Alcohol & Metabolism

Did you know alcohol is a carbohydrate? And not the “good kind” that is packed with nutrients, like fruit. It’s the “bad”, empty kind of carbohydrate that gives you very little nutritional value for the calories it packs. Alcoholic drinks tend to have a lot of calories in general, which can contribute to weight gain in itself. But there are more ways that alcohol affects your metabolism.

Alcohol causes your blood sugar levels to rise drastically simply because it is a carbohydrate.  This is not great for your metabolism and weight related goals.  As mentioned in my post about why it’s important to eat every three to four hours to maintain stable blood sugar levels, blood sugar levels that are too high or too low contribute to fat storage.  Since alcohol causes a spike in blood sugar, you can see how any other consumed calories would contribute to fat storage.

Additionally, your body views alcohol as a toxin. Since your body can’t store alcohol, it must metabolize it right away, meaning your body tries to burn it off and use it as fuel in order to get rid of it as soon as possible. Metabolizing the alcohol takes priority over all other metabolic processes (like digesting food, for example). This means that after two drinks, any other nutrients you might be getting from the food you are eating aren’t going to be absorbed properly because the alcohol is being processed in order to rid your body of the toxin fast.  Therefore, any calories that you do consume will mainly be stored as fat.


Alcohol often leads to dehydration as well, since it disrupts hormones in your body that enable you to hold onto water. (Ever notice how much you have to pee once you start drinking? That’s alcohol affecting your normal body processes!) Dehydration has no place in your diet if you are trying to build muscle, maintain weight, or lose weight, since water is crucial to all your metabolic processes associated with muscle building, weight loss, and more.

Another fun fact about drinking alcohol is that it can quickly mess with your sleep.  You probably think you sleep better after a drink or two…but in fact, you don’t.  Alcohol can disrupt your body’s ability to fall into REM sleep, which is the deepest stage of sleep that contributes to feeling well rested.  Alcohol reduces the amount and quality of REM sleep, which leaves you feeling sluggish and lethargic the next day.  If you didn’t know that sleep and weight maintenance are closely related, then you need to read up on why inadequate sleep can contribute to weight gain.

Also, keep in mind that over-consumption of alcohol can have serious long term affects to your health. Since it’s a toxin and your liver is the primary organ to clear the alcohol from your system, over consumption over long periods of time can cause permanent damage to your liver, as well as affect your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels in general.  Many other diseases have been linked to alcoholism and over consumption of alcohol, and these are matters to discuss with a physician if you have concerns about your health.

In short, alcoholic drinks should be enjoyed in strict moderation, one to two drinks here and there, and only when you have had a proper meal beforehand. Remember to drink plenty of water the day of and morning after if you choose to indulge in alcoholic beverages. And of course, be responsible!

Questions? Leave a comment!