It’s a good thing Vancouverites are so health-conscious, given their love affair with craft beer. We all know that ale ain’t exactly low in calories and that pounding back the pints can lead to the dreaded beer belly.
A mid-alcohol IPA, for instance, has more than 200 calories in a 12-ounce bottle, according to Beer of Tomorrow, an L.A.–based website. It equates a 12-ounce bottle of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine to a 20-ounce iced caramel macchiato from Starbucks (about 330 calories), while a pint of New Belgium Fat Tire Amber Ale has approximately the same number of calories as two Oreo cookies (about 140). Meanwhile, something like a six-ounce pour of the Bruery’s Imperial Stout has about 500 calories, the same amount in a large order of McDonald’s fries.
Alcohol is the major contributor to calories in beer, with every gram adding about seven calories. Then there are the carbohydrates due to the fermentation process’s leftover sugars.
An obvious way to avoid beer belly is, of course, to not drink any beer—or at least not very much of it. But there are other strategies that beer lovers can consider when it comes to keeping belly fat at bay.
“Watch what you eat with those beers,” says Cristina Sutter, a private-practice sport dietitian at Optimal Performance Clinic in downtown Vancouver. “Beer is often served with greasy snack foods like nachos, calamari, sliders, cheesy bread, or pizza. These platters challenge even the strongest of willpowers, and alcohol impairs our restraint around our food choice. Instead, order a plate of edamame, mussels, tuna tataki, or shrimp cocktail for guilt-free munching.”
Sutter also suggests cutting out weekday drinks and holding out for a single special night on the weekend.
“If you have an active social life and enjoy a couple casual beers three or four nights a week, this can double your overall intake compared to someone who only drinks on a Saturday night,” she says. “Savour every drink. Better to enjoy one craft beer than mindlessly guzzle five light beer.”
Personal trainer Craig Boyd, cofounder and director of trainers at Vancouver’s Precision Athletics, says that most people look at drinking as simply a few extra empty calories, with some opting for beverages like vodka and water that may seem to have fewer calories. However, the problem is that the alcohol in beer and other drinks gets converted to acetate, which is a waste product and needs to be processed by your liver, he explains.
“Your liver is also responsible for breaking down fat,” Boyd says. “So if you have a couple of beers and head to the gym the next day you could be nullifying your fat-loss gains.”
Alcohol also affects your sleep, he says, limiting the amount of rapid eye movement (REM) in any given night. It’s during REM that your body physically repairs itself and produces testosterone and other hormones that are important for maintaining lean body mass, building muscle, and burning fat.
“Beer, and specifically hoppy beer, can lead to beer gut and man boobs,” Boyd says. “There is a double effect: the effect of alcohol on your sleep can lower testosterone. Simultaneously, beer, and specifically hoppy beer, can increase your estrogen.
“So drinking beer is sort of a multifaceted weight-gain problem. It messes with your hormones, reduces your recovery ability, and stops you from burning fat if you are working out,” he says.
Aside from limiting intake to help with fat loss, Boyd recommends incorporating high-intensity interval training (HIIT) into workout routines along with steady-state aerobic exercise. The former involves short bursts of maximal-effort cardio followed by recovery periods of active rest.
“My recommendation is two to three HIIT sessions per week of 20-30 minutes, which include a warm-up and cool-down,” he says, “as well as one session of steady-state, low-level aerobic exercise over 45 minutes—60 minutes is ideal.”
Weight training is also vital, with Boyd suggesting two to three sessions per week to help improve testosterone levels, posture, and metabolism.
Personal trainer Janet Archibald, founder of Alive & Well Personal Training in Kitsilano, notes that it’s important for anyone hoping to get rid of excess stomach weight to realize that we can’t “spot lose”.
“Our bodies lose and gain weight where we are predisposed to, and for many that is in our midsection,” Archibald says. “What we can do, though, is tighten and firm those muscles up by doing things like crunches, planks, and many other abdominal exercises. Getting into a good habit of incorporating cardio, strength, and flexibility into your regular fitness routine is very important. They each play an important role in our health.”
Cardio strengthens your heart and lungs. “The stronger our heart and lungs are, the better we feel, and cardio is what kicks in our endorphins, which give us that natural-high feeling. When you’re doing cardio, you are burning calories while you’re doing the activity as well as up to four to six hours later.”
Strength training is important because muscle density helps burn calories 24 hours a day, she says, while flexibility helps ward off back strain and other unexplainable aches and pains.
“The best way to keep the beer gut down is to choose things like lower-calorie beers and lower-fat foods and to move more,” Archibald says.
“There is nothing wrong with enjoying those things once in a while, but the remainder of the time you should be wanting to take better care of your body,” she says. “Always remember the 80-20 rule and you can’t go wrong. Eighty percent of the time we should be eating healthy, exercising regularly and hard, and resting enough. Then 20 percent of the time you can let loose.”