Effects of alcohol on body composition


Alcohol consumption is popular among many, either due to those that savor the taste or that it adds to the joy on social occasions. When receiving an alcoholic drink, many people would not think twice about it and would accept it immediately. However, what about those who are into fitness or are trying to reach a goal in their physique? Is there cause for consideration for those individuals to ingest alcohol? Is alcohol too detrimental to the physique? In this article, we will be discussing the effects that alcohol has on body composition and methods to prevent the unwanted effects of weight gain.

What is alcohol?

Many people are familiar with the term alcohol as being a type of beverage to ingest. It is important to be aware of the contents of alcohol in order to understand how and why it affects body composition the way it does. Pure ethanol, or its common name “alcohol,” is a substance that is usually described as an “empty calorie” containing 7kcal/g (1). The reason alcohol is dubbed an empty calorie is that its content lacks protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. There are some exceptions, as there are certain drinks that add carbohydrates to sweeten its taste. Protein and carbohydrates carry 4kcal/g (1), which is less than alcohol, but contain more nutritional value. As we look at the calorie weight alcohol holds, we can see just how it can affect an individual’s body composition.

Short term effects on body composition

Alcohol has the effect of inhibiting the body from burning fat (1). For people worried about physique, this is detrimental. If one’s goal is to decrease fat percentage and increase muscle mass, this would be impossible to do with alcohol impeding the body from burning fat. When alcohol is consumed, it is turned to acetate by the liver, which will enter the bloodstream, and then be used by the body as energy (1). When high levels of acetate are present, the body focuses on burning acetate more than fat (1). Alcohol is a toxin, and the body has knowledge of this, and therefore, its primary focus is to rid the body of this toxin. The body does this by using the toxin as its primary energy source. This in turn forces carbohydrates, along with other nutrients, to be stored in the body causing fat gain.

Increased appetite and calorie intake are two examples of the short-term effects alcohol has on body weight. Evidence has shown that an increase in food intake occurs when ingesting alcohol prior to meal consumption (1,2). The combination of an increase in calorie intake, along with the body’s tendency to store calories while ridding itself of alcohol, hinders an individual’s ability to reach the fitness physique they desire.

Long term effects on body composition

Research shows that an individual’s BMI (Body Mass Index) increases over a long period of time with drinking. A study was done with 3,327 male subjects who consumed three drinks per day for a set period of time, which resulted in these subjects having a higher BMI and fat percentage (1). The drinks that were consumed were mostly beer and spirits. There is also evidence showing an increase in WC (Waist Circumference) and WHR (Waist to Hip Ratio) as a long-term effect of drinking alcohol. Another study was done with 8,603 South Korean males and females who went in for routine health examinations, which found that alcohol was associated with a higher WC, as well as, those participants who had more than two drinks per day were found to have an even larger WC (1). These studies not only show the long-term effects of alcohol on WC, WHR, and BMI but also its contribution to overall obesity.

Ways to reduce weight gain for the short-term effect of alcohol

The short-term effects of weight gain due to alcohol consumption, such as during a night out, can be reduced. Literature states that an “organism is able to decrease its caloric intake following a larger meal, thus increased caloric intake following alcoholic preload does not necessarily lead to long-term weight gain”(1). This means that alcohol can be consumed to use up any left-over calories not used for the day, lessening any chances of weight gain. A good strategy to use is if you know you are going out drinking at some point during the day, then decrease the number of calories your eating that day before drinking, or decrease the number of calories you’re eating the next day to balance out your daily calorie allowance. Another strategy that can be used to prevent weight gain is to avoid binge eating during drinking and the day after drinking. This strategy would make sense as alcohol becomes your primary fuel source, while the body will place all else consumed into storage, which may then be converted to fat. Having low-calorie alcoholic drinks would also be helpful in keeping potential weight gain to a minimum, especially for those going out just as a social event.  

Points to take away

Though alcohol consumption may be enjoyable during various occasions, for those looking to better their physique, there are drawbacks to consider. This article has discussed much of these disadvantages and how to offset them. Here is a quick rundown and the points to take away from this article.

  • Alcohol prevents the body from burning fat due to its replacement as an energy source for your body.
  • Long term effects of alcohol have been shown to possibly lead to obesity, a larger WC, larger WHR, and higher BMI.
  • There are ways to decrease the weight gained for short term alcohol effects such as lowering your daily calories before drinking or the day after, no binge eating the day of and day after drinking, opt for low-calorie alcoholic beverages when possible.


  1. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-62703-047-2_7
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20096714/