What happens to the body when we drink alcohol?

Leading into the weekend, many of us look forward to that first glass of wine after work on a Friday, or that beer after footy is over on a Saturday. But it can be so easy for that glass of wine to lead to a bottle, or that beer turns into a 6 pack, plus a scotch and coke or two…

Current Australian guidelines recommend no more than one alcoholic drink per day for women, and no more than two for men.

However, consuming alcohol above these quantities is very common.

So, what happens to your body when you drink alcohol?

Here are 5 things that may make you reconsider reaching for that extra glass.

Alcohol and Weight Gain

Drinking alcohol doesn’t directly cause weight gain, chances are if you are a regular drinker, there will be a few extra kilograms being carried. The liver needs to process alcohol before it can be burned off. As a result, alcohol stops your body from burning fat.

Furthermore, whilst alcohol is high in calories, it can increase feelings of hunger and reduce those of satiety. Plus, having that extra drink will often lead to poor food choices; that stop off at the local takeaway store on the way home is a common occurrence on a big night, and chances are that choosing the healthiest option won’t be front of mind.

Alcohol and Bad Skin

Drinking alcohol can affect our skin in a number of ways. Alcohol it is a diuretic. This means it increases the rate we lose fluid, or in other words, it dehydrates us.

Those tiny fine lines that are hidden when we are well hydrated suddenly become much more pronounced after a big night. Secondly, it can result in break-outs (especially if you’re prone to forgetting to take off your makeup) due to the sugar content of many alcoholic drinks.

A dull complexion and bloated, puffy face are other common signs of overindulging, an appearance most of us want to avoid!

Alcohol, Cancer and Heart Disease

Excessive alcohol consumption increases the risk of a number of different diseases, including heart disease, liver disease and cancer, particularly mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, stomach, bowel, liver and breast cancer.

Alcohol and Brain Damage

Slurred speech, difficulty walking in a straight line, impact on vision and even blacking out are all well known (and scary), short-term effects of alcohol consumption.

But the effects aren’t just short term. Alcohol’s impact on the brain can also be long term as well. Drinking six drinks in a sitting can result in damage to memory, especially for those under the age of 25, due to the vulnerability of the brain at this age.

Furthermore, the longer heavy drinking has occurred, the more likely it is those memory problems will occur. And ladies take note – you are more vulnerable than men to many of the medical consequences of alcohol use.

It’s not all bad news. Our brains are great at repairing themselves. Alcoholics with cognitive impairment show at least some improvement in brain structure and functioning after a year of no alcohol. And, whilst some people take much longer, this means that the damage may be reversible.

Let’s not forget Hangovers!

I couldn’t write an article about drinking alcohol without writing about the short-term impacts of over-consumption; the hangover.

The smell of the alcohol coming out of your pores; nausea; vomiting; headaches… The wasted days spent in bed.

High intakes of alcohol increase pressure on the immune system. Sleep patterns are disrupted, stopping you from moving into REM (aka deep) sleep. Add to that the depressive effect of alcohol and overdoing it ain’t pretty!

So what to do?

  • Alternate your alcohol with water.
  • Eat something before you go out.
  • Avoid skipping meals.
  • Avoid getting into rounds.
  • Be mindful of how much you’re pouring into your glass when at home.
  • Ensure to include alcohol-free days.
  • Plan something for the next morning that you don’t want to do hungover, to help deter going over the top the night before.

As party season comes around

Every year I find I am spending more time talking about alcohol consumption and the health impacts it has.

We’ve already looked at some of the health impacts of drinking alcohol.

Now let’s look at the caloric increase that occurs as a result of drinking alcohol.

Putting the calories from alcohol into perspective

Here’s a guide of how much physical activity it would take to burn off some common alcoholic drinks*

The below exercise needs are approximate and based on a 70kg person:


  • 12 minutes of Cycling
  • 11 minutes of Dancing
  • 27 minutes of Vacuuming





  • 15 minutes of Basketball
  • 38 minutes of Hatha Yoga
  • 27 minutes of Walking


  • 65 minutes of Aerobics
  • 40 minutes of Running Intervals
  • 4 hours and 21 minutes of Ironing


  • 30 minutes of Dancing
  • 33 minutes of Jogging
  • 61 minutes of Gardening


  • 81 minutes of Lawn Bowls
  • 31 minutes of Dancing
  • 35 minutes of Jogging


  • 9 minutes of Swimming (leisurely)
  • 6 minutes of Running at an average pace
  • 10 minutes of Lawn mowing

It is important to remember that the above numbers are estimations.

The number of calories burnt can vary significantly depending on a number of factors, including:

  • How hard you’re working in your training session.
  • Your body size.
  • Muscle mass.
  • How new to the activity you are.

Whilst some of the numbers may seem small to start with (a 6-minute run to burn off your vodka?), it’s not unusual for more than one to be consumed for many individuals. That hour of aerobic style exercise to burn off said bottle of wine may sound easy to manage if your favourite burger is thrown in (approximately 500 Cal), suddenly an extra hour of that activity is thrown in, plus you likely have a cracking headache… and (nearly) an extra day (or half day, depending on your body size) of calories has appeared.

Another way to look at alcohol consumption is in the realms of food

100 calories are equal to 4 squares of chocolate or 20 crisps, or a medium banana, or 1 vodka and cola.

200 calories will get you 16 fries or 500mL bottle cola.

300 calories are enough for a croissant, or 2 slices of cheese and tomato pizza or a full cream milk hot chocolate.

Whilst I am all for people having a great time, excessive alcohol consumption, along with the unnecessary calories that are added, being mindful of the health impacts of overindulging is important.

*Physical activity requirements calculated from WCRF, and calories in alcohol from Easy Diet Diary.

Here are my favourite tips for keeping your alcohol intake in check:

Alternate each alcoholic drink with a glass of water

Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it will increase how quickly your body loses water. Increasing your water intake can help reduce the amount of alcohol you consume, and increase your hydration levels if you are choosing to overindulge.

Avoid getting into rounds

This is an easy way to drink more than you planned… especially if you’re with others who tend to drink more than you do!

Avoid Soft Drinks with Alcohol (other than soda water)

Soft drinks are loaded with excess sugar! Consumption of these will likely make you feel worse the next day.

Include at least 2 ALCOHOL-FREE days each week

Doing so will help give your body, in particularly your liver, a break.

Start drinking late

Try not to start drinking early; delaying until later in the day means fewer hours of drinking overall, which usually means fewer drinks as well!


The recommendations for daily consumption are:

  • for women, less than 1 standard drink per day
  • for men, less than two standard drinks per day

Chloe McLeod is an Accredited Sports Dietitian, Accredited Practicing Dietitian and co-owner of Health & Performance Collective. Chloe specialises in food intolerance, sports nutrition and nutrition for arthritis and autoimmune conditions with over 10 years experience in the industry.  Follow her on instagram @chloe_mcleod_dietitian

6 Nutrition Tips every runner should know

Are you a running newbie or a seasoned pro?

The right nutrition is essential to ensuring you’ll perform at your best come race day, though it is the often a forgotten part of these events.

Being able to tick the box that says you’ve run a marathon or done an ultra-endurance event is on many peoples bucket lists, and rightly so – being able to run for an extended period of time, on any type of terrain is a fantastic achievement!

Here are 6 nutrition tips to help you get your nutrition right for your next race.

Eat based on your goals

There’s been so much in the media in recent years about if you should be low carb, high fat; high carb low fat, or somewhere in between.

Best practice is about eating enough of the right nutrients to support your training, help you achieve your goals and keep you healthy.

Eating and drinking enough carbohydrate to support your training is essential; consuming carbs before and during your race allows you to race at your individual maximal sustainable pace. Not enough means you won’t be able to move as fast. Given that for the majority of people participating in endurance activity, the goal is to do the best you can (and by best I mean the fastest speed over the distance), carbs are king. This doesn’t necessarily mean high carb though; it means eating enough to support your training, which means more around training sessions and races, and less at other times.

The one caveat here is if you do happen to NOT be aiming for your maximal sustainable pace; maybe you’re pacing a friend who is less experienced, and doesn’t move as quickly as you, you’ll likely find that during the event you can get away with consuming less, as you’re moving at slower than your maximal sustainable pace.

Choose your food

Some foods are better suited at certain times than others.

For example, high GI carbohydrate which is digested quickly is better consumed either right before or during endurance activity, such as a sports drink or gel.

Lower GI or slower digested carbohydrate is better when you have more time beforehand, or the day before, such as whole grain bread, brown rice or pasta. Lower fat choices right before activity are also suggested, as higher fat choices slow digestion.

Donuts (unfortunately) do not make for a good choice!

Fasted and Fed sessions

Doing some of your training sessions fasted will help your body better adapt to using fat as fuel, as does including some sessions where you’ve eaten before. As a starting point, for your longer sessions and resistance sessions, eat something beforehand (e.g. banana, muesli and milk, toast with peanut butter and honey). For shorter sessions, do these without eating beforehand.

Timing is Key!

Eating adequate amounts before, during and after sessions is essential.

Eat something beforehand that is easily digestible that leaves you feeling comfortable. For most men, aiming for 40-60g of carbohydrate is adequate per hour during a training session or race.

Is this a lot? Potentially, and the reason it is important to test your fuel out in training sessions so you know what works for you. Aim to eat within 30 minutes of finishing the training for best recovery results, and to help manage appetite later on in the day.


We all know not to wear new running shoes on race day; nutrition is the same.

Practice your nutrition strategies during training to help instil you with confidence in what you have planned, and to iron out any kinks in your plan. Check out our Evolve Endurance Nutrition Program for guidance on how to fuel effectively during your race as well as during your training and recovery.

Remember to Hydrate!

Drinking enough fluid day to day is essential for a number of reasons.

These daily needs significantly increase as soon as you add endurance training and events into the mix. Remember to check the colour of your urine and aim for pale yellow to colourless, and if you find you sweat a lot, also incorporate electrolyte drinks as well to help replace those lost in your sweat.

Why is my weight loss plateauing?

You’ve been training hard at the gym, eating all the salads, but you’ve stopped seeing the results you were so happy to see when you first started your weight loss journey.

Weight loss plateaus can be particularly frustrating

Especially when you feel like you’re doing everything right!

So what are the causes of a weight loss plateau and how can you get the ball rolling again?

Not eating enough

It’s so common to see people put on super low, calorie-restricted diets in an effort to lose weight.

The thing to remember though is whilst it may work initially (or if done sporadically, as for fasting), if you are eating less food than your body requires to function consistently, our metabolism takes note, and starts to slow down in an effort to ‘conserve’ energy, aka starvation mode.

I like to think of it like putting wood on a fire; plenty of wood on a fire helps it burn fast and hot, whilst not putting enough on results in a less intense burn. Our metabolism is a little the same. When we aren’t eating enough to fuel that fire, our metabolism starts to slow down, making it harder to lose weight.

This is often particularly the case for individuals who are highly physically active; sometimes it can be harder to lose when highly active, due to the amount of energy that is required to fuel that activity but also results in a deficit for weight loss to occur.

How to manage this? Make sure you are eating enough overall, and enough of the nutrients your body requires each day to get the results you want.

You got fitter, it’s time to change up your training

If you continue to do exactly the same training, as your fitness level increases, this will start to become less effective. Change your routine up; try interval running if you usually do a steady pace or vice versa. Lift heavier weights at the gym, try a different class.

Not getting enough rest

Giving your body a chance to rest and recover.

Getting enough sleep each night is essential for sustainable weight loss. When we’re tired, our hormones can make us more hungry, can influence cortisol production and result in bigger waist circumference. Put your phone away well before bed. Get up at the same time each day to help set your body clock. Avoid caffeine 10 hours before bed.

Need to find patience

The least ‘sexy’ answer, but the most important.

Weight loss is rarely linear. Most individuals usually find stops and starts, as their body’s find new ‘set points’; the weight at which your body is physiologically most comfortable, so tries to stay at. Consistency with eating well, exercising regularly and getting enough rest is truly key for sustainable, continued weight loss.

Chloe McLeod is an Accredited Sports Dietitian, Accredited Practicing Dietitian and co-owner of Health & Performance Collective. Chloe specialises in food intolerance, sports nutrition and nutrition for arthritis and autoimmune conditions with over 10 years experience in the industry.  Follow her on instagram @chloe_mcleod_dietitian

How to tackle your first Ultra Marathon

Pace. Gear. Nutrition.

Three causes of the most common mistakes made by aspiring endurance runners when embarking on their first ultra-marathon.

We outline how to get maximum enjoyment out of your first journey down “the long trail”.

Never try anything new on race day

If you haven’t used it and tested it during your training, leave it at home on race day. That includes clothing, footwear, gear (i.e. head torches) and nutrition.

Your shoes play a pivotal role

Planning on wearing those fancy new pair of shoes for the first time on the day of your race? Don’t. New shoes can easily give you blisters and various other lower leg pains. This can easily ruin all the hard work you’ve put in to get to the start line.

That goes for clothing, gear and nutrition too

If you haven’t used it and tested it in anger during your training, leave it at home. Avoid the temptation to sport that wonderful event t-shirt you scored in the goodie bag. Even the smallest inefficiencies in gear become amplified tenfold in an ultra-marathon. Many times we fail to use race-day gear in training. Small things, both mental and physical like chafing and unwarranted fatigue, become huge setbacks and will quickly ruin your chances of a successful ultra-marathon campaign.

Carry ALL the mandatory gear and make sure it’s good quality

It’s worth the investment and not just because it will be checked. It’s there for a reason.

During a recent ultra-marathon event, we needed to use every single piece of mandatory gear. Bad weather had closed in and with a sub-zero wind-chill factor the temperature plummetted; many competitors were caught out and ended up being treated for hypothermia as they were under-prepared. If you’re going to buy one expensive piece, consider having a good outer-most layer that keeps you warm and dry.

A quality waterproof jacket, like Kathmandu’s Zeolite v2, can mean the difference between an awesome day out or one you’d much rather forget.

Practice packing and unpacking your pack

Ideally, train with a full pack with all mandatory gear and individually bag your items in waterproof bags. Use sealable bags like Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil bags or for a cheaper option GLAD Snap Lock Bags. They need to be sealable so you can squeeze the air out of them and keep the contents dry. Bagging them individually helps with packing but also means you can access things quickly.

Label or colour code your gear. This will help you to find what you’re looking for when your brain is no longer working properly.

What about those items you’re least like to use… Most ultra-marathon events now require you to carry your lights and hi-vis vest with you from the start. Pack these at the bottom of your pack as you won’t need them until later in the event. There’s nothing wrong with packing a lighter headlamp for the day. If you have a bigger, chunkier headlamp that will be your main one at night, you can collect this during the race.

Use gaiters

You don’t need to spend $100 on them. Cloth gaiters are available if you want to be fancy otherwise mowing gaiters from Bunnings do the job just as well for a fraction of the price. You want to prevent rocks and dirt getting in your shoes. As the saying goes “It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.”

Don’t wait for chafe, lube up early!

As the saying goes, “Prevention is better than a cure”. Lots of products available including powders for socks that help dry feet out as well as prevent friction with product such as Body Glide, Lanacane or 3B Neat for those areas where chafing between skin surfaces and fabric is likely to occur; between the buttocks, between the legs and beneath the breasts and for the gents, nipples. Also remember the shoulders where your pack may rub and the lower area of your back where older packs can rub; the newer, more modern vests like Salomon Skin and Ultimate Direction shouldn’t do this. Don’t wait for chafe, lube up early!

Use layers to manage your temperature

Most ultra-marathons start in the early hours. Use gloves early and at night when it’s getting cold. But also be careful of overheating, particularly at the start of your race – it may be cold early in the morning but unlikely to be cold enough to need your thermals on. You will heat up quickly.

With an event like Ultra Trail Australia the start can be congested for quite a while once you hit the single track, because of the number of runners in this event; it gets difficult to stop and disrobe out of your warm gear, and you’ll lose quite a few places if you need to do that in the early stages. If it’s cold, go with your waterproof jacket, buff and gloves as these can be packed away quickly and easily without the need to stop.

Wear headwear that you can adjust

A buff or neck tube is perfect as you can use it to trap heat when you’re cold or let heat out when you’re warm. You can also use it around your wrist like a sweat band to mop sweat and wipe your nose!

Mental strategies are key

Pack a change of shirt and socks for the mid-point… sure. However if everything is feeling great, socks and shoes aren’t rubbing, then consider not changing unless you absolutely need to and saving them for much later in the event. There is not much better feeling out there than a fresh pair of socks after 8 hours or so of wearing the same pair through mud, water and bush.



Don’t just wing it on race day. Being properly hydrated in the days leading up to the race and not just downing that bottle of electrolytes at the start line is the key! At a minimum, you should aim to consume at least two to two and a half litres of water every day to ensure your body is functioning at its peak.

Before your first ultra-marathon

Ideally, you should have tested this as part of your long-distance training sessions to find what works best for you but decide in advance what you plan to eat before your event. As the golden rule states “Don’t try anything new on Race Day”.

During your first ultra-marathon

This is a very individual thing but whatever works for you, do it regularly and frequently throughout the race. You’ll begin the day feeling good and running strong, you’ll be churning through those energy stores, so avoid not beginning early enough. At the first signs of a sour stomach and we tend to shy away from eating. This is the last thing you want to do. You can’t run when you aren’t fueling and hydrating.

Check out our Evolve Endurance Nutrition Program for guidance on how to fuel effectively during your race as well as during your training and recovery,

Pace yourself!

Start slow and keep it steady

Avoid getting caught up in the excitement and going out too hard, remember you have a journey ahead of you so try starting at a steady pace.

Stay relaxed and positive

Think back to the hard work you’ve put in to get there – all you have to do is keep putting one foot in front of the other until you cross that finish line. Listening to music helps some to refocus when things get a little tough for others, having someone to share those dark patches with is a better way to keep their spirits up so if you fall into stride with someone, ask how they’re travelling!

Have fun!

Take a look around and enjoy the atmosphere.

Remember that you signed up for this whole crazy thing in the first place. You’re going to push yourself a little harder on race day, but it’s not supposed to be torture! You’ve put in all the hard work getting to the start line, now’s the time to enjoy the rewards that come with your first ultra-marathon!

Hydration! Your body depends on it to survive.

Every cell, tissue and organ in your body needs water to work properly

Your body uses water to maintain its temperature, remove waste, and lubricate your joints. Good hydration from is needed for overall good health.

Improve your wellbeing

As a general rule, you should aim to drink a minimum of 2 litres, every day.

Different people need different amounts of water to stay hydrated. Most healthy people can stay well hydrated by drinking water and other fluids whenever they feel thirsty. For some people, less than 2 litres may be enough. Other people may need more than 2 litres each day. If you are concerned that you are not drinking enough water, check your urine. If it is usually colourless or light yellow, you are well hydrated. If it is a dark yellow or amber colour, you may be dehydrated.

Water is best

Other drinks and foods can help you stay hydrated. However, some may add extra calories from sugar to your diet. Fruit and vegetable juices, milk, and herbal teas add to the amount of water you get each day.

Even caffeinated drinks, such as coffee and tea, can contribute to your daily water intake and a moderate amount of caffeine (200 to 300 milligrams) is not harmful to most people. This is about the amount in 2 to 4, 250ml cups of coffee. It’s best to limit caffeinated drinks as caffeine can cause some people to urinate more frequently, feel anxious or jittery.

Sports Drinks and Hydration

These can be helpful if you are planning on exercising at higher than normal levels for more than an hour. They contain carbohydrates and electrolytes that can help your body absorb water. However, some sports drinks are high in calories from added sugar. They also may contain high levels of sodium (salt). Check the serving size on the label. One bottle usually contains more than one serving.

Some sports drinks contain caffeine, too. Remember that a safe amount of caffeine to consume each day is between 200 and 300 mg.

Energy Drinks and Hydration

Energy drinks are not the same as sports drinks.

Energy drinks, such as Red Bull and V, usually contain large amounts of caffeine. They also contain ingredients that overstimulate you, such as guarana, ginseng, or taurine. Most of these drinks are also high in added sugar. These are things your body doesn’t need so best to avoid energy drinks!

Tips for Staying hydrated

  • Carry a reusable water bottle, fill it with tap water and keep it with you during the day.
  • Try adding a slice of lemon or lime to your water.
  • When you’re feeling hungry, drink water. Thirst is often confused with hunger. True hunger will not be satisfied by drinking water.
  • Some research suggests that drinking a glass of water before you eat may also contribute to a healthy weight-loss plan.
  • If you have trouble remembering to drink water, drink on a schedule. Drink water when you wake up, at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and when you go to bed. Alternatively, try drinking a small glass of water at the beginning of each hour or before each meal.