Fitness Sports Performance Nutrition spotlight

Discussing Alcohol & Nutrition: Making Mindful Choices

Darlene Marshall
Darlene Marshall
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For many people, having a few drinks is part of day-to-day lifea cocktail after work, a toast at a wedding, or a drink to unwind. It can be easy to lose sight of how alcohol can affect health and wellness. But if you’re working on developing mindfulness in everyday life, it makes sense to be more intentional with alcohol.

This article is the latest in a series on Mindful Drinking. We’ll take a look at how alcohol affects nutrition, including how alcohol affects metabolism and how mindful drinking can help you make better choices.

A quick guide to alcohol consumption:

  • Moderate drinking is typically defined as consuming alcohol in amounts that are considered low risk for most individuals. The definition of moderate drinking can vary slightly depending on factors such as gender, age, body weight, and individual health conditions. However, general guidelines for moderate drinking often suggest:
    • For Men: Up to two standard drinks per day, up to 14 standard drinks per week
    • For Women: Up to one standard drink per day, up to seven standard drinks per week
  • Light drinking or Social drinking refers to consuming alcohol in small amounts, typically below the threshold considered to be moderate drinking, though there isn’t a set definition.
  • Heavy drinking exceeds the moderate recommendation and is drinking to the level that can compromise health. This includes occasional binge drinking, which in men is more than 5+ drinks on a single occasion, and in women is 4+ drinks at a single occasion.

Table of Contents

Join Darlene Marshall for her “Better Than Fine” podcast along with Derek Brown as they re-examine our relationship with alcohol.

How does alcohol impact nutrition?

Enjoying a night out with friends often comes with a few drinks and some indulgent food. Alcohol impacts food choice, but it also changes how the body absorbs nutrients, how the specific drinks consumed affect the body, and how processing alcohol affects metabolism and physiology.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t require alcohol to have a nutrition label, which means you might not know the ingredients, calories, or quality of pre-packaged alcohol. Also, alcohol is often mixed with sugary drinks that impact both blood sugar and metabolism. All these variables can impact nutrition.

Alcohol can increase the amount of food you eat

Alcohol negatively impacts decision-marking and self-control, which means most people eat more low-quality food when they’re drinking alcohol (3). Even moderate amounts of alcohol consumption (a few beverages) have been shown to impact our choices to consume higher total calories.

The foods we tend to choose when intoxicated are also lower in nutrient density, like savory, high-fat, and ultra-processed foods (11), resulting in poorer nourishment despite higher caloric intake ((7).

People also tend to drink and eat more when they are stressed, and they usually pick alcohol and highly processed foods. Unfortunately, eating and drinking more might make your body even more stressed (13).

Moderate alcohol consumption isn’t always tied to being overweight. Some studies show that moderate drinking is correlated with increased weight and others don’t. However, research does show a correlation between heavy drinking and being overweight or obese and having a high waist circumference (4).

(Note: Correlation doesn’t equal causation. The correlation doesn’t necessarily mean that alcohol causes weight gain or that being heavier causes someone to drink more.)

You can’t tell how healthy someone is just by their weight, but there are other negative effects of alcohol and nutrition, even for those who drink in moderation.

Alcohol can cause dehydration

Alcohol has a diuretic effect, meaning it causes the body to expel water and results in dehydration (2). Dehydration causes decreases in physical and cognitive performance, mood, and recovery from exercise (8). Alcohol alone can also negatively impact fitness, health, and wellness, so dehydration just makes these effects worse.

Alcohol can mess with metabolism

Alcohol can disrupt the body’s normal metabolic processes. When you consume alcohol, you’re drinking ethanol. Ethanol is mildly toxic, so removing it becomes the body’s top priority above other metabolic, repair, and maintenance functions.

After consuming alcohol, about half of your energy metabolism goes towards ethanol removal until it is fully eliminated from the body (15). How long this takes depends on the person and the amount of alcohol they consume. During alcohol elimination time, the body delays recovery from working out or sleeping.

Alcohol in the body also compromises aerobic metabolism. The body prioritizes metabolizing alcohol over fats and carbohydrates, typical energy sources for aerobic metabolism. Because the body isn’t using the fats and carbs as much, the body isn’t using as much of the stored energy, which affects metabolism.

Alcohol also produces fewer energy (ATP) molecules when the body metabolizes it, which lowers your force output and overall work capacity, especially during athletic training.

Alcohol can affect how your body absorbs nutrients

Alcohol consumption negatively impacts the body’s ability to absorb nutrients and can lead to nutrient deficiencies. The presence of alcohol in the gut affects both the gut microbiome and the absorption of nutrition to the body.

The body prioritizes eliminating alcohol, which means it uses up stored micronutrients. The diuretic effects of alcohol also reduce electrolytes. These two factors can cause a steep decrease in potassium, magnesium, and other salts in the body. Long-term alcohol consumption can also cause other deficiencies (5), including Thiamin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin A, and even potentially Vitamin D (6).

Alcohol can block muscle growth

Alcohol can disrupt a few key processes in muscle and strength development.

There’s evidence that consuming alcohol while you’re recovering from resistance training can blunt muscle development (1). Metabolizing alcohol can lower testosterone, which helps repair muscle damage from resistance training (14).

Alcohol also impairs protein synthesis post-training (10). Even if you have proper nutrition outside of alcohol, eliminating ethanol from your body still causes insulin resistance and impairs recovery (12).

Alcohol can decrease sleep

When you don’t get quality sleep, your self-regulation decreases and you will probably make poorer nutritional choices. Alcohol negatively impacts sleep in a variety of ways, like increasing sleep apnea, blocking REM sleep, and elevating body temperature.

As the body processes alcohol, the increased insulin resistance and lowered metabolism of free-floating blood sugar causes increased insulin release and blood sugar drops. Drops in blood sugar and dehydration can both cause night wakings and insomnia.

For more on the relationship to sleep alcohol consumption, check out another article in the mindful drinking series: Alcohol and Sleep: The Truth Behind Your Nightcap - NASM.

alcohol nutrition info

Alcohol doesn’t have nutritional labels or standard mixers, so figuring out alcohol nutrition info can be very confusing.

How many calories are in alcohol?

One gram of alcohol has seven calories. But calculating the calories of common beverages gets complicated.

In order to calculate the calories in popular drinks, you need to know the size of the beverage, how much alcohol it has, and what the other ingredients are. And even then, the number of calories of alcohol can depend on the brand, ingredients, and kind of mixers or add-ins.

Here’s a list of the 20 most popular alcoholic drinks in America, organized by popularity:

NA_Blog_Alcohol and Nutrition-Infographic-v5

how can mindful drinking help?

Alcohol is one of the most widely used pharmacological compounds in the world. In fact, 70% of American adults have had at least one alcoholic beverage in the past year (9). Even with the negative effects of even mild amounts of alcohol, there are many cultural, social, and personal reasons to drink responsibly. So you need to decide what responsible drinking looks like for you.

Mindful drinking means making intentioned, informed choices about how, when, and what you’ll drink. For coaches and trainers, mindful drinking can be part of making structured nutritional plans for clients. Drinking mindfully shouldn’t be about being judgmental about drinking or even being sober; it’s about intentional choices that work for you.

Using mindfulness can help you and your clients make informed decisions about nutrition and alcohol. Think about:

      • Being aware of what you’re drinking
      • Controlling nutritional portions while drinking
      • Balancing drinking with other stress coping strategies
      • Making better food choices overall and while drinking

For more information about Mindful Drinking’s benefits check out Sipping with Intention: The Mindful Drinking Guide - NASM and Mindful Drinking vs. Sober Curiosity: Navigating the Spectrum of Conscious Consumption (

what to read next


      1. Duplanty, A. A., Budnar, R. G., Luk, H. Y., Levitt, D. E., Hill, D. W., McFarlin, B. K., ... & Vingren, J. L. (2017). Effect of acute alcohol ingestion on resistance exercise–induced mTORC1 signaling in human muscle. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research31(1), 54-61.
      2. Eggleton, M. Grace. "The diuretic action of alcohol in man." The Journal of Physiology 101, no. 2 (1942): 172.
      3. Fillmore, M. Τ. (2007). Acute alcohol-induced impairment of cognitive functions: Past and present findings. International Journal on Disability and Human Development6(2), 115-126.
      4. Golzarand, M., Salari-Moghaddam, A., & Mirmiran, P. (2022). Association between alcohol intake and overweight and obesity: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of 127 observational studies. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition62(29), 8078-8098.
      5. Hoyumpa, A. M. (1986). Mechanisms of vitamin deficiencies in alcoholism. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research10(6), 573-581.
      6. Hu, C. Q., Bo, Q. L., Chu, L. L., Hu, Y. D., Fu, L., Wang, G. X., ... & Xu, D. X. (2020). Vitamin D deficiency aggravates hepatic oxidative stress and inflammation during chronic alcohol-induced liver injury in mice. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity2020.
      7. Kruger, J., Glassman, J., Knippen, K. L., Glassman, T., & Kruger, D. J. (2018). Drunchies Hangover. Californian Journal of Health Promotion16(1), 79-90.
      8. Irwin, C., Leveritt, M., Shum, D., & Desbrow, B. (2013). The effects of dehydration, moderate alcohol consumption, and rehydration on cognitive functions. Alcohol, 47(3), 203-213.
      9. Mikulic, M. Top U.S. Pharma Products by Prescriptions Statista. 2021. Available online:
      10. Parr, E. B., Camera, D. M., Areta, J. L., Burke, L. M., Phillips, S. M., Hawley, J. A., & Coffey, V. G. (2014). Alcohol ingestion impairs maximal post-exercise rates of myofibrillar protein synthesis following a single bout of concurrent training. PLoS One9(2), e88384.
      11. Schrieks, I. C., Stafleu, A., Griffioen-Roose, S., de Graaf, C., Witkamp, R. F., Boerrigter-Rijneveld, R., & Hendriks, H. F. (2015). Moderate alcohol consumption stimulates food intake and food reward of savoury foods. Appetite, 89, 77-83.
      12. Shelmet, J. J., Reichard, G. A., Skutches, C. L., Hoeldtke, R. D., Owen, O. E., & Boden, G. (1988). Ethanol causes acute inhibition of carbohydrate, fat, and protein oxidation and insulin resistance. The Journal of clinical investigation81(4), 1137-1145.
      13. Steptoe, A., Lipsey, Z., & Wardle, J. (1998). Stress, hassles and variations in alcohol consumption, food choice and physical exercise: A diary study. British Journal of Health Psychology3(1), 51-63.
      14. Vingren, J. L., & Kraemer, W. J. (2006). Effect of postexercise alcohol consumption on serum testosterone: Brief overview of testosterone, resistance exercise, and alcohol. Strength & Conditioning Journal28(1), 84-87.

15. Wilson, D. F., & Matschinsky, F. M. (2020). Ethanol metabolism: The good, the bad, and the ugly. Medical hypotheses140, 109638.

The Author

Darlene Marshall

Darlene Marshall

Darlene is a Holistic Wellness Coach who's been working in the fitness and wellness space since 2012. She's an expert at the intersection of fitness, wellness, and well-being. In 2021, Darlene was named America's Favorite Trainer in 2021 by BurnAlong and she hosts the Better Than Fine podcast on the NASM Podcasting Network. She's certified with NASM in Wellness Coaching and Personal Training and has a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. She has additional certifications in Nutrition Coaching, Neurolinguistic Programming, and 200hr YTT in Alignment Yoga and training in sleep coaching, motivational interviewing, meditation, and mindfulness. Want to learn more in Darlene's areas of expertise? Check out her NASM product recommendations.


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