As a trainer, there is one area clients always seem to struggle with, drinking alcohol
Let’s be honest, no one is going to stop drinking and no one should (unless of course its causing problems in your life) but that’s a blog all unto itself that I have very little advice or knowledge on. I’m the 30-year old who has 3 drinks and is half in the bag.
Instead of sitting here like most trainers and lecturing you on the effects of weekend benders I decided to come up with a cheat sheet to help you hit your health and fitness goals all while enjoying the occasional cocktail.
7 things you need to understand about alcohol
- Consuming more calories than we need makes us fat. Under normal circumstances, it’s the fat that we eat that is stored.
- The fat in the foods we eat will only be stored when we go over our energy needs for the day.
- It’s tough for the body to convert excess protein intake to fat, and only with regular overfeeding does the body convert excess carbohydrate intake into fat. However, they both contribute to the energy balance for the day, so indirectly they cause fat gain by causing us to store the fat we consume.
- Alcohol does not have any fat, but it has an energy value. Many popular alcoholic drinks usually contain carbs (either from fruit as with wine, hops/wheat/barley as with beer, or sugar from carbonated drink mixers).
- Alcohol calories take priority as fuel in the body over other fuel sources (like your love handles). This is because the by-product of alcohol metabolism, acetate, is toxic. So when you drink, fat burning stops until you burn those calories off.
- Drinking can easily push us over our calorie budget for the day. This causes some, or all of the dietary fat we ate on this day to be stored as bodyfat, depending on how much over your maintenance calories you drank.
- 1 g of alcohol contains 7 kcal. 1 g of fat contains 9 kcal.
How to drink and not screw up your diet
Drinking In Moderation
Moderation, though hard to define, we’ll call it 1-3 drinks.
The key in these situations is to reduce your food intake by an amount matching the calorie content of the alcohol you are drinking. The best way to do this is to reduce your fat and carb intake, as you need the protein for satiety and the muscle sparing properties.
Example: You drink three beers
Remember, 1 g of carbs and protein contain ~4 kcal, 1 g of fat contains 9 kcal.
If the calorie total for those three beers (that’ll be carbs and alcohol) comes to 600 kcal, consider taking out 75 g of carbs (300 kcal) and ~33g of fat (~297 kcal).
What are the downsides of doing this often?
- Alcohol gives us energy, but with none of the benefits associated with the other macros.
- When you are dieting, recovery can become an issue. When using alcohol calories (instead of say, carbs) to make up your calorie budget you’re stealing from the Band-Aid drawer so to speak. This is why when you’re dieting you should aim to drink as infrequently as possible.
- When you are bulking, you’ll gain more fat that you otherwise would have.
Once A Week Hard Drinking/Binge Drinking
Note: I’m not suggesting anyone ‘drink’ their calories on a regular basis. I’m just saying, you don’t have to let worries about your diet spoil your social life if alcohol is a part of it if it’s just occasional.
Counting calories isn’t very fun when you’re in the middle of a party. If you’re drinking a lot, you’ll quickly find yourself over your calorie allowance for the day easily.
Fortunately, we can take advantage of the fact that the body has trouble storing anything but dietary fat in the short term when we go over our calorie balance for the day.
So, on days that you know you are going to drink a lot:
- Keep your fat intake very low,
- Eat your protein target for the day to preserve muscle mass (lean sources such a chicken, egg whites, casein protein), restrict carbs to veggies.
- Try to drink shots, dry red wines (they are lower carb), or spirits with zero-calorie mixers (I like Coke Zero and whiskey).
If you follow those few rules and keep these things infrequent, you won’t ruin your progress.