Why does alcohol make you fat?

By August 21, 2012 11 Comments

The following article is an extract from the complete edition of Reveal The Steel and can be found within Chapter 3 (Diet & Nutrition).
Note: This extract has been modified slightly for contextual purposes to make sure it makes sense outside of the confines of the book itself.


It would be easy for me to completely shun alcohol and tell you that you should be avoiding one of the last available legal drugs at all costs. However, if you know me, you’ll understand that I’m a complete realist in every sense of the word.

By that I mean, many of us with active social lives (or not) find the addition of alcohol a necessary social lubricant—be it due to social pressures or choosing to imbibe on one’s own merit.

Which ever way you choose to go, it’s completely at your own discretion. But at the very least, allow me to shed some light on the subject as well as offer my own suggestions on how I would personally approach alcohol consumption not only during a training program, but also year-round.

Does alcohol make you fat?

When you drink alcohol, your liver converts it into a substance called acetate. Your body opts to burning acetate to all other sources of fuel (including fat), and basically shuts down its normal process of burning off any other source of energy. One study suggests that appetite increases following alcohol consumption. Couple that with the fact that the body takes preference in burning acetate off before anything else, and you can quickly see that there may be some serious waistline-expanding consequences because of it1.

If fat-loss is your goal, partaking in one-too-many alcoholic beverages several times per week will severely blunt your progress (potentially sending you backwards).

Alcohol consumption in regards to muscle-gain…

Alcohol is known to increase cortisol levels and lower testosterone production even 24 hours after consumption2.

These are two key factors in your body’s decision to either add new muscle, or take it away. Not cool.

The mental game…

Fat-gain and muscle-loss issues aside, one cannot dismiss the effects that alcohol consumption has on a person’s mental state (post consumption). There are a variety of alcohol related mental ‘side-effects’ in regards to training, but two of the more important ones are:
#1 Reduced motivation and
#2 Reduced training intensity

If you’re drinking at a level where it’s affecting you in the above areas, you might need to re-think your consumption. ‘Moderation’ might seem like a cliche, but it’s an important one in regards to your long-term health3.

What’s a ‘safe’ level of alcohol consumption then?

Given that alcohol works on the body in a way that doesn’t allow for the ‘calories in vs calories out’ analogy to work, I find it easier to look at it in terms of weekly consumption. One way to tackle the problem, is to limit your consumption during the week. A glass of wine here and there on a weeknight won’t be detrimental to your training, and has even been found to be beneficial (for the most part) in small quantities4.

What about the weekends?

This is where I believe you can relax a little and drink a couple more than you would during the week. I’m not talking about binge-drinking nor copious amounts spread out over several days—I’m talking sensible amounts. What’s the point of undoing all of your mid-week hard work?

Alcohol consumption during a training program?

Asking you to completely abstain from alcohol would be completely unrealistic. For the reasons previously mentioned, there may be times where you’d like to partake: social gatherings, weddings, parties—it’s quite plausible that you have a life out there and want to live it.

As with most things, the key is not to overdo it.


This all comes down to what kind of physique you’re trying to achieve and/or maintain. Alcohol can upset a lean physique if partaken in excessive quantities. However, and this is completely individual, I’ve found a few glasses of wine on the weekend and one or two during the week has had little affect on results.

Most importantly, don’t forget, alcohol is only one part of the equation. If the rest of your diet and training isn’t up to snuff, it will make little difference.

Interested in more information on Diet & Nutrition?

You’ll find more detailed in the full edition at

Diet & Nutrition topics covered in the full edition:

  • Food: the good and the not so good
  • ‘Sometimes’ foods and other foods to be wary of
  • ‘Magical’ foods and supplements
  • How to calculate your calories per day
  • How to calculate macronutrient intake
  • The 70-30 rule
  • The ‘once-only’ food journal

Click here for an overview >


1. Ajcn “De novo lipogenesis, lipid kinetics, and whole-body lipid balances in humans after acute alcohol consumption” Scott Q Siler (11/1999)
2. Pubmed “Alcohol’s effects on male reproduction.” Emanuele MA (03/22/1998)
3. Pubmed “Alcohol and depression: a clinical perspective.” Schuckit MA. (1994)
4. Pubmed “Potential health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption: current perspectives in research.” Nova E (05/2012)

Clint Nielsen

Author Clint Nielsen

Clint is a dad and husband trying to stay in shape. He's also a highly opinionated fitness enthusiast and author of Reveal The Steel. Follow him on: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Google+

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