Lose belly fat by drinking beer and water? Really? I ran across this question, while perusing Yahoo Answers, from a gentleman asking if drinking a bottle of water after each beer could slow down or prevent a beer belly. Several posters offered short, dismissive answers. Obviously the question wasn’t taken very seriously by some of them.
Thinking back to when I was a young man, recalling my own pursuit of a beer belly–which is many more years ago than I intend to disclose here–I concluded the question deserved more than a dismissive answer. Putting myself back into that frame of mind, weight gain, dieting, calories, beer, health, and the whole mash of related topics couldn’t have been further from my happy-go-lucky mind.
My interests in, or even awareness of, these topics was still out somewhere fifteen or twenty years on the horizon. After all, there were parties to go to, girls to date, sights to see, and friends to make. And no internet. Who’s got time for calories?
Viewed in this context, I was impressed the gentleman had the foresight to even ask such a question. I wish I had asked this when I was younger. Yes, this question deserves a thoughtful answer.
Why Does Drinking Give You A Beer Belly?
Beer and food in moderate quantities does not cause belly fat. Individuals’ genetic makeup can make them more or less susceptible. With those genetic exceptions, when combinations of beer and food is consumed in quantities exceeding caloric requirements over a sustained period of time, a build up of excess fat in the belly is common.
The substance in beer that contributes to a beer belly is carbohydrate and a derivative of carbohydrate. Alcohol is a modified form of sugar–sugar is a carbohydrate–but alcohol is not the only source of the calories. The starches from the barley, hops, and other ingredients that give beer its wonderful flavors also kick up the caloric load.
In addition to these common dietary factors, there are other factors unique to alcohol that contribute to a beer belly. Alcohol interferes with your absorption of vitamins and minerals, it can reduce your ability to burn stored fat, and it can accelerate delivery of calories to your bloodstream. Alcohol is detoxified by the liver. When repeatedly metabolizing excesses of alcohol, the liver can swell and itself become fatty.
One of the reasons alcohol accelerates delivery of calories is simply because it is a small molecule. It is small enough to pass through the cell membranes in your mouth and throat to get into your bloodstream directly. It doesn’t have to take the much longer route through your stomach and digestive system. This is why its inebriating effects can be felt almost immediately after consuming it.
How Much Does One Beer Contribute To Belly Fat?
A categorical answer to this question is at least difficult, and it is perhaps impossible. There are many brands of beer, each with their own unique nutritional profile. It can, however, be answered in approximate terms; less precise but more accessible and hopefully more useful.
Strictly speaking alcohol (chemically known as ethanol) is not a carbohydrate; even though it is made from sugar. Alcohol is not even a food; it’s a poison. Nevertheless, the detoxified remnants of alcohol can supply energy–but only energy–so it has calories, but it has no other nutritional value beyond that. This makes it a closer nutritional cousin to digestible carbohydrate than to fats, or proteins.
Except for alcohol and water, the bulk of the rest of the weight of beer consists of true carbohydrate, so it can be enlightening to compare beer to another high carbohydrate food, such as bread.
The non-alcoholic part of a typical twelve ounce beer (not “lite”) has just under the equivalent number of calories as a half slice of bread. Add in the alcohol, and you’re up to just over a full slice of bread, in terms of calories.
Beer Is Liquid Bread!
It might be easier to think of beer as essentially liquid bread with a little buzz thrown in for entertainment sake.
Keep in mind that twelve ounces of beer brings to the party a few more calories than a slice of bread. Drinking a bottle of water after eating a slice of bread, and then repeating that 6 or 12 times, simply means you now have a lot of water mixed in with all the bread you ate. Drinking water is good for you, but it does not make bread or calories magically disappear.
Go for the gusto on a wild Saturday night and you could be talking about close to a whole loaf of bread by the time you’re through.
Drink the equivalent of a whole loaf of bread every Saturday night for ten years in a row and you are likely to have a beer body instead of a beer belly.
Splitting up an extra loaf of bread per week and eating it a little bit at a time during the week is still an extra loaf of bread every week. Extra calories are, well, extra.
The key is to view your beer drinking in context with all the other food you eat, and make room for a moderate amount of it within the framework of balanced eating habits. Example:
- Eat a palm sized portion of healthy protein (4 or 5 ounces, not too fatty)
- Plenty of fibrous and colorful vegetables (personally, I don’t really put a limit on this category – the more the better!)
- Size the starchy portion of your meals more like a condiment than a full side-dish
- Toss back a beer, only occasionally two beers
- No desert.
You’ll be much more likely to manage a consistent belly size; or even lose a little, if you can bring your eating and drinking habits into balance with healthy nutrition-packed dietary habits.
I personally almost never eat desert. Instead I might hack off a 3 or 4 ounce chunk of some interesting cheese and call it desert. My own opinion is that it’s a lot easier to build a cake and pie belly than it is to build a beer belly. Those kind of deserts are basically a whole day’s worth of empty calories on a single plate. Unless you make a living running for 8 hours a day, you’ll never be able to burn off these calories.
There are obvious benefits of mixing in some regular exercise. The not-so-obvious benefit is that exercise increases the limit of food you need to eat to satisfy your minimum short-term energy requirement.
This is the “moderate drinker” bull’s-eye. The whole idea is to get the nutrition you need while not saturating and overloading your body’s short-term energy requirements. More on energy in the next section.
What Are Calories And What’s The Connection To Belly Fat?
A calorie is simply a measure of the potential energy of food. Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins all have caloric potential, but not all of the food you eat ends up getting burned for fuel. Proteins and certain varieties of dietary fats have other important, and preferential uses; such as hormone replacement and ligament or muscle building or repair. While they can be used for fuel, especially if available in excessive quantities, they are not the easiest or most efficient materials for your body to use that way.
Conceptually carbohydrate is much easier to understand than fats or proteins because it doesn’t really have very many uses. Digestible carbohydrate only has one use; it is converted to simple sugars and it is used as fuel for producing energy. That’s basically it’s purpose. While fiber is included as an important member of this class of food, it is by definition indigestible and therefore has no caloric potential.
Breaking carbohydrate down into ready-to-use fuel is a simpler metabolic feat than accomplishing the same thing using proteins or fats. Essentially your body prefers using digested carbohydrate for fuel over other options when there is a choice.
The human body conserves energy. It doesn’t like to waste fuel. If it can’t use available fuel right away it stores any excess fuel, primarily in the fat cells, to keep it available for future shortages. If there is never a shortage of fuel in the future the body just keeps it in storage. There is no upper limit to how much fuel the human body can store in fat cells.
In the case of calories from alcohol, except for the small amounts of it lost through excretion and respiration, there is no way for its detoxified form to exit the body, except as energy. This is one of the ways alcohol inhibits your ability to burn stored fat. Why should your body draw down long-term stores of fat when energy from detoxified alcohol is readily available?
The vast majority of calories from beer are in the form of either alcohol or carbohydrate. In any but very moderate quantities, this makes it remarkably well suited to overload your body with far more readily available fuel–the kind that can’t really be used for any other purpose–than your body can immediately use. Its effect, in this regard, is cumulative with any other carbohydrate-laden food you get from a recent or pending meal. This includes pasta, rice, juice, potatoes, bread, sweets, etc.
Does Drinking Water Slow The Increase Of Belly Fat?
As has already been discussed, once inside the body, the presence of extra water has no magical ability to make calories from food disappear.
There is really only one very narrow circumstance where drinking water can slow down the onset of belly fat from drinking beer. It is when the act of drinking water, and the time it takes to do it, is a deliberately cultivated habit intended to reduce the time devoted to drinking beer or other alcoholic libations.
If you’ve read as far as this section you at least have a curiosity about this topic. Apart from specifically answering the question posed by the title, as well as offering a possible frame of reference to begin thinking about principles and methods, the purpose is to emphasize that the only way to reduce or eliminate a beer belly is to find a way to address the cause of it.
The cause of a beer belly is ongoing excessive consumption of fuel-ready nutrients from all dietary sources, combined with the unique metabolic effects of more than moderate amounts of alcohol. Whether these are consumed in the form of beer, or other alcoholic libations, it really doesn’t matter. A vodka belly is indistinguishable from a beer belly.
Does Drinking Water Make You Less Drunk?
Drinking a lot of water does not dilute the alcohol in your bloodstream or change the inebriating effect it has in your brain. Except for small amounts of alcohol lost through respiration and excretion, the only way to get rid of the rest of the alcohol depends on the production of the alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme, which is necessary for the detoxification of alcohol. This is produced primarily in the liver, though some of this enzyme is also present in the lining of your stomach. Producing this enzyme can’t be rushed.
The speed with which you metabolize the alcohol you drank depends to an extent on the amount you’ve consumed, but more important is how fast your liver produces this enzyme. That capability is encoded in your DNA, and the rate of production varies from person to person and from one age to the next. For instance, generally, young men produce more of this enzyme than young women. That statistic flips around with the onset of middle age.
Does Drinking Water Help A Hangover?
Perhaps surprisingly medical research does not focus a great deal of effort understanding hangovers. Arguably, a hangover is not a medical condition, so it doesn’t merit research or medical treatment at all; rather, it is a natural reaction to alcohol abuse. Alcohol Abuse is the condition that gets the primary focus of medical research.
Dehydration is one of several theorized causes of hangovers. What is known is that alcohol can inhibit a hormone that normally tells the kidneys when to conserve water. When alcohol interrupts this signal, dehydration and swelling of the brain against the lining of the skull can result.
Drinking a lot of water before, during, or after a Saturday night bender can and does help reduce or eliminate dehydration in those people susceptible to hangovers (not everyone is). For those aspects of a hangover you believe are a consequence of dehydration, and depending on your tolerance for pain, a little extra hydration is probably a worthwhile endeavor.
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