The effects of wine on the female physique range from modestly beneficial to incredibly destructive…and all points in between. As with many elements of your fitness and nutrition, a cookie-cutter approach falls apart at the experiential level.
In other words, what works for you may not work for another…or, what used to work well for you no longer does. Alcohol…and, wine specifically, is more complex to analyze because of its interactions and interference with several processes in the body and other determining factors that alter your fitness, health, and hormonal make-up.
I’m consciously withholding a “yay” or “nay” verdict and one-size-fits-all prescription to wine. My intent is to give you the nuanced perspective of a bikini competitor, fitness instructor, and studio owner…who happens to love wine!
By understanding the way wine works in your body, you can learn how to mitigate the potential damage and pick up on the various signals and clues when you’ve teetered too far in wine… or in life.
Most people think the problem with wine is the wine itself, and, in particular, the calories of wine. Yes, there are calories in wine… yes, these calories don’t really serve any purpose, and yes, alcohol has more calories per gram than carbs or protein, but… compared to many other alcoholic or non-alcoholic fruity beverages, the total calorie and carb count in wine is relatively low. The fermentation process in wine-making eliminates much of the sugar, which means wine is carb superior to ordinary grape juice (or that nasty non-alcoholic wine I tried when I was pregnant!)
Regarding calories, the important factors are:
- Alcohol calories are detrimental in terms of energy, muscle-building, and nutrient absorption.
- Alcohol calories are treated differently by the body.
To the latter point, your body recognizes alcohol as a toxin and metabolizes it first to rid the alcohol as quickly as possible. While your body is tied up in alcohol-burning mode, it halts fat burning. In fact, fat oxidation can be reduced by over 70% during this period of time…when, by the way, you’re usually eating your biggest meal of the day and you are the least active!
Secret #1: Always pair wine with protein.
When consuming wine, the perfect meal would be something like a large salad with ample lean protein (e.g. 4-5 oz of chicken breast or extra lean ground turkey) and nonfat or low fat dressing. Steer clear of junk and even “healthy” fats like salmon, avocado, or olive oil because of the fat oxidation consideration. After all, fat is fat when it comes to your a$s!
Secret #2: It’s the other “C” that matters more.
The mysterious reason why Stella can drink a bottle of wine a night and not gain a pound, and Betsy drinks one glass a night and experiences muffin top has more to do with the other “C”…cortisol. Drinking wine increases your cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone that accumulates in the abdomen. Here’s a closer look at what is happening:
When you consume alcohol in the evening with dinner, the blood sugar level in your body goes into a state of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). As you go to sleep, the blood sugar drops dramatically to a hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) state. Since hypoglycemia is a severe threat to the body, cortisol is secreted to normalize blood sugar. Unfortunately, cortisol is also a stimulating hormone which may cause a person to wake up in the middle of the night. ~Alcohol: Should you be drinking it?
While wine via cortisol has negative consequences for your current physique, it also impacts your future physique. Namely, wine impairs…it impairs muscle recovery and growth, energy for your next workout, and your judgment / willpower. Think about how you feel after a particularly poor night of sleep — not your best days at the gym or making food decisions, right?
For women, the story takes another twist:
To feed the cortisol, your body will borrow reserves it would normally use to make other hormones like progesterone. As progesterone drops, estrogen can continue to rise from the wine consumption and other lifestyle factors like poor diet and weight gain. Since your liver is the organ in charge of detoxing excess estrogen, wine is congesting and impairing your body’s natural detox function. Add onto this the hormonal fluctuations experienced during perimenopause and menopause, you start to see why your body “holds onto” wine differently than it did in your twenties and thirties.
For the perimenopausal and menopausal female, it’s not just that wine is estrogenic; it’s the chain of events that occur from drinking wine:
- Less muscle-building–> more muscle loss –> slower metabolism
- Belly fat, digestive issues, bloating
- Estrogen dominance –> mood swings, body fat, linkages to cancer, ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids, infertility, etc.
Nothing good happens when your estrogen levels go up.” ~my MD client
Secret #3: Yoga then wine…
Wine will exacerbate the effects of stress in your life. If you are under a lot of stress, prone to anxiety, or if you have unstable blood sugar levels or insulin resistance, wine will make these conditions worse… and it will show up primarily in your mid-section! Listen to your body and consider tweaking your wine consumption when you or your hormones are under more stress (e.g. time of the month, sleep deficit, excess exercise, or period of challenge or change). Mind-body practices like yoga, meditation, or tai chi work directly at reducing levels of stress in your body, thus helping you balance and restore your hormones naturally.
Secret #4: When your body is in hormonal balance, wine will do less harm to your physique.
Good news, Sarah. Your hormone levels are normal. If anything, your testosterone levels are a little low, so definitely not the cause of your acne.”
As I mentioned in a previous post, what I had been experiencing since ditching the wine glass four weeks ago was an uncharacteristic breakout on my chin and jaw…the symptoms of a possible hormonal imbalance. Since I had an annual ob/gyn exam scheduled anyway last week, I decided to pick my doctor’s brain about the possible effects of a wine stoppage. She listened with interest, but she did not have a strong opinion on the matter.
Could be…Why don’t we draw blood and see?” ~my doctor
Several days later, I received the call from her assistant that everything was in check and therefore this breakout was nothing more than a breakout…or, more likely, a sign of detoxification.
Secret #5: Welcome the breakout.
When you detoxify, the skin is the easiest place for toxins to be released. Again, your body is working for you to release toxins and cleanse. Given the right foods in combination with exercise and “calm”, our bodies detox naturally. This is why the process of bodybuilding and body transformation should not only give you a better physique, it should deliver better health and well-being. As your body rids toxins, all processes improve and you will notice a shift in your energy, thoughts…and, eventually, your skin!
Secret #6: Your gains will be greater in the gym without it.
If you’re working hard at maintaining or building muscle tissue, count on wine to limit your gains. Beyond protein absorption, quality of sleep (from the hypoglycemic effect) and dehydration will hurt your training sessions. This is the main reason I cut out wine when I’m prepping for a contest. With the amount of effort, time, and money I am pouring into prep, the last thing I want to do is reduce the effectiveness of my workouts. Wine limits virtually every aspect of body transformation — from muscle to mindset, from abdominal fat to the skin on your…
Secret #7: Your midsection may look better the morning after, but your a$s will not!
Dehydration from wine will leave you more dried out and looking leaner in the bathroom mirror in the morning, but prolonged dehydration will take its greatest toll on your skin, causing wrinkles, premature aging, and less supple skin tone. As a Bikini Masters (over 35) competitor, skin can be my competitive advantage or disadvantage. From how well the spray tan absorbs to how I look on stage, skin matters a lot. When commentators say “bikini is won by behind”, they are not only referring to the shape and size of your backside, they are also referring to the skin on your backside. This is why we want to eliminate as many toxins as possible from our diets…and our minds…as toxins affect this area of the female physique the most!
In your twenties and thirties, alcohol is a source of useless calories. In your forties and beyond, these useless calories become more destructive because of the female hormone pattern and the modern female lifestyle juggling family, career, and elevated levels of stress.
Questions to consider:
1. Are you experiencing uncharacteristic body fat gain in your mid-section and/or bloating?
2. What is your age, body fat levels…and do you have any symptoms of estrogen dominance?
3. How consistent and well-diversified is your fitness routine with respect to strength training, cardio, and yoga?
4. How is your diet with respect to protein and low glycemic index carbs? What, if anything, are you eating when you’re drinking?
5. How are your stress levels and blood sugar levels? Do you have any history of insulin resistance?
6. Are you currently spending a lot of time, money, and/or energy on body transformation (losing body fat, building or maintaining muscle)? Are you plateauing for no apparent reason?
If you’d like more information on my Star Transformation packages, contact me here. Options available for “long-distance” stars, too!