The effects of alcohol on your health

A guide to alcohol, calories and lifestyle

What effect does alcohol have on your health? Well, you go to the gym three times a week, never take sugar in your tea and try to eat healthily — so why can’t you get rid of that excess stomach flab? It could be down to drinking too much booze.

If you think this may be the case, then check out’s article on alcohol and calories — and find out for sure!

A hidden source of calories

With seven calories per gram and a single unit of alcohol weighing 8g, alcohol is one of the greatest hidden sources of calories in our diets. For example, that tiny splash of vodka in the bottom of the glass contains 56 calories before you even think of adding a mixer, while a pint of bitter weighs in at 175 calories, a 440ml can of premium lager at 260, and a 175ml glass of red wine (the standard pub measurement) at 115 calories. Even if you stick within the recommended maximum alcohol intake (14 units per week for women and 21 a week for men), you could be unwittingly adding 800 to 1200 liquid calories to your calorie intake! And sadly, they aren’t calories you can simply ‘burn off.’

Why is this? It’s because alcohol cannot be used directly by the muscles, and instead travels straight into the bloodstream, from where it has to be metabolized before the body can make use of more preferable fuel sources, such as carbohydrate or fat. According to the Journal of Endurance, fat-burning and protein synthesis are lowered by as much as 20 per cent while the body is digesting and metabolising alcohol. It takes roughly an hour for each unit of alcohol to be metabolized. Consume it too regularly and research shows that alcohol will suppress fat oxidation and promote fat storagethe exact opposite of what you want! And — even worse — this excess fat tends to accumulate around the waist, thereby creating the proverbial beer belly.

Alcohol and lifestyle

It’s not just the drinks themselves that could be expanding your waistline, but the lifestyle habits that tend to go with them. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a single pre-lunch wine or beer can result in an increased calorie intake over the next 24 hours! Researchers don’t know whether this is due to an increase in appetite or a decrease in willpower and inhibitions, or a combination of the two. But most of us are familiar with that ‘Oh, what the hell!’ feeling after a few drinks, and have found ourselves chomping down kebabs, curries and chips to help ‘mop up’ the excess booze! The researchers in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also found that higher alcohol consumption is associated with less healthy eating habits in generalparticularly a higher intake of cholesterol, fatty acids and animal products (kebab, anyone?).

The other way booze might be affecting your body is by hampering your workouts. If you exercise the morning after a drinking session, you may experience a higher perception of effort, palpitations and a lower exercise capacityso you probably won’t end up working as hard or as long as you normally would. (Also, you shouldn’t force yourself to exercise with a hangover as a punishment to yourself anyway. You are best off resting and drinking plenty of water or isotonic drinks until you feel better.) Equally, it’s not wise to drink straight after a heavy training session, as alcohol has been shown to interfere with muscle repair and recovery.

Drinking and staying healthy

Of course, all this doesn’t mean that you have to call time on your drinking habit, as it’s quite possible to drink moderately and remain fit and healthy. But if you are watching your weight, or attempting to lose body fat, it’s worth keeping a drink diary to see whether an inordinate percentage of your energy intake is coming from alcohol. Government statistics show that for the average UK citizen, alcohol accounts for around 5% of overall calorie intake — which is the equivalent of 125 calories if you eat 2500 calories per day. Find out how your boozing measures up, and whether it could be undermining your attempts to stay in shape, by keeping a diary and checking out the following table:


A guide to alcohol units and calories

ABV (%)
Pint of standard strength beer (e.g. Carlsberg) 3.5 2 160-180
Single measure (25ml) spirit (e.g. vodka, whisky, gin) Vary 1 50-60
125ml glass of red or white dry wine 12 1 80
125ml glass of sweet white wine or champagne 12 1 100
175ml glass of red or white dry wine 12 2 110
75cl bottle of wine 12 9 500
250ml glass of red or white wine 12 3 160
440ml can of premium beer 5 2.2 260
25ml measure of Campari 25 1 110
50ml measure of port or sherry 18 1 75

Comments (7)

  • Chris_Whitehead ' Interesting article. Now looks like I'll have to substitute my beer drinking for lower calorie count vodka and sherry if I'm to avoid the bulging belly!'

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  • adam_s ' I think a good start for a lot of people would be to lay off the premium strength lagers. They seem to be the worst both 4 the waistline and your ability to talk sense. '

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  • HAN75 'I know a few of my friends who go for the alcopops and they've put on a bit too much weight. If I'm drinking I stick to vodka and keep the coke to a minimum and try to have a few glasses of water inbetween. '

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  • Debs 'I was truely mortified the other day when I found out that my favourite summer tipple, vintage cider, has up to 700 calories in per pint! No wonder I get a summer belly! May be avoiding those and switching to Pimms this year. Or maybe that's just as bad?!!'

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  • Brooksy 'Hmmm ... lots to think about here. I would need a very large book to have a Drinks Diary, or I could start a new blog on here, I suppose. Last two days have not been good due to party season .... Thursday: Two pints premium lager, best part of a bottle of wine, half a bottle of Cognac (Slept very well) Friday: Two pints of Fosters, not too sure how much wine, but I can guess "a lot", two tequilas, one Jameson and a pint of Bulmers Original Cider (Sleep? More like a mild coma ... very pleased to wake up this morning and have already run two miles) Tonight ... family party. 'nuf said. Cheers!'

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  • Mikey_01 'hmmmm.... looked at this and not going to stop drinking so, me thinks , how about the vodka but no coke just soda water with slice of lemon and lime tell me what you think'

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  • Phil_Crisp 'I remember drink; the warm old friend, the bit of life that was mine, payback time. When all was done bought and paid for, when all the work was done and everyone catered for this one was my me time and my release.... Then I saw the place "my friend" was leading and realised that friend was an illusion... then I discovered marathon and the long lost child in me who just loved to run. No judgement, just my story............ "Nuf said"'

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