Alcohol and Fitness 101

A question that I get almost daily from friends, family, clients, etc. is “So how much can I drink, will drinking hurt my diet, why can’t I drink?” or some other version of that question. Being from South Louisiana, I am well aware that great food and alcohol are two things that are staples in our culture!

Your metabolism is like the engine in your car. It describes the role that enzymes have in helping us grow, reproduce, and respond to our environments. Your metabolism turns the foods and liquids that you consume into smaller molecules that your body can then actually utilize.

Now to the part that you’re here for!

What does the body actually do with alcohol when we drink it?

Alcohol has to be broken down by two enzymes: ADH and ALDH (I’ll spare you the long scientific names). Everyone thinks that the liver is the only organ affected by alcohol, however your stomach, pancreas, and believe it or not, your brain, also play a role. First, ADH will turn alcohol into acetaldehyde, a very toxic substance known as a carcinogen, a scary word that we’ve all heard in reference to things that cause cancer. From there, ALDH takes over and turns acetaldehyde into acetate which is a combination of acetic acid and a base. From there, some more common compounds, H20 and Carbon Dioxide further break it down so we can get the nasty compound out of our body.

            Your body can only get rid of so much alcohol each hour. There are websites that you can use that will estimate your Blood Alcohol Content based on things like your height, weight, and activity level. One normalized example people have talked about Is “one unit” can be eliminated per hour, meaning 10ml of alcohol can be eliminated each hour. However, that can be completely different from person to person. Think, we all have that friend that seems to be the day drinking champion that can also go into the early hours of the night, and we have that friend that is face down in the ditch at noon on St. Patricks’ Day. If someone has a fast working ALDH, the ‘bad’ effects of drinking alcohol might not really affect them, causing/ enabling them to drink more. People with a very fast working variant of ALDH might actually be more prone to alcoholism because their body get used to being able to drink so much that it basically becomes reliant on it. These enzymes are NOT something you can change!!

            The Takeaway that I usually like to tell people when we talk about alcohol is the fact that your body cannot store it. It treats it like a poison, so it wants to get rid of it! When you drink it, it is quickly absorbed and ends up in your bloodstream. Because your body wants to quickly rid your system of it, it skips Fats, Proteins, and Carbs (even simple sugars) to get expelled. Make informed choices! It is important to enjoy yourself, just make sure you’re willing to deal with the possible consequences!

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