Alcohol 101

Alcohol often gets left out of the nutrition equation. Processed food and overeating are often pinned as the culprits of weight gain and preventing health; but the calories in alcohol are just as culpable.

Alcohol does effect fitness, and it’s important to help clients understand what it does to their bodies.

But being holier-than-thou and preaching to people about the need to live clean 24/7 is likely to lose you a lot of clients, fast.

Remember that your job is to help the client reach their own goals, and to do so in a way that’s sustainable and which improves their overall quality of life. This means education, support, and accountability: it doesn’t mean giving someone a hard time because they had a boozy weekend.

You steer the client in the right direction by giving them a little of what they want and a lot of what they need.

Manage their expectations and make it clear that if they want to drink often and extensively, that’s their choice – but that they need to appreciate the impact it will have on their results.

If alcohol figures large in someone’s lifestyle choices, here are some of the factors you can discuss with them:

Weight loss

The main concern for most clients regarding alcohol will be its calorific content and impact on weight loss. Where carbs and protein have four calories per gram and fat has nine grams, alcohol has seven, making it a big drain on the daily calorific ‘budget’ that gives nothing back in terms of nutrition. Cutting down alcohol and/or changing alcohol choices can have a significant impact on weight.


Alcohol is a diuretic, causing the body to lose excess water and become dehydrated. This can have a significant effect on performance.

Alcohol is also a toxin: once consumed, the liver and digestive system have to work to metabolise it. This in turns affects glycogen levels and decreases endurance – it can also cause low blood sugar while working out. Drinking also extends recovery time for the same reason.

Overall health

Alcohol disrupts the REM phase of sleep – the time when a lot of recovery happens, including the immune system and potentially muscle synthesis. Other risks such as heart disease and diabetes may not be a direct impact for training, but they will play into the larger picture if a client is addressing their overall lifestyle and wellbeing.