Feast Or Famine: Effects On Alcohol Absorption

Drink the brew first.
Don't drink the brew first.

Picture this: it’s Friday night and earlier in the day I set a new PR in the squat. I always overfeed and allow for some irregular (for my diet) food consumption on my training days. The girlfriend had kicked me out because it was girls night, so I was going to have a couple beers, burger, and chips over at a buddy’s house. The conventional wisdom is to eat first before drinking to “slow the absorbsion” of the alcohol. Is that advice actually true?

Over at Free The Animal, a similar situation occurred where Richard went to see the moody blues, ate a bunch of irregular food and felt like shit. After giving some suggestions that I follow since I regularly do such things, I got the most tactful “fuck you” I could have ever desired. This got me thinking: not only will I wait until I am asked to administer advice, but also about the nature of ethanol absorption. I wrote a large piece about ways to mitigate a hangover: first, don’t drink so much, but if you do here are things you can use to help you recover from being an idiot. One of the articles I linked to was called “Chemically Correct: Alcohol” and this is where I began my search.

In that article, there was a reference to a study titled, “Interaction of prandial and beverage concentration on alcohol consumption.” According to Par, the study states:

“For instance, after a meal, a less concentrated drink (such as a beer) will be absorbed more quickly than a more concentrated one (such as a shot) — and, in rats, this led to an 80% higher peak blood alcohol level and 95% higher overall absorption.”

I was unable to find the full text for this study, so I went looking for other studies that state the same thing. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any other studies comparing beer to liquor post-meal but I did find many studies comparing food composition and the effect on alcohol.

In “Effect of food and food composition on alcohol elimination rates in healthy men and women” researchers used a direct alcohol IV and measured the rate of elimination after a fast or after a 550 calorie meal from either hight fat, high carb, or high protein sources. The average rate of elimination was 25% faster in one trial and 45% faster in the second for the fed group. They did not note a difference between the meal composition concerning the rate of elimination.

There is a study that does look at that and it’s quite curious. In “Effect of high-fat, high-protein, and high-carbohydrate meals on the pharmacokinetics of a small dose of ethanol” researchers were looking to see which composition allowed for the greatest systemic ethanol concentration, compared to fasting state and direct IV ethanol dosing. The data is surprising:

The peak blood-alcohol concentrations (BAC) were 16.6 +/- 4.0, 17.7 +/- 7.1, and 13.3 +/- 4.0 mg dl-1 (mean +/- s.d.) after fat, CHO, and protein-rich meals and 30.8 +/- 4.3 and 54.3 +/- 6.4 mg dl-1 after fasting and i.v. infusion, respectively.

The corresponding areas under the concentration-time profiles (AUC) were 1767 +/ -549, 1619 +/- 760 1270 +/- 406 mg dl-1 min after fat, CHO, and protein-rich meals compared with 3210 +/- 527 and 4786 +/- 446 mg dl-1 min after fasting and i.v. infusion, respectively.

What stands out here is that a protein rich meal blunts peak blood alcohol the most while also having the smallest variance according to the standard deviation. And, perhaps while I felt so shitty on so little booze, the high carb meal had the highest level of peak alcohol and, surprisingly, the highest variance. Even higher than IV administration and fasted state ingestion.

So what’s the take home?

  1. I’m a damn lightweight. This is a good thing.
  2. Eat a high protein mean before you imbibe. And please, be responsible!

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