Alcohol and Fitness: What’s the Skinny?
Before I get any warriors commenting something along the lines of “just don’t drink”, I’m going to make a disclaimer:
The best way to make progress in your health and fitness journey is to cut out all alcohol. Obviously.
However, you CAN still reach your goals while enjoying your favorite beer, wine, or cocktails. And I’m going to tell you how below.
If you don’t want to drink alcohol, that’s your choice! Seriously, good for you. Gold star. But if you’re anything like me, a glass or two of wine helps me keep my sanity after a long day of work and dealing with two beautiful but crazy baby boys. Seriously, they’re out of their damn minds.
Let’s start with some facts:
- Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram (carbs and protein contain 4 calories per gram, fats contain 9 calories per gram).
- Per the NIAAA, a standard alcoholic beverage (I.e. 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled liquor) is equal to 14 grams (or 98 calories).
- Alcohol is not recognized by the body for any nutritional purpose; it’s considered a harmful substance. When more than one drink per hour is consumed, alcohol is metabolized by the liver to help rid your body of the substance.
- When alcohol is consumed, all other “fat burning” processes are put on hold as the liver prioritizes metabolizing (getting rid of) the alcohol before any fat or carbohydrates. This is where the tendency to put on fat lies.
- Alcohol obviously effects more than this (i.e. your heart, brain, motor skills, etc.), but for the sake of this post, we’re focusing on weight-loss, fat-loss, and/or maintenance.
Now for the “How To”:
So you want to make progress in the gym and reach your fitness goals, but you also want to be able to enjoy a few drinks from time to time – can it be done?
Hell yeah it can! But it comes with some stipulations.
In order to lose weight/fat you need to be in a calorie deficit (eating/drinking less calories than you’re burning). The simplest way to ensure you won’t gain weight from drinking is to stay in a calorie deficit with your calories from alcohol included in your daily intake.
Say you’re shooting for 1800 calories per day with:
600 calories (150 grams) from protein
700 calories (175 grams) from carbohydrates
500 calories (55 grams) from fat.
You get home and want to have two glasses of wine (or 10 ounces, which is actually one glass because who only drinks 5 ounces).
That’s approximately 200 calories, which can be taken from either carbs or fats (not from protein, see below for reasoning). You decide to take 100 calories, or 25 grams from carbs, and 100 calories, or 11 grams from fat.
BAM – you hit your macro goal, you’re still in a deficit, and your still losing fat… but there are some rules to follow.
Here’s your “To Do” List:
- Your top priority is to hit your protein goal for the day to ensure your muscles are fed (so you don’t lose your gains, ya dig?). Protein is the only macronutrient that is completely absorbed by the body [as long as it’s not eaten in excess].
- You need to decide about how much you think you will or plan to drink, assuming each drink is about 100 calories (this is excluding any sugary drinks, soda, margarita mix, whatever else – stay away from those).
- You need to decide where you’re going to take calories from – carbs or fats. One drink is equal to about 25 grams of carbs (100 calories), or 11 grams of fat (99 calories), or about 14 grams of carbs (56 calories) AND 5 grams of fat (45 calories).
- Don’t eat like an asshole after you’ve had a few drinks. Your liver will be too busy metabolizing alcohol to process carbs and fats, which will be stored in your fat cells until the alcohol has been metabolized (about 4 hours per drink… yeah, I know).
- Drink a TON of water both the day of, in between drinks (if you can remember), before bed, and the next day. This will help flush the alcohol out of your system to get your body running optimally again.
- Do your best to get back to your normal routine and nutrition the day after drinking: get some exercise in and eat clean.
Overall, the simplest way to put it is a calorie is a calorie; as long as you’re eating/drinking in a deficit, you will lose weight/fat. It does take some planning if you’re really chasing a goal, but you can make progress while still enjoying adult beverages from time to time.
Last disclaimer: if you’re drinking to get shit-faced every day or every weekend, you most likely won’t reach your fitness goals even in a deficit because your body isn’t getting the nutrition it needs to thrive. Don’t drink like an asshole. Do have fun.
Til’ Next Time,