All About Metabolism Part 3: 4 Ways Alcohol Affects Your Health And Wellness

Female friends raise glasses out at a restaurant.

Whether your day has been busy and productive, stressful and tiring, or happy and exciting, it is common to want to “reward” yourself with alcohol. We tell ourselves things like “I deserve this,” “I need this to unwind from the day,” or “let’s take the edge off.” However, while it feels like you are “de-stressing,” alcohol is causing more stress inside your body than you can imagine.

So, as we calculate the 300 calories in our two glasses of wine, there is much more going on than the “added calories” story you’ve been sold for years. A confluence of chemical events occurs inside our bodies to respond to the alcohol we’ve consumed.

First, the body is being sent a signal that what we’ve put into it is dangerous. Second, it wreaks havoc on your muscle building and fat burning, both of which we all cherish. I know it can be “intoxicating” 🤪 to think about the 300 calories or the “sugar” in your wine, yet much more is going on under the surface. Third, it is all bad news for our sleep and stress resilience.

Great news, right? Read on…

Female friends raise glasses out at a restaurant.

Our body sees alcohol as a toxin and wants to get rid of it as quickly as possible. Alcohol negatively affects our metabolism, weight, sleep quality, workouts, stress resilience, and ultimately, our health and wellness. It is simply a confluence of bad news.

1. Alcohol primes us for fat storage

It is not about the 300 calories in your two glasses of wine; it is how your body responds to alcohol that is more dangerous and wreaks havoc on your body.

When we drink alcohol, like anything we eat, it creates an entire chemical chain reaction. When we drink alcohol, we build up Acetyl-CoA. One of the results of this is that it tells your body (sends a signal) that it doesn’t need food. This is because the Acetyl-CoA tells our body we don’t need to burn calories for energy. So, when we eat while drinking, food gets stored as fat because your body is being sent a message that you don’t need it and any burning of fat or sugar, so it comes to a halt.

Alcohol increases our appetite and causes us to crave fat and carbohydrates, which don’t get metabolized because the body is working hard to detox from the alcohol. It also halts fat loss on its heels, even without any snacking while we eat. We need protein, vegetables, and other foods which help balance blood sugar, yet that’s not what we crave when we drink.

Alcohol also causes the hormone dopamine to rise, which fires up reward pathways and causes us to crave even more sugary foods or another glass – for a reward. Our brain is relaxed and calm, so we are less inhibited from stopping the snacking madness, leading to more fat storage and weight gain. Our blood sugar swings like a playground swing set with a group of rambunctious third graders!

2. Alcohol reduces quality sleep

While you may think you fall asleep quicker after a glass of wine or two, the quality and quantity of deep, restful sleep drastically decreases. Alcohol lowers melatonin and serotonin, two important hormones which help us sleep. Without them, we sleep restlessly or have increased night awakenings. Alcohol also causes blood sugar and cortisol swings, making it difficult to get that quality, uninterrupted sleep our bodies need.

Close up of white wine being poured into a glass.

3. Alcohol disrupts muscle building and muscle repair

Exercise is vital for our overall health and wellness. Yet when we drink alcohol, our exercise does not give us what we intended, like increased muscle, muscle recovery, and the actual energy to engage in it. Additionally, muscle repair is negatively impacted with alcohol, leaving us unable to properly recover from workouts. Alcohol dysregulates our production of glycogen, a stored form of carbohydrates and a source of fuel that is crucial for energy production. Glycogen is the energy source we need for our workouts, and it is not produced when we drink alcohol. Without it, or even with less of it, our bodies don’t get the full benefit from our workout. Of course, being dehydrated (a direct result of alcohol consumption) doesn’t bode well for our muscle growth either. This means all your hard work in the gym may not produce the intended results, and it could take you longer to reach your fitness goals.

4. Alcohol is detrimental to our stress resilience practice

When we are deprived of quality sleep, we cannot manage daily stressors as capably as we would with sleep.

Our stress hormone, cortisol, is released when we drink and obscures what we perceive as “normal.” Cortisol combines with the brain’s reward or pleasure systems which can lead to increased consumption because it “feels good.”

If the statistics help you, another reason to fix your stress is the higher our stress, the more Americans drink.

Notebook on a table with a cup of coffee- written in it is: to do list - slow down, relax and de-stress

Here are my top 5 tips to combat the negative effects of alcohol:

  1. Stay hydrated all day
  2. Get your sleep (at least 7 hours each night)
  3. Find your stress resilience tools
  4. Watch out for munching “empty” calories while drinking alcohol
  5. Push back the first drink time

Focusing on how we fuel our bodies for all they give back to us is part of our wellness journey. By decreasing the amount of alcohol – or toxins – we take in, we allow our metabolism to do what it’s best at: burning energy and recovering so that we can enjoy our busy, beautiful lives.

Stay tuned for part four, where we will uncover more facts about muscle building and metabolism. If you are interested in any of our newest programs, like our latest special for our small group fitness program, email us at alicia@alexandriawellness.com.

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In Strength,
Adrien