What's the deal with beer and weight gain?

How your cold one can impact your weight loss journey.

Written by
Stephanie Anderson
Medically reviewed by
Last updated
April 23, 2024
min read
What's the deal with beer and weight gain?
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As the weather starts warming up, it gets more and more tempting to kick back with a beer. Or a few beers.

But if you've been on a weight loss journey, or just want to look and feel your best all year round, it's likely you'll already know that drinking alcohol, especially beer, can hinder your progress. And of course, there's also the dreaded beer belly.

But does beer make you fat, actually? How much alcohol will lead to weight gain? And what can you do to prevent weight gain while still enjoying life?

Ahead, we'll break down everything you need to know about the link between drinking beer and gaining weight, and how too much beer and alcohol consumption can increase belly fat.

Beer nutrition facts: What you need to know

Look, there's no denying that a frosty beer on a hot day is a refreshing, enjoyable time, but it's important to be aware of the nutrition facts and how it can impact your health and cause weight gain.

Beer and other alcoholic drinks are often referred to as being "empty calories", and for good reason — they contain calories, but lack nutritional value. When consumed frequently or in excess, these empty calories can make you gain weight and contribute to belly fat.

The calories in beer come primarily from alcohol and carbohydrates. While the exact number of calories will vary depending on the type of beer, a pint of 5% beer can contain up to 239 calories [1]. Light beers, by comparison, will contain around 90-110 calories [2]. Alternately, a standard glass of wine contains fewer calories than beer — a 175ml glass of 12% wine will equate to around 133 calories [1].

In beer, most of these calories come from the malted barley, hops, and other ingredients used in the brewing process. Again, the amount of carbohydrates will vary from beer to beer, but a standard beer will usually contain around 10-15 grams of carbs, which can make you gain weight.

And of course, there's also the alcohol content to consider. Alcohol content is measured in terms of Alcohol by Volume (ABV), and a regular beer typically has an ABV of around 4-6%, although some craft and specialty beers can have much higher ABV levels, exceeding 10% or even 20%. The higher the ABV, the more alcohol and calories the beer contains.

Like any alcohol, it's important to drink alcohol responsibly, avoid binge drinking, and maintain an otherwise healthy lifestyle.

How can beer sabotage your weight loss?

Unfortunately, there are several ways that beer consumption can sabotage your weight loss journey. Primarily, it's about the calories. Given that beer has more calories than other beverages, the calories can stack up quickly.

You know how it goes — you head out for knockoffs on a Friday afternoon with the intention of having 1 drink and heading home. Next thing you know, it's more than 3 drinks, more than 4 drinks, and all of a sudden, you've gotten home late, ordered junk food because you were drinking on an empty stomach, and skipped your morning gym session because you're tired and hungover, leaving all those extra calories to add to your waist circumference.

However, there are actually a few other, lesser-known ways that beer can sabotage your weight loss, also. For one, alcohol can temporarily slow down your metabolism, which means your body won't be able to burn calories as efficiently [3]. This can last for several hours after you've been drinking.

Next, your body will prioritise metabolising the alcohol in your system over burning off fat for energy. The result? More calories from the beer will be stored as body fat, especially around the stomach.

Finally, drinking beer, particularly in excess, can be disruptive to your sleep patterns, which can negatively impact your overall health, and hinder your fitness and weight loss goals [5]. Sleep is incredibly important for our health and wellbeing, and for achieving our weight loss goals [4]. Unfortunately, 1 in 3 Aussie men don't get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, which can impact body weight over time.

That's why we created Pilot's clinical sleep treatment, which is designed to help you fall asleep and stay asleep, without being habit-forming or making you drowsy the next day.

The link between alcohol and weight gain in men vs women

Now that we've established how beer can cause weight gain, let's talk about the differences in alcohol and weight when it comes to men vs women.

It should be noted, of course, that there are a lot of variables here, including biological, hormonal, and lifestyle differences, all of which can play a role in an individual's body weight. Still, there are some recurring factors that can mean that men are more likely to develop beer bellies from drinking.

For starters, the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) found that men are more likely to gain weight from drinking than women [3]. They also found that alcohol was more likely to lead to belly fat specifically, rather than overall weight gain. Men and women tend to have different patterns of fat distribution, and men typically store fat in the abdominal area, while women often store fat in the hips and thighs [6].

Another major difference is that men tend to prefer drinking beer and higher-calorie alcoholic beverages. This means that men are consuming more excess calories per sitting than women, which means a higher likelihood of developing belly fat. Men are also more likely to engage in heavy drinking than women, which means more calories, and an increased risk of health complications, as well as poor diet and sleep quality — all of which can cause weight gain [7].

Both men and women should be aware of the potential impact of alcohol on their weight and overall health. To maintain a healthy weight and minimise the risks associated with alcohol, it's essential to drink in moderation, make mindful choices about beverage types and portion sizes, and maintain a balanced diet and regular physical activity. If you have concerns about alcohol consumption and its effects on weight, consider consulting with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian for personalised guidance.

Will you lose weight and your beer belly if you stop drinking alcohol?

If you're wanting to lose belly fat, drinking less alcohol is a great place to start. Alcohol and heavy drinking often lead to the accidental consumption of too many calories, and because it slows your metabolism, your body will store more fat. If you eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy, active lifestyle, and get good quality sleep, it's likely that you'll be able to lose weight and drop the beer belly.

When you stop drinking alcohol or significantly reduce your alcohol intake, you remove a source of empty calories and reduce the likelihood of overeating due to alcohol-induced appetite stimulation. This can contribute to weight loss and, potentially, the loss of belly fat.

However, it's essential to remember that weight loss is a complex process, and quitting alcohol may not guarantee weight loss, especially if other aspects of your lifestyle remain unchanged.

If you're hoping to lose the beer belly but aren't sure that just cutting your beer consumption is going to do the trick, Pilot's Metabolic Reset Program might be a good fit for you.

Pilot's Metabolic Reset is delivered online via an Australian practitioner, and comes with health coaching and regular medical check-ins for a comprehensive approach. Our revolutionary treatments target the body’s metabolic patterns and our 1-on-1 health coaching helps you keep it off in the long term.

Can you drink beer and still lose weight?

Yes, it is possible to drink beer in moderation and still lose weight, but it requires careful consideration of your overall diet, physical activity, and the quantity and type of beer you consume.

The main thing to keep in mind anytime you drink alcohol is to do so in moderation. Limit your alcohol intake, and opt for light or low-calorie beers when possible. These options contain fewer calories than regular beer, making it easier to fit them into your daily calorie intake. It's also a good idea to pay attention to the size of your beers — obviously, a smaller beer will mean fewer calories.

Remember, as well, to stay hydrated with water, and avoid high-calorie meals and snacks when you consume alcohol. Even better, plan ahead! If you plan to enjoy a beer, consider how it fits into your daily calorie intake, and adjust your meals accordingly to accommodate the calories from the beer.

The occasional beer or 2 won't be overly detrimental to your weight loss goals if you generally consume a healthy, balanced diet and exercise regularly. Of course, if you have specific weight loss goals and concerns, it's a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian, like Pilot's health coaches, who can provide personalised guidance tailored to your individual needs and preferences.

Other alcoholic beverages to sip on your weight loss journey

If you're on a weight loss journey and looking for alcoholic beverages that are lower in calories and can be enjoyed in moderation, there are several options to consider. Keep in mind that moderation is key, and it's important to factor in the calories from alcohol into your overall daily calorie intake. Here are some alcoholic beverages that are relatively lower in calories:

  • Light beer: If you're really wanting a beer, a light or low-calorie beer option will typically contain fewer calories than regular beer.
  • Wine: Wine, particularly dry types like white or red wine, can be a lower-calorie option.
  • Champagne or sparkling wine: Champagne and other sparkling wines tend to be lower in calories than many other alcoholic beverages.
  • Spirits with low-calorie mixers: Spirits like vodka, gin, or tequila paired with calorie-free or low-calorie mixers such as soda water or diet tonic can be a lower-calorie choice. Avoid high-calorie mixers like sugary sodas or juices.
  • Homemade cocktails: When making cocktails at home, you have more control over the ingredients. You can create lower-calorie cocktails by using fresh fruit juices, herbs, and spices for flavour instead of sugary mixers.
  • Shochu: Shochu is a Japanese distilled spirit that is typically lower in calories than many other spirits. It's often enjoyed on the rocks or mixed with water.

Regardless of the type of alcoholic beverage you choose, it's essential to drink in moderation and be mindful of portion sizes. Overindulging in any alcoholic drink can lead to excessive calorie intake.

Photo credit: cottonbro studio / Pexels

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