A man with a big belly holding a beer glass

6 Reasons Alcohol Causes Weight Gain

I am one of those people who maintain the same weight all year round. I mean, I used to be one of those people, until I turned 30. On my most recent trip to Europe, I managed to pile on three kilos despite eating clean and running almost every day. How is that possible? What have I done differently? The answer is simple: alcohol.

When I was away I had a glass of wine with every dinner, for a month, and a few vodkas on a night out. Who would think that one glass a day and two nights out could be so bad for you? In the search for answers, I found many surprising reasons alcohol piles on the kilos.

1. Alcohol Equals Empty Calories

Alcohol doesn’t contain any nutrients but does have a caloric value of seven calories per gram. In just one shot of vodka, there are nearly 100 calories. For those of you trying to lose fat, forget it if you are drinking. Not only will the high-calorie content of alcohol have a negative effect on your total calorie intake, but it also shuts off your fat burning.

Basically, your body is trying so hard to digest and metabolise the alcohol that fat burning stops altogether. If you are a cocktail lover, you add the second evil in the form of sugar, which will cause insulin spikes and add even more calories.

2. Alcohol Causes Dehydration and Slows Down Protein Synthesis

Not only does alcohol gives you a hangover, which can stop you exercising at all, but it actually lowers protein synthesis by 20 per cent even when you do exercise. There are several reasons it does this. For one, it dehydrates your muscle cells. Because your cells aren’t holding as much water, it becomes much harder to build muscle (we need lean muscle to burn fat).

The other reasons alcohol slows down protein synthesis are low testosterone, vitamin and mineral depletion and poor sleep. But more on this later.

3. Alcohol Lowers Testosterone and Increases Estrogen

A study measuring men’s testosterone levels before and after consumption of alcohol found that at the most intoxicated state, testosterone levels had dropped by 25 per cent. When blood alcohol levels were the highest, testosterone was at its lowest. This means the actual building of muscle is slowed down by 25 per cent or more. This included a 35 per cent decrease in muscle insulin-like growth factor-I (GF-I).

Alcohol has also been shown to cause a quicker aromatization of androgens into oestrogens, which explains why heavy drinkers who are male often get gynecomastia (man boobs) over a period of time. Even drinking two standard drinks (24g alcohol) lowers testosterone levels and causes physiological damage.

Testosterone is an important hormone for muscle building and fat burning for both men and women. So if you have two drinks a day every day, your testosterone will always be lower than optimal.

4. Alcohol Effects Quality of Sleep

Alcohol consumption, especially at the times when you would normally sleep, can affect your quality of sleep. It can disrupt the sequence and duration of sleep states and affect your total sleep time. A good night’s sleep is essential for the rebuilding and growth process of muscle as growth hormone is released in the deepest levels of sleep. Without proper rest and recovery, muscle gain is affected due to low levels of growth hormone, melatonin and other hormonal imbalances.

5. Alcohol Decreases Vitamin and Mineral Absorption

Alcohol interferes with the metabolism of most vitamins, and with the absorption of many nutrients. It is well known that alcohol competes and influences the processing of nutrients in the body. It literally robs your body of magnesium, zinc and B vitamins just to name few.  When you consume large quantities of alcohol, your liver is busy converting the alcohol to acetate and any vitamins and minerals that it might process are taken up by the detoxification process.

For example, alcohol stimulates both urinary calcium and magnesium excretion which means that if you take calcium, magnesium and other supplements before a big night out, you just end up producing expensive wee.

6. Alcohol Causes Inflammation

Alcohol causes inflammation in your body, affects your gut microbiome and damages your gut wall. When your body is inflamed and when you have gut dysbiosis, you can’t burn fat.

Alcohol drives up your appetite and removes inhibitions so you are likely to act on your impulses. Next thing you are bingeing on greasy and sweet junk food.

Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t have a drink every now and then. Our advice is to make it no more than one to two drinks, one to two times a week. A glass of red or a vodka and soda every now and then isn’t going to hurt.

When you are trying to lose fat and build muscle, you’re better abstaining from alcohol altogether.

This is a guest post from Veronika Larisova who is an Exercise Physiologist, Nutritionist, Chief Bar and beauty Food Co-founder, Ultra-marathon runner. You can read more on her website eatlifeachief.com or follower her on her Instagram @veronikalarisova & @chief_bar.

General FAQ

Does alcohol cause weight gain?

In short, alcohol is rich in calories, with little to no nutritional value, and hence can cause weight gain to a varying degree.

How does alcohol affect your weight?

Alcohol not only adds calories to your system, but it can also slow your metabolism, making it harder to burn those calories, meaning weight gain is imminent.

Does alcohol cause belly fat?

While some carbonated alcoholic products such as beer are likely to increase bloating, alcohol can increase your BMI simply due to its calorie content.

How can I drink alcohol and not gain weight?

The best way to avoid weight gain from alcohol, as with anything you consume, is to monitor your intake and exercise regularly to avoid an accumulation of calories in your system that can easily be converted to fat.

Mark Jessen

Mr Mark Jessen

Mark Jessen studied English at Brigham Young University, completing a double emphasis in creative writing and professional writing/editing. After graduating, Mark went to work for a small publisher as their book editor. After a brief time as a freelance writer, Mark entered the corporate world as a copywriter. These days, his hours are spent mostly in proofing and editing, though he continues to create content for a wide variety of projects. In 2017, Mark completed UCLA's Creative Writing Certification. A prolific writer, Mark has over 20 years of experience in journalism.