We know that there is a connection between alcohol and weight gain, but how exactly does alcohol impact our metabolism (if at all)? To fully understand alcohol’s role in slowing our metabolism, we first need to get clear about what we’re talking about.
What is metabolism?
Metabolism is the process our body goes through to convert food and drink into energy. There are actually two processes at play: anabolism and catabolism. Anabolism is the process by which your body stores energy for things like new cell growth and maintaining tissue. Catabolism, on the other hand, is the process by which the body breaks down energy to move, heat, and energize your body.
When we talk about slow metabolism, we mean that the body breaks down and uses energy more slowly. This can be caused by a number of factors including a lack of physical activity, genes, and age. Slow metabolism combined with excess calories (energy) results in weight gain. Whatever the body is unable to break down gets stored as fat.
The number of calories your body uses to perform its basic functions is known as metabolic rate. However, a lot of people use these terms interchangeably.
Does alcohol slow metabolism?
Alcohol doesn’t slow your metabolism, but it does hijack it. When we ask if alcohol slows metabolism, we’re really asking if it messes with our body in a way that causes weight gain. And it definitely does do that.
When we drink alcohol, our body prioritizes its metabolization over everything else. If you’re pounding margaritas alongside a heaping pile of nachos, your body is going to metabolize the alcohol first.
Our liver can metabolize about one standard drink per hour. Anything we consume beyond that enters into our bloodstream. Because our bodies will prioritize burning energy from alcohol first, it will store additional energy from food as body fat. Since our bodies cannot metabolize large quantities of alcohol in short periods of time, this can (and often does) lead to weight gain.
It’s why heavy drinkers frequently carry excess weight around their midsection, a.k.a. the beer belly or wine tummy.
Other ways alcohol impacts your metabolism.
Alcohol’s impact on our metabolism can also be indirect. The more we drink, the more we may suffer from hangovers and general malaise, which can cause us to become more sedentary. A lack of exercise contributes to slower metabolism.
Drinking alcohol also disrupts our sleep cycles. Poor sleep quality and sleep deprivation can lead to metabolic dysregulation. It is also associated with increased oxidative stress, glucose (blood sugar) intolerance (a precursor to diabetes), and insulin resistance.
Alcohol can also damage our digestive system, which further impacts our body’s ability to break down energy from food and absorb nutrients.
Finally, alcohol lowers our inhibitions which can lead to bad decisions. It also switches our brains into starvation mode which is why you might feel like eating everything in sight after happy hour. The combination of the two often leads to late-night binges of high-calorie food.
How to Boost Your Metabolism After Drinking
There are a number of ways to reverse the effects of heavy drinking on your metabolism. None of them are going to work as effectively as you like if you continue to drink more than a drink or two per week.
If, after you quit drinking, you want to lose weight and improve your overall appearance, there are some things you can do to boost your metabolism. Vanity aside, these tactics will also dramatically improve your energy levels and quality of life.
1. Get some sleep.
Adopting healthy sleep habits and getting at least 7-9 hours of sleep every night a great place to start. Lack of sleep is linked to increased blood sugar levels and insulin resistance. It can also increase the hunger hormone, ghrelin, and decrease the fullness hormone.
It’s why you may find yourself ravenous after a night of bad sleep.
There are so many powerful benefits of exercise. When it comes to metabolism, there are two kinds of workouts that are particularly helpful.
First, try incorporating some High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) into your routine. Any activity that incorporates quick, intense bursts of activity will do. This will help you increase your metabolic rate which enables you to burn fat even after you stop working out.
Second, lift weights. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat. When you build muscle, you boost your metabolism. Even body weight exercises can help you build muscle and increase metabolism, so don’t let a lack of access to equipment be a barrier.
Even making a conscientious effort to stand up more throughout the day can help. Living a sedentary lifestyle is guaranteed to slow your metabolism. If you work a desk job, this can be hard to overcome. Try investing in a standing desk or setting reminders to get up and walk around for a few minutes each hour.
3. Eat protein and whole grains.
Protein is more difficult to break down than other food, which means your body expends more energy to metabolize it. That’s a good thing. It also helps you feel fuller longer, which prevents you from overeating throughout the day.
Additionally, whole grains are more difficult to digest than their refined counterparts. So when you have a hankering for a sandwich or pasta, choose whole grain options.
4. Drink water.
Studies have shown that drinking 0.5 liters of water can increase your resting metabolic rate by 10-30%. Plus, drinking a lot of water means you aren’t drinking a bunch of sugary drinks with empty calories. Some research suggests that drinking water half an hour before a meal can help you avoid overeating. Just a few more reasons why water is so critical to a healthy lifestyle.
5. Drink tea or coffee.
Caffeine is another way to get a metabolism boost, but only if you’re getting it from a healthy source. The contents of an energy drink or can of soda are going to override any potential health benefits from caffeine.
Oolong tea is especially promising for boosting metabolism. Some early studies out of Japan have shown that oolong tea, unlike other sources of caffeine, continues to burn fat during sleep. This led to a 20% increase in fat burning. Another bonus is that participants who drank oolong tea did not experience sleep disruptions that can commonly occur with other drinks containing caffeine.
Coffee is another popular caffeine source that has some promising effects on metabolism. Because coffee contains a number of stimulants as well as high caffeine content, it can increase your metabolic rate. Oddly, these effects appear to be more pronounced for lean people, so keep that in mind.
Bottom Line: Does alcohol slow metabolism?
Not exactly, but it doesn’t mean you’re in the clear if you drink it. Alcohol does impede your body’s ability to metabolize food while you’re drinking which can force it to be stored as fat. It also negatively impacts several body systems that are critical to maintaining a healthy metabolism, creating a domino effect that ultimately results in a slow metabolism and weight gain. There are several things you can do to boost metabolism naturally, but getting rid of alcohol should definitely be top of that list.