Alcohol Consumption and Body Weight


Most masters athletes enjoy a quiet drink or two, some like a few loud one or three! For me, masters sport is about fitness, fun and friendship. Theoccasional drink with friends and fellow competitors is part of life as a masters athlete. At most masters games and indeed most competitions I go to, there is always the pre-event socialising and the post-event partying, both normally accompanied by a drink or three. Alcohol contains 29 kilojoules (7.1 Calories) per gram, almost as much as fat (37 kJ, 9 Cal), and more than carbohydrate (17 kJ, 4.2 Cal) or protein (17 kJ, 4.2 Cal) per gram. While I’ve always believed alcohol might tend to pack on the weight, recent research doesn’t confirm a positive relationship between alcohol consumption and weight gain – at least in light to moderate drinkers.

The Research

A recent review published in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Nutrition Reviews looked at all research studies published between 1984 and 2010 that had examined the effect of alcohol on body weight.  31 studies were selected to be relevant, with high quality research design and methods.

The Findings

  1. Overall results found no positive relationship between alcohol consumption and weight gain, except in studies on heavy drinkers (4 or more drinks / day).
  2. Light-to-moderate alcohol intake (1 or 2 drinks / day), especially wine intake, may be more likely to protect against weight gain.
  3. In contrast, consumption of spirits, was shown to be positively associated with weight gain.
  4. Red wine may reduce the effect of alcohol on obesity due to it containing polyphenols.

So What?

The research strongly suggests that light-to-moderate alcohol intake, especially wine, has no harmful effects on weight gain. However, drinking spirits, especially whan taken with soft drinks that are high in energy (e.g. rum and coke or scotch and dry) appears a no-no for masters athletes wanting to manage their weight. Chapter 17 of my recently published book The Masters Athlete has a chapter devoted to weight control in masters athletes. Biased as I am as the author, it’s the only information I’ve ever read that examines what science says about losing weight safely and effectively as an older athlete.

Looks like that regular Friday night bottle of (white!) wine with my beautiful wife Claire at the end of a working week is good for my health and will remain on the agenda!

Source: Sayon-Orea, C. et al. (2011). Alcohol consumption and body weight: a systematic review. Nutrition Reviews, 69(8): 419-431.