Vodka shots are often seen as a low-calorie alcoholic beverage, but are they actually fattening? The answer is complicated and depends on a variety of factors.
Calorie content of vodka shots
Vodka itself is a low-calorie spirit. A 1.5 ounce shot of vodka typically contains around 100 calories. This is less than a standard serving of beer (around 150 calories) or wine (around 120-130 calories).
However, vodka is rarely consumed “neat” – it is usually accompanied by mixers or chasers that can pack a bigger caloric punch. Some examples of calorie counts in popular vodka drinks:
- Vodka soda – 100 calories (just vodka and club soda)
- Vodka cranberry – 180 calories (1 shot vodka with 4 oz cranberry juice)
- Vodka tonic – 150 calories (1 shot vodka with tonic water)
- Vodka red bull – 220 calories (1 shot vodka with 8 oz red bull)
As you can see, the mixer you choose makes a big difference in the calorie content. Diet mixers like diet soda and diet tonic will keep the calorie count lowest.
Impact on blood alcohol content
Beyond just calories, taking straight shots of vodka rather than mixed drinks allows the alcohol to enter your bloodstream faster. The rate of absorption can impact how intoxicated you become.
Drinking vodka shots on an empty stomach leads to close to 100% absorption of the alcohol. This can lead to higher blood alcohol levels compared to drinking vodka mixed with non-alcoholic beverages.
Higher blood alcohol levels can reduce inhibitions and self-control, which often leads to increased food consumption. Studies show that drinking alcohol is associated with higher caloric intake from food in the following hours or days after drinking.
Impact on metabolism
Alcohol puts your body into fat storage mode. Your liver begins metabolizing alcohol as its top priority, stopping the process of burning fat. Alcohol also suppresses the release of glucagon, a hormone that helps mobilize fat burning.
This combination leads to extra fat being stored rather than burned off when you drink. Several studies have shown increased abdominal and liver fat in people who frequently consume alcohol compared to non-drinkers.
The calories from alcohol are considered “empty” because they provide little to no nutrition. Vodka is made from fermented grains or potatoes that are distilled to remove virtually everything but ethanol (alcohol) and water.
With no protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients, the calories from vodka shots provide only energy. This can lead to weight gain if the calories are in excess of your daily needs and are not compensated for elsewhere in your diet.
Drinking alcohol frequently activates the hunger hormones ghrelin and leptin, increasing your appetite and desire for food. Studies show that alcohol consumption, especially in excess, stimulates appetite and food intake.
This can lead to an increased calorie intake when drinking vodka shots. Even if the vodka itself is low in calories, getting hungry after drinking can lead you to consume high-calorie snacks or meals that tip you into a calorie surplus.
Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it increases urine production and leads to dehydration. Being even mildly dehydrated slows down your metabolism.
When you are dehydrated, your body struggles to perform basic functions like digesting food, absorbing nutrients, circulating blood, and regulating body temperature. This can impact your ability to burn calories efficiently after drinking vodka.
Being intoxicated reduces your self-discipline and decision-making abilities. After taking vodka shots, you are more likely to make impulsive food choices you may regret the next day.
Whether it’s ordering late night takeout, grabbing fast food on the way home, or raiding the kitchen for junk food, drinking often leads to poor diet choices that can pile on extra calories.
Impact on sleep
Drinking alcohol before bed can negatively impact your sleep quality. Consuming alcohol too close to bedtime can reduce rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
Poor sleep decreases leptin (satiety hormone) and increases ghrelin (hunger hormone). This hormonal impact can leave you feeling hungrier the next day, making you prone to overeating.
Influence on nutrition
On days when vodka shots are consumed, it becomes even more important to make smart nutrition choices. However, alcohol often has the opposite effect.
After a few drinks, you are less likely to take the effort to prepare a healthy meal or make smart snack choices. Consuming vodka shots frequently can displace nutritious foods and lead to nutritional deficiencies over time.
Impact on exercise
Alcohol disrupts your balance, coordination, and decision-making skills. For safety reasons, it is recommended to avoid exercise for several hours after drinking.
This can lead to reduced workout frequency on days that involve drinking. Over time, having multiple vodka shot nights per week can severely limit your exercise schedule and disrupt your fitness goals.
Beyond the vodka itself, cocktails and mixed drinks include additional ingredients that add calories. Sweet mixers like juice, soda, and tonic water get their calories from sugar.
While the vodka may be low in calories, sweet mixers cause the total calorie count of the drink to skyrocket. Using diet mixers can help avoid these extra calories.
Chasers are non-alcoholic beverages consumed after taking straight shots of liquor. Chasers help wash the strong taste from your palate.
Common chasers like cola, ginger ale, sweet & sour, and fruit juices contain a lot of sugar and calories. Multiple vodka shots accompanied by sugary chasers over the course of a night add up.
How your drinking habits impact your weight depends on how often you drink shots, how many you consume per sitting, whether you stay within low risk alcohol guidelines, and if you compensate for the calories from vodka on non-drinking days.
Occasionally enjoying vodka shots or cocktails containing vodka may not affect your weight significantly if the extra calories are offset through nutrition and exercise on other days. However, frequent heavy drinking can sabotage your diet and lead to weight gain.
Your natural body type and metabolism also impact your personal response. Some people seem to be able to consume alcohol frequently without significant weight gain, while others notice more adverse effects.
Age, gender, activity level, diet, and genetics all play a role in how your body handles the calories from vodka. Older adults and less active people may see a greater influence on their weight than younger, active individuals.
Tips to minimize weight gain
If you want to enjoy vodka shots or cocktails made with vodka while avoiding weight gain, here are some tips:
- Count the calories from vodka and mixers/chasers toward your daily intake
- Opt for low-calorie diet mixers
- Alternate alcoholic drinks with water
- Eat a filling, balanced meal before or while drinking
- Avoid drunk eating by only keeping healthy snacks on hand
- Stick to 1-2 servings of alcohol max per day
- Space out vodka shots instead of taking them back-to-back
- Sip your drink slowly rather than gulping it down
- Get right back on track with your normal healthy eating routine the next day
The bottom line
Vodka itself is a low-calorie spirit, but it is rarely consumed neat. The mixers, chasers, appetites stimulating effects, and lack of inhibition caused by alcohol all can lead to increased calorie consumption when vodka shots are consumed.
For minimal impact on your waistline, enjoy vodka shots or cocktails made with vodka in moderation as part of an overall healthy diet and active lifestyle. Stay mindful of your calorie intake on drinking days and do your best to compensate on non-drinking days.
With mindful drinking habits, there is no need to avoid vodka altogether if you truly enjoy it. Just be sure to account for the calories and make healthy choices to keep your weight in check.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are vodka shots worse for you than other types of alcohol?
Vodka is not necessarily worse than other types of alcohol in terms of calories and potential weight gain. It contains a similar calorie count per serving compared to gin, rum, tequila, and other distilled spirits. However, vodka often lends itself to drinking in shot form, which can lead to faster intoxication and poorer decision making around food choices.
Do you gain weight drinking vodka every night?
Drinking vodka or any alcoholic beverage every night is likely to lead to weight gain over time. The excess calories without nutrition, effects on appetite and cravings, and disruption to sleep and metabolism make nightly drinking unsustainable without weight gain for most people. Moderation is key.
Why do I lose weight when I drink vodka?
Some people may notice temporary weight loss from drinking vodka due to dehydration and fluid loss, reduced food intake during drinking episodes, or increased bathroom visits from the diuretic effects of alcohol. However, any short-term weight loss gives way to weight gain over time with regular heavy drinking.
Does vodka make you fat?
Vodka alone does not directly make you fat if consumed in moderation. However, the downstream behaviors and hormonal changes induced by drinking vodka can promote weight gain in excess. Things like increased appetite, poor food choices, and disrupted sleep and metabolism contribute to fat storage.
Can I drink vodka on a diet?
It is possible to enjoy vodka moderately while on a diet for weight loss. However, alcohol consumption should be accounted for in your calorie limits and balanced with proper nutrition and exercise. Binge drinking or frequent heavy vodka consumption can easily sabotage a diet.
How many shots of vodka should I limit to per day?
Health authorities like the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting intake to 2 drinks or less per day for men and 1 drink or less per day for women. One vodka shot is generally considered one alcoholic drink containing about 14 grams of pure alcohol.
What’s the best way to drink vodka without gaining weight?
Tips for minimizing weight gain when drinking vodka include: mixing with zero-calorie beverages like sparkling water, opting for still vodka instead of sugary vodka cocktails, alternating alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, limiting yourself to 1-2 drinks max, drinking on a full stomach, and avoiding drunk eating.
The bottom line
Vodka shots and cocktails made with vodka can be enjoyed as part of a healthy lifestyle, in moderation. Be mindful of the potential effects on your metabolism, appetite, cravings, and inhibitions to develop smart drinking habits. With balance and moderation, vodka can fit into your diet without significant weight gain.