The Role of Alcohol in Fitness and Weight Control


As we continue our reflections from the recent Midsummer celebrations, it's crucial to understand how alcohol might impact our fitness progression and weight control goals.

The Interaction Between Alcohol and Fat Metabolism

There's a shared conviction that alcohol consumption hampers fat burning and, as a result, hinders weight loss. This assertion stems from alcohol's noticeable impact on the mobilization and metabolism of fats in the body. However, this viewpoint may oversimplify the dynamics of fat metabolism and overlook the concept of daily energy balance.

Suter et al. (1994) explored the impacts of alcohol on fat metabolism under two scenarios: when alcohol substituted other dietary calories (maintaining energy equilibrium) and when alcohol was added to the regular caloric intake. The findings were enlightening. When subjects maintained their energy balance, alcohol temporarily reduced fat burning for about 6 hours. However, the rest of the day saw increased fat burning to offset the earlier reduction. Over a day, alcohol had no net effect on fat balance.

This study underlines a crucial fact: similar to carbohydrates, alcohol contributes to fat gain only when it leads to caloric excess. Simply put, alcohol will contribute to fat gain when the calories you consume exceed the calories you burn.

Investigative Studies on Alcohol and Weight Gain

Various observational studies back up the absence of correlation between light-to-moderate alcohol intake and weight gain. In one study (Wannamethee et al.,2003) involving 6,832 middle-aged men, there was no link between light-to-moderate drinking and weight gain over five years. Only excessive drinking (more than 30 grams of alcohol per day) was linked to a significant increase in weight gain. This finding is not surprising, given that alcohol provides 7 calories per gram, making heavy drinking a sizeable addition to daily energy intake.

Other comprehensive studies involving large groups of men and women have yielded similar results, reinforcing the idea that moderate alcohol intake does not lead to weight gain, provided it doesn't push you into a caloric surplus.

The Impact of Alcohol on Weight Loss

The question arises for those engaged in a weight-loss regime: How does moderate alcohol intake influence weight loss? Research by Flechtner-Mors and colleagues offers some insights. The research divided participants into two groups, each consuming 1500 calories per day. One group received 10% of their calories from grape juice, the other from wine. After three months, the groups had no significant difference in weight loss.

The key message here is that alcohol does not obstruct weight loss as long as you maintain an energy deficit. However, alcohol could potentially create challenges in terms of appetite and overall calorie intake.

Alcohol's Effect on Appetite

Kwok et al. (2003) A meta-analysis of 12 studies published in the British Journal of Nutrition examined how alcohol consumption influences food energy intake and total energy intake compared to non-alcoholic drinks. The studies showed that alcohol consumption significantly boosted food intake by an average of 82 calories.

Moreover, adding the calories from alcohol to the increased food calories results in an even more significant impact. The total caloric intake increased by 256 calories on average. This increase was observed for both low and high doses of alcohol.

Key Insights

From the extensive research, we can glean several essential insights:

  • While alcohol does slow down fat burning while it's being metabolized, it doesn't affect the overall fat balance over a day if your calorie consumption doesn't exceed your calorie usage.
  • Weight gain due to alcohol only happens when you ingest more calories than your body requires.
  • A moderate quantity of alcohol (making up 10% of daily calories) doesn't impede fat loss, provided you're in a caloric deficit.
  • Alcohol could potentially stimulate your appetite and lead to an increase in food intake. When you consider the high caloric content of alcoholic beverages, it may become more challenging to maintain a caloric deficit and lose weight.

In sum, a moderate intake of alcohol, defined as one to two drinks per day at most, can be incorporated into a successful weight loss or fitness plan as long as you're conscious of the total calories you're consuming. However, it's essential to bear in mind the potential effects of alcohol on appetite and caloric intake. Furthermore, with its caloric density of 7 calories per gram, nearly as much as fat, alcohol can easily lead to overconsumption if not carefully monitored. Therefore, like many things in life, moderation is the key when it comes to alcohol and fitness.


  1. Flechtner-Mors, M., Biesalski, H. K., Jenkinson, C. P., Adler, G., & Ditschuneit, H. H. (2004). Effects of moderate consumption of white wine on weight loss in overweight and obese subjects. International Journal of Obesity, 28(11), 1420-1426.

  2. Kwok, A., Dordevic, A. L., Paton, G., Page, M. J., & Truby, H. (2019). Effect of alcohol consumption on food energy intake: a systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Nutrition, 121(5), 481-495.

  3. Suter, P. M., Schutz, Y., & Jequier, E. (1994). The Effect of Ethanol on Fat Storage in Healthy Subjects. The New England Journal of Medicine, 330(14), 981-986.

  4. Wannamethee, S. G., & Shaper, A. G. (2003). Alcohol, body weight, and weight gain in middle-aged men. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 77(5), 1312-1317.