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The Impact of Alcohol Consumption on Subsequent Food Intake

5 min read

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 football season, the end of a stressful week, summer time, pool or boating season or Christmas/holiday season, our society finds many reasons to have a drink.  Alternatively, it might just be Tuesday.

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.  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 know alcohol consumption impacts is 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, researchers are quite sure where 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?


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 amount of calories in alcohol to the four calories for every gram of either carbohydrate or protein, you can quickly see that alcohol deliver 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.  Consider that most foods which end up at party settings often have more (much more) fat and calories, you get a situation where vast 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 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 it’s hard to have a great time at a party and not overconsume food and calories.  Thank God for cheat days!!!!

Some additional facts regarding the impact of alcohol consumption on food intake include a number of studies which tell us what 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.


More recent work has also concluded that when a 13 ounce glass of red wine is consumed 20 minutes before a lunch meal that a 25% increase in subsequent calorie consumption occurs.  In other words, when a before meal drink was provided, calorie consumption in the meals that followed was increased by 313 calories.  This pattern need only be repeated ten times for an extra pound of fat to end up on your body!  This study also examined the impact of 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.  Let’s be clear, no one is saying stop drinking.  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.



Buemann, B., S. Toubro, et al. (2002). “The effect of wine or beer versus a carbonated soft drink, served at a meal, on ad libitum energy intake.” Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 26(10): 1367-1372.
Caton, S. J., M. Ball, et al. (2004). “Dose-dependent effects of alcohol on appetite and food intake.” Physiol Behav 81(1): 51-58.
Caton, S. J., L. Bate, et al. (2007). “Acute effects of an alcoholic drink on food intake: aperitif versus co-ingestion.” Physiol Behav 90(2-3): 368-375.
Caton, S. J., J. E. Marks, et al. (2005). “Pleasure and alcohol: manipulating pleasantness and the acute effects of alcohol on food intake.” Physiol Behav 84(3): 371-377.
Heikkonen, E., R. Ylikahri, et al. (1996). “The combined effect of alcohol and physical exercise on serum testosterone, luteinizing hormone, and cortisol in males.” Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research 20(4): 711-716.
Hetherington, M. M., F. Cameron, et al. (2001). “Stimulation of appetite by alcohol.” Physiol Behav 74(3): 283-289.
Mattes, R. D. (1996). “Dietary compensation by humans for supplemental energy provided as ethanol or carbohydrate in fluids.” Physiol Behav 59(1): 179-187.
Tremblay, A. and S. St-Pierre (1996). “The hyperphagic effect of a high-fat diet and alcohol intake persists after control for energy density.” Am J Clin Nutr 63(4): 479-482.
Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S. and C. R. Verwegen (1999). “The appetizing effect of an aperitif in overweight and normal-weight humans.” Am J Clin Nutr 69(2): 205-212.
Yeomans, M. R., N. J. Hails, et al. (1999). “Alcohol and the appetizer effect.” Behavioural pharmacology 10(2): 151-161.
Yeomans, M. R. and M. F. Phillips (2002). “Failure to reduce short-term appetite following alcohol is independent of beliefs about the presence of alcohol.” Nutr Neurosci 5(2): 131-139.



























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Chad Kerksick PhD
Chad Kerksick PhD

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