With the festive season upon us, Christmas parties and the temptation of alcohol is everywhere so it’s definitely an appropriate time to talk about this; moreover, red wine and its potential benefits.
I know what you’re thinking, “great, the more red the better”, but of course this is not the truth. As with most things in life the key is always moderation.


What alcohol does to the body

Alcohol itself is in no way beneficial. In brief, here’s what happens to your body when you drink alcohol:

  • You stop burning fat at the cellular level. Your body can’t store alcohol so when you drink, it’s metabolised before anything else and all other calories are put on hold including fat and sugar. In simple terms: You start storing fat.
  • Your blood sugar plummets because alcohol temporarily stops your liver from making its own sugar, so you end up ravenous and more often than not craving simple carbs.
  • Your growth hormone drops and the stimulants can affect your sleep.
  • Your testosterone (and its partner in fat-burning terms, growth hormone) plummets too because alcohol increases the conversion of testosterone to oestrogen in body fat, a process called aromatisation.

However, many of us enjoy a drink and there is nothing wrong with this if done in moderation and certain alcoholic beverages are better than others.

Red wine and testosterone

Researchers at Kingston University in England (2) have discovered that RED wine may actually boost testosterone levels unlike other alcohol. The phenols in red wine inhibit the enzyme that removes testosterone from the body. This naturally occurring enzyme goes by the name of UGT2B17 (easy to remember!).

After the researchers had worked out that the effect was not due to the alcohol itself, they did further tests to work out which substances found in red wine were likely to inhibit UGT2B17 and found the most dominant candidate to be Quercetin. It is this that might be of interest as a raised testosterone level during and after a training session accelerates fat loss and recovery.

Interestingly, lower serum testosterone has a direct inverse correlation with metabolic profile(1) and a direct association with decreased insulin resistance and increased cortisol output. In other words, low testosterone leads to more fat storage on the hips, stomach and upper chest (pectoral region).

Testosterone is an important hormone for everyone. It is as important for women as it is for men despite it commonly being associated with big muscles, angry men and body-builders (or all three). Especially as women get older, testosterone can help reverse common postmenopausal effects of reduced muscle size and weaker bones, often leading to osteoporosis and it only takes a few lifestyle and dietary changes to see a difference. For example:

  • Consuming more quality protein on a daily basis (eating a small protein source at every meal, such as lean red meat, poultry, cold water fish, tofu, legumes and/or nuts).
  • Increasing your intake of ‘good’ fats. Fat itself is not the enemy – it’s simply the type you choose that affects your health and your metabolism. Stick to flax, olive and nut/seed oils. Eat avocados and fatty fish, and add a flax or fish oil supplement to your diet.

Limit your intake of alcohol. As we have just read, alcohol disturbs many of the body’s natural hormonal processes but if you are going to have a drink opt for one glass of red wine.

Further points for the red corner

Another good reason to choose red wine is it’s calorie content. I don’t usually recommend counting calories as not all calories are created equal but it is useful to know that in a normal serving (not a bucket glass, as seems to be the norm these days) of red wine, you will get about 98 to 105 calories. Whereas in a bottle of regular beer there is approximately 145-165 calories (1). That’s a significant jump in energy intake when one glass is multiplied.

For decades now, research has found that the high content of resveratrol, polyphenols and antioxidants in red wine are the sources of its protective properties. Red wine has heart-healthy and potential longevity benefits that other forms of alcohol do not share. It’s these protective antioxidants which are important as they prevent your body from allowing free radicals to damage your cells. But choose your reds carefully to receive optimal benefits.

The stronger the grape, the higher the likelihood of antioxidant benefit (so, French Madirans with Cabernets, Syrah, Merlot, Sangiovese and Riojas are all top choices). Ideally you should drink your red wine before a meal, ideally 30 minutes or more to prevent it fermenting food within the stomach.

Of course, we could start kidding ourselves that drinking red wine will make us healthier, but it is definitely the best of the bunch and moreover, it provides antioxidants that you wouldn’t get otherwise. If you do not already enjoy the occasional glass of red wine, then of course I don’t advise to start drinking it! Not drinking alcohol would always be the number one healthy choice. Sorry to repeat myself (and to come across as a Scrooge at Christmas!), but excessive alcohol increases your risk of high blood pressure, liver damage, weakens your heart, diminishes vitamins ³ and negatively affects your hormonal ‘landscape’.

Take Home Message

Even if you do have a glass too many or a mince pie too many, please remember it is not the end of the world and it does not signal the start of the ‘inevitable Christmas landslide’. Reset your clock, reset yourself and start again. Treating yourself on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve is absolutely normal but treating yourself every single day and ‘indulging’ versus ‘savouring’ is the difference and that is where you will start to see negative effects in body composition. Moderation and restraint, pure and simple. I know it’s easier said than done, but don’t forget you are the one that has changed their lifestyle for the better this year and taken yourself to a new level through hard work and dedication. It is not necessarily the person sitting next to you at the dinner table or standing next to you at the party who is encouraging you otherwise…

I would like to wish you all a very healthy and happy holiday and all the best for an awesome 2013. It’s going to be a great year for PWPT. Bootcamps galore, new goals, new personal bests, new challenges. Onwards and upwards for you, me and all the team. Woop woop!

Happy Christmas


(1) Pitteloud, N. Relationship between testosterone levels, insulin sensitivity and mitochondrial function in men. Diabetes Care. 2005. 7(28), 237-243.
(2) Journal of Nutrition. 2012. 11(1), 67. (Epub ahead of print).
(3) Williams, M.H. Dietary supplements and sports performance: Introduction and vitamins.  Journal of International Sociology and Sports Nutrition. 2004. 1(2), 1–6.

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