Drinking alcohol and training for performance and lean tissue are not mutually exclusive. In this post, I’ll be sharing why whiskey, weight training, muscle building and fat burning can harmoniously exist. I’ll also be breaking down why more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean tastier when it comes to liquor. Let’s roll.
If you’ve been following this blog, you probably remember that I believe the best gifts are food and drinks. Because my friends know this about me and are likewise aware that I appreciate scotch, some of them give me bottles as a gifts. I’m a pretty lucky guy. Needless to say, my home is decorated with beautiful bottles as a result of the generosity of my loved ones. I have plenty to sample when the opportunity arises.
Speaking of which, I recently had a late night sampling session with a friend. Before I get to that experience, I’m going to talk about my training session the next day.
Three lifts performed: Deadlift, overhead press, front squat (in that order).
Despite my moderate drinking the night prior, my energy levels were above average, and my lifts were as good or better than they’ve been recently. I was able to get 555 on the DL, 225 on the overhead press and 335 on the front squat x 2 (eye rolls are fair).
Granted, there were other variables involved like amount of sleep, quality of sleep, morning meal, caffeine, and on-and-on. It’s difficult to point to my Scotch drinking as the catalyst for my performance and subsequent semi-veiled brag, but the alcohol likely didn’t affect my training.
Ethanol did not increase circulating epinephrine, norepinephrine, or cortisol concentration (Cort) above Ex elevations. At 60-120 min, only ExEt Cort was greater than control Cort. Concentrations of testosterone, luteinizing hormone, and corticotropin were not affected by either treatment. It is concluded that, although this blood ethanol concentration is insufficient to acutely increase Cort above that caused by Ex alone, it appears that ethanol may have a prolonged effect beyond the Ex response. This blood ethanol concentration does not further stimulate the sympathoadrenal system during the postexercise response.
Other studies have indicated an incredibly small drop in testosterone for a short period of time in some men as a result of drinking. To get there, however, you’d need to drink the equivalent of 3 beers a day, every day, for 3 weeks, or a dozen shots right before exercising.
The combined effect of alcohol and physical exercise on the serum levels of testosterone, luteinizing hormone, and cortisol was studied in healthy male volunteers by performing an exhaustive ergometer exercise (1) followed by alcohol intoxication (induced by 1.5 g of alcohol/kg body weight), (2) during alcohol intoxication (induced by 0.8 g of alcohol/kg body weight), and (3) during hangover (13 hr after a dose of 1.5 g of alcohol/kg body weight). Physical stress immediately before alcohol administration prolonged the depressant effect of alcohol on testosterone secretion. This seemed to be mainly a consequence of direct inhibition at the testicular level, even though the role of luteinizing hormone as a contributory regulatory factor cannot be totally ruled out. Cortisol response to exercise was not modified by alcohol under any of the experimental conditions.
So we know that sensibly indulging in alcohol consumption is unlikely to affect our performance the next day. But I can hear your objection already. You’ve put all the time into the gym to get that sliced midsection, you’re not ready to trade it in for a “food baby.”
Insulin resistance is a predictor of weight gain and poor metabolic health, and moderate intake of alcohol can reduce our risk of succumbing to it.
The age- and sex-adjusted insulin levels and insulin resistance index decreased with elevating alcohol intake, while fasting glucose levels remained unchanged, suggesting that alcohol improves insulin sensitivity. Among nondrinkers, the age-adjusted incidence of hypertension significantly increased with elevating insulin tertiles in both sexes (P =.048 and.002 for trend in men and women, respectively), but not among drinkers.
Now that I’ve given you the good news and permission to indulge your senses, let’s point out the obvious. If you’re throwing back beers every night, then pairing it with a sausage and fresh pineapple pizza (giving some shit away here), your waistline might expand. Likewise, if your beverage of choice includes sugar laden sodas and bottles of neon liqueur, unwanted body composition may follow.
Dry wines and straight spirits (whiskey, gin, tequila, rum, vodka, cognac, etc.) all derive the majority of their calories from alcohol. Our bodies process these calories differently, and it’s nearly impossible for them to add to our body fat stores. Though we generally consume more calories while drinking, we consume less of the stuff that is stored as fat.
Drinkers had significantly higher intakes of total calories than nondrinkers, but only because of their intakes of alcoholic calories. Among drinkers, the intakes of nonalcoholic calories decreased as alcohol intakes increased, and it was estimated that between 15 and 41% of the alcoholic calories replaced nonalcoholic calories. Despite their higher caloric intakes, drinkers were not more obese than nondrinkers, suggesting that alcoholic calories may be less efficiently utilized than nonalcoholic calories, or may interfere with utilization of nonalcoholic calories. The most salient difference in nutrient intake between drinkers and nondrinkers was the substantially lower carbohydrate intake of drinkers.
Adding in carbs (from beer) or sugars (from mixers and flavored drinks) doesn’t alter the way our body processes the alcohol but does contribute to a higher overall load, obviously.
I prefer my Scotch unadulterated anyway, regardless of the calorie count. I can get lost in the world of flavor and aroma, and working on picking out a variety of notes each time I sip. My brother schooled me years ago, when he was working at a Trader Joe’s in the San Fernando Valley, that one could pick up a great bottle of wine for $30. The same can be said for Scotch.
Obviously, a gift isn’t about it’s value. That said, I believe it’s important (human behavior is fascinating) to point out that people notice the amount of money spent on gifts. Gone are the days when removing the price-tag is a meaningful gesture. You unwrap your gift, and if you don’t know its approximate cost, you’re a simple Google search away from finding out.
When I received a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label Scotch, I knew that my friend had dropped some cake. I knew when I opened my Glenrothes Alba Reserve Scotch, that it was less pricey. Who cares?
Let’s not shy away from the obvious. Drinking JWB and Glenrothes are very different experiences. We’ve spoken before how the price tag can influence our perception of tastes – but when we know that, we can compensate. I definitely found both to be equally rewarding and palatable indulgences.
On the nose of the Glenrothes, I get honey and orange. Taking a sip, my palate receives vanilla and coconut notes. By contrast, the JWB offers a perfume-y, woodsy and smokey bouquet. Upon tasting, I sense a bolder sip with smoky and peaty notes (peat is partially decayed vegetable matter and is cut and used as a fuel source, a note you’ll often see in Scotch).
Tasting the Scotches in this exploratory manner allowed me to immerse myself fully in the experience. I felt fulfilled by my choices the next morning, and my lifting session reflected that mental strength. We don’t need to place a series of artificial rules on ourselves while training. The more often we do so, the less likely we are to consistently meet our goals. Rather, we should be deliberate about our choices, moderating our excesses and optimizing for interesting life experiences.