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The Impact of Alcohol Consumption on Subsequent Food Intake

Nearly all of us do it from time to time, and some more than others.

I’m talking about knocking back a few beers, drinks, or glasses of wine before, during, or after dinner.

Whether it’s because it’s our favorite sports season, the end of a stressful week, meeting up with friends, pool or boating season, or Christmas/holiday season ... our society finds many reasons to have a drink.

Alternatively, it might just be Tuesday haha 

No judging or ivory tower arguments will take place, but we all know that consuming alcohol and losing fat/staying lean typically don’t go hand in hand.

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For starters, research has shown that acute alcohol ingestion can negatively impact hormonal production.

Negative alterations in these hormones could unfavorably impact strength and muscle mass changes as well as fat status on our bodies.

Another area that we all I think most of us know about is alcohol consumption and the impact it has on how much we eat.

Whether it’s because we typically don’t eat raw fruits and vegetables when drinking some beers (cheese and bacon covered potato skins with sour cream and chives DON’T count) and watching sports...

Or because alcohol makes life seem more enjoyable and your normal levels of restraint are lowered ...

which leads to your hand automatically and uncontrollably going back into the bag of chips or bowl of trail mix ... where researchers are quite sure, in an otherwise sober situation, you might control yourself better.

But do you know how much alcohol consumption can really impact the amount of calories you consume?

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One of the first steps a person can do to put them on a path to lose weight and fat is to stop drinking.

For starters, alcohol itself is fairly calorically concentrated.

Every gram of alcohol contains seven calories, and as is often discussed, those calories are largely void of anything nutritious.

I keep waiting for someone to produce a vitamin/mineral fortified beer or vodka, just to allow them to say it’s “nutritious”.

When you compare the number of calories in alcohol to the four calories for every gram of either carbohydrate or protein, you can quickly see that alcohol delivers nearly two times the amount of calories in comparison to these other nutrients.

Certainly, we also must highlight that fat contains nine calories per for every gram.

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Considering that most foods that end up at party settings often have more (much more) fat and calories, you get a situation where large amounts of calories can be knocked back in a hurry.

Six beers and a quarter pounder with cheese and fries will likely deliver somewhere around 1,500 calories or more and there is ZERO chance this will completely suffice you through the rest of the party which likely offers cupcakes, cookies, etc.

Again, no judging ... and the bottom line is it’s hard to have a great time at a party and not over-consume food and calories.

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Some additional facts regarding the impact of alcohol consumption on food intake include a number of studies which tell us that the calories provided from alcohol are additive, and that no evidence of compensation occurs from the food we eat.

In other words, when you are consuming your favorite beverage, humans don’t appear to be able to restrain from eating as many calories as they otherwise would, regardless of whether they consume additional calories from alcohol.

Additionally, several studies went one step further and concluded that moderate doses of alcohol can actually have a stimulatory effect on calorie consumption.

Again, something we’ve all experienced, but to see that even relatively small doses of alcohol can increase subsequent food intake by 5 – 20% is, let’s just say, disheartening.

This means if you consume a moderate amount of alcohol before eating, let’s say a meal that contains 500 calories, the impact of the alcohol results in a meal, which may now contain between 525 – 600 calories.
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In other words, when a before-meal drink was provided, calorie consumption in the meals that followed was increased by 313 calories.

More recent work has also concluded that when a 13-ounce glass of red wine is consumed 20 minutes before a lunch meal, a 25% increase in subsequent calorie consumption occurs.

This pattern need only be repeated a few times for extra weight to end up on your body!

This study also examined that consuming a small (4 ounces) glass of red wine before eating and a larger glass (8.5 ounces) with the meal resulted in a 22% increase in subsequent calorie consumption.

This article is intended to assign some numbers to a habit many of us partake in, and to give you a better idea of how the impact of alcohol can influence your subsequent caloric intake.

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Let’s be clear, no one is saying to stop drinking... unless you want to.

Rather, the message is simply to be aware that if you would like to shed a few pounds, that caution should be made regarding your intake of alcohol and subsequent caloric intake.

One certainly appears to feed (no pun intended) off of the other, and both of them work against your desire to be healthy and lean.


-Dr. Chad Kerksick is an Assistant Professor of Exercise Science at Lindenwood University with a PhD in Exercise, Nutrition and Preventive Health. His research and expertise center upon study the impact of exercise and nutrition interventions on health and performance. You can follow him on Twitter at @chadkerksick.



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