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Calories in alcohol and weight loss

How much do the calories in alcohol affect your weight loss? Does a few drinks each night or weekend really make that much difference? We look at the reasons why alcohol consumption might be holding your weight loss right back!


Alcohol is the most social and common kind of 'drug' we can take, and it's a normal part of our society and socialising to have a few drinks. We've been drinking alcohol for centuries from simple fermented drinks to classy wines, champagnes, and exotic cocktails. There are obvious health and social problems associated with excessive or binge consumption of alcohol, but what about it's effects on people aiming for weight loss?

Calories in alcohol

Just like any food or drink you consume (water excepting) alcoholic drinks contain energy or calories. There are 7 calories per gram of alcohol (29kJ), second only to fat (9 calories per gram) in energy concentration. A 'standard' alcoholic drink or 'unit' contains 8 grams of alcohol, which is equal to 56 calories from the alcohol alone (not to mention sugars that are also sometimes present). Alcohol compares favorably to the energy content of fat at 9 calories per gram, but is worse than protein or carbohydrate at 4 calories per gram.

calories alcohol weight loss

The other downside of alcohol is that a 'standard' drink isn't so standard anymore! One pint of beer has 2.5 units of alcohol, a 125ml glass of wine (this is a small glass!) has 1.5 units, and a nip of spirits is 1 unit. The original guidelines for standard drink sizes have become outdated as in Australia we serve stronger beer (5% not 3%), stronger wine (13% not 10%) and larger portions of all drinks eg double shots are standard in most pubs. So you can see that a 'standard' drink contains a significant amount of calories from alcohol....and that's not including the calories from mixers sugar in the alcoholic drink and then any mixers you have!


Calories in alcoholic drinks:

So what's the best drink to have for low calories and weight loss? (No prizes for guessing it's water!). But if you do need to have an alcoholic drink here is a table of common drinks and their calories:

Alcoholic drink

Serve size

Calories per serve

Alcohol (grams)

Sugar (grams)

Beer 5%

375 ml

135 cals

18.8g

0.8g

Light beer 2.2%

375 ml

94 cals

8.3g

0.4g

Low carb beer 4.8%

375ml

110 cals

18g

 

White wine sweet

200ml glass

189 cals

18.3g

3.3g

White wine dry

200ml glass

135 cals

18.3g

0g

Red wine

200ml glass

133 cals

18.3g

1.3g

Spirits

1 nip 30ml

60 cals

12g

0g

Cider

200ml glass

75 cals

10g

Water

any

0 cals

0 mins

0g

So all alcoholic drinks contain a significant amount of calories per serve, and we often have a lot more than just one serve! But how much damage does this do for your weight loss efforts? Well, in an ideal dietary plan you'd reduce your calorie intake by 250-500 calories per day to achieve a good amount of healthy weight loss per week. If this is your target then you can easily see that 1-2 drinks per day puts pay to any good nutrition plan you might follow during the day. Simply said: 1-2 alcoholic drinks can seriously halt your weight loss.

Another way to look at the effect alcohol has on weight loss is to compare the equivalent time you would need to spend doing fitness training to burn these calories off! We'll assume someone has an average fitness level and is of average weight:


Training time required to burn off calories from alcohol:

Alcoholic drink

Walking

Swimming

Running

Cycling

Beer (355ml)

30 mins

17 mins

12 mins

13 mins

Light beer (355ml)

20 mins

11 mins

8 mins

9 mins

Low carb beer (355ml)

23 mins

13 mins

9 mins

10 mins

White wine sweet (200ml glass)

40 mins

23 mins

16 mins

18 mins

White wine dry (200ml glass)

29 mins

16 mins

12 mins

13 mins

Red wine (200ml glass)

28 mins

16 mins

11 mins

12 mins

Spirits (on ice / neat)

13 mins

7 mins

5 mins

6 mins

Water

0 mins

0 mins

0 mins

0 mins

So you can see there's a lot of work to be done if you have a few (or more) drinks. Think of all the blood, sweat, tears, and hard work that can go into a great fitness session....and how easily it can be reversed by drinking alcohol. Also, alcohol contains no essential nutrients and reduces the absorption of Vitamins A, D, E, K, folate, B I, and B2. As well, alcohol does not contribute to muscle glycogen, so you may be left short on carbohydrates, which you need in order to train hard.


What about the calories in low carb beer?

Low carb beer has been very popular in the US, and some brands have been released onto the Australian market, but how much difference will a low carb beer make to your calorie intake? Will low carb beers help with weight loss? An example here is called 'Pure Blonde', made by Carlton Breweries:

Pure Blonde is a full strength beer (4.6 % ABV) that is not made in the US "lite beer" style. Pure Blonde retains a full flavoured, clean and crisp taste profile and is made in an easy drinking style. The combination of a great tasting beer and low-carb content is surely the answer many health and lifestyle conscious beer lovers have been seeking.

Sounds good, but does the beer live up to the marketing hype?! Pure Blonde contains 0.9 grams of carbohydrates per 100mL - a significant reduction to a standard full strength beer that on average contains around 20% more energy (usually 3g / 100mL). So you definitely save some energy intake by going low carb: approx 25 calories per drink.....but this really isn't much!

Why not? The energy in beer and other drinks is from the alcohol. You're MUCH better off going for light beers as the energy saved from the reduced alcohol content far outweighs the low cab idea. As I said, most of the calories in alcoholic drinks comes from the alcohol at 7 calories per ml, not sugar / carbs at all!


Take an alcohol knowledge quiz.

To find out more about alcohol, alcohol and weight loss, and the effects of alcohol on weight loss please contact us!



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