay away from late harvest wine varietals that can contain a high amount of hidden sugars.
Why Alcohol Makes You Gain Weight Temporarily
Many who drink alcohol will also retain water the next day, causing your weight to increase. However, the alcohol bloat will last only 1-3 days if you get right back on your diet and exercise routine.
Drinking actual alcohol leads to dehydration, as many of us already know (11). As your body senses this dehydration, it’ll try to hold onto water. Your body’s job is to try and survive, so if it senses you’re losing valuable water, it’ll try to hold onto water reserves in return.
If you’re eating junk food, those carbohydrates will also hold onto water, making you gain even more weight. But once you go back to eating right and exercising, you should be able to flush out that water weight quickly.
This is why after weighing yourself on Monday, your weight may have skyrocketed up a handful of pounds but a couple of days later is back down to its normal weight once you get back on your diet.
Some are even known to lose weight after a night of drinking. The Whoosh Effect is a real phenomenon that happens when your body suddenly flushes out the stubborn weight.
Alcohol can possibly trigger the Whoosh Effect if you’ve been dieting and exercising hard for a while. Your body will stubbornly hold onto some water weight until there’s an influx of calories. Then your body will know that food is available to “flush out” what it’s been holding on to.
The Last Word
So does alcohol make you gain weight? Yes and no.
Alcohol consumption isn’t as black and white for weight loss and weight gain. Sure, alcohol contains empty calories, but how your body metabolizes it, your food choices, and the sleep you get to make the most significant impact.
Moderate alcohol consumption shouldn’t cause any significant weight gain as long as you do everything else right. But if you aren’t able to eat right when drinking, it’ll significantly affect how you accumulate fat.
If you’re one of the heavy drinkers or cannot control how many alcoholic beverages you consume, you’re better off not drinking at all. This is because you’ll add weight from heavy drinking and a lot of other serious health problems like high blood pressure and heart disease.
One of the main reasons alcohol has gotten such a bad rap is for this very reason. Many can’t control their alcohol and the choices they make afterward. So doctors are hesitant to recommend drinking alcohol at all for this reason.
But if you’re able to make smart choices about your alcohol diet, exercise the rest of the time, and get a good night’s sleep, drinking alcohol won’t make you put on weight. And when done right can even help you lose weight.
Josh holds a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology and Nutrition Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and he’s a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) by American Council on Exercise. He’s worked as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at the high school and college levels. He has over 15 years of experience as a personal trainer and nutrition coach. He is also the author of The Flat Belly Formula. He strives to bring inspiration and results for people to live healthier lives through smart diet and exercise.