Just One Drink Of Alcohol A Week Can Reduce Fat Loss
Can just one drink of alcohol a week reduce your weight loss? In 1991 when I started out as a personal trainer in Trinidad and Tobago I did not believe that one drink of alcohol a week could inhibit fat loss, or that an occasional social drink could have a negative effect on weight loss. Where I come from, drinking is very much a part of the culture, and while I myself did not imbibe, many of my friends and personal training clients did indeed have a drink of alcohol from time to time. I have always been meticulous when it comes to record keeping, and for the first several years of my career I kept very detailed records of my client’s dietary habits and their progress. (Dozens of notebooks and looking back I can hardly even imagine how I kept it all up!!!) At the time my recommendation was that my clients could have just one alcoholic drink or two a week, but not every day as there were several studies that showed no real association with weight gain among those who drank moderately. And so I saw it as a suggestion felt was reasonable as long as they were strictly adhering to their diet. However, as time passed, I had a few clients complain that they were not making as much progress as some of my other clients. Complaints that I initially ignored. With my response being that comparison is the mortal enemy of happiness when it came to weight loss and that they should focus on their own progress, since they were still losing weight and that everyone responds based on a number of factors. But after one complaint made by a client who was the very model of dietary compliance, I decided to take a closer look to see if there was anything I might be missing. What I consulted the logs my findings came as a bit of a shock, as there seemed to be a discrepancy of anywhere from 30% to as much as 70% difference in relative weight loss (based on percentage of body weight lost) between the men and women who were having a drink or two on the weekends and those who were not drinking alcohol at all. Now with all data sets involving relatively small numbers, findings should always be suspect and it would have been bad science to immediately assume that alcohol was the causative factor. Could it be that the people drinking were sleeping less, using certain medications, or all just coincidentally were all genetically predisposed to slower weight loss? My research showed that some studies found links between alcohol consumption and higher body weights, and some found the very opposite. None of the studies were of men and women training with weights and following a controlled diet, nor were the very controlled ones of any significantly large number or extended duration. So, I decided to conduct a bit of an experiment of my own to see just what the issue could possibly be and in this article we will explore those findings along with some possible explanations for why even small amounts of alcohol might be a problem when trying to lose weight.
Without the ability to conduct a randomized controlled experiment, as I could not have my clients in a chamber for a few months monitoring everything they ate and drank, I did the best I could with them self reporting. I had one group who were self reporting as drinking more than once a week, and another group who reportedly were drinking just once a week. In the name of trying to help them get better results, I asked them to stop drinking completely for the next three months and to make a note of every time they broke ranks and did have a drink of alcohol. Additionally, I had my group of clients who never drank at all as a control and I paid very careful attention to their weight loss and performance in the gym for the next three months to see if I there were any changes if people stopped drinking. They all had the same dietary protocols that called for an avoidance of processed foods and a high protein, moderate fats and moderate carbohydrate intake set at exactly their estimated daily energy expenditure while performing a high intensity training protocol three times a week. All involved were also training for at least 3 months or longer with me at the start of my observations and as expected, some of the clients who agreed to not drink on the weekends slipped up, but some of them stood steadfast. And the differences in their weight loss profiles over the next three months was remarkable. So much so that I was able to look at the profile of one of my clients and by her relatively lowered rate of weight loss I could tell with the utmost confidence that was indeed having at least a drink a week, even though she said she was not drinking. She later confessed that she was indeed having just one drink and she was rather surprised that I could tell with such certainty. What was fascinating to me, was that those reportedly drinking just once a week and those openly admitting to having more than one drink, all had the same lowered weight loss profiles compared to those who didn’t drink who all lost more weight. There was also a bit of a lowered performance in their training, (more so among men), measured by how quickly they achieved momentary muscular failure or reduced focus for most, but not all of the clients who were drinking. Consequently, I had no choice but to change my recommendations, which, as you could imagine was very unpopular at that time, and continues to be unpopular today.
I never stopped looking for holes in my findings as there is still always a potential error in looking at data from a relatively small group. My little experiment started off with no more than 15 people, (which was just about the same as any formal study), but over the years I continued to look for patterns as my client base grew and the differences in weight loss progress between those who drank and those who didn’t remained the same, regardless of whether they were light or moderate drinkers. What seemed to matter most to slowing down weight loss was consistency more than anything else, though I will say that none of my clients ever drank heavily. Today in my practice as a personal trainer in New York City, clients are still surprised when I ask if they had a drink or two, after seeing a dip in performance during their high intensity workouts. I also can tell over time if body fat losses are not what they should be whether alcohol might be a factor if all other aspects of their diet are spot on and about nine out of ten times I am correct. So much so that I would even go as far to say that having a drink of alcohol is one of the most detrimental factors when it comes to losing body fat, more so than the occasional bout of junk food. One of the other reasons I initially thought that a drink of alcohol here and there could not affect weight loss was the examples of some of the bodybuilders around me at the time, who were in amazing shape even though some of them drank like fishes, (especially around Carnival time!) Coming to America, I saw it again, as there is a very popular party culture in the personal training community, where they drink (and do all manner of things) while still maintaining impressively lean physiques. One of the main reasons alcohol inhibits fat loss is due to suppression of testosterone and human growth hormones production. Both important factors in how our bodies burn fat and maintain lowered fat stores. The practice of taking anabolic steroids, human growth hormone, thyroid medication, insulin, ephedrine, clenbuterol and other drugs make it possible for those individuals to drink alcohol and still have lowered body fat. All the natural bodybuilders I know who sport great physiques all year round do not drink at all, and it’s sad that they tend to not be as popular as their drug using counterparts and so the message of drinking being really a factor in getting lean never gets the platform it should have. It makes sense that many who make a living based on how they look use drugs, as it allows them to have their cake and eat it and it’s a practice I have observed first hand for decades. The problem occurs when those same “fitness personalities” advise others that a drink here and there won’t make much of a difference while using these substances. On social media it’s a huge problem, as we so often see the guy or girl in excellent shape with a drink in their hand and some deduce that perhaps they too can imbibe and still get great results. Some very young men and women also drink and sport great bodies, but take a look at them in their 30’s and 40’s if they keep up the habit and you will see that it simply isn’t sustainable. Even for those blessed with good genetics to start out with as in my years of being in the field I can tell you that it does not end well.