if you’ve been looking around the fitness space for a while it’s easy to see that alcohol gets a bad rap. And quite possibly it should, however if you plan on having a life outside of the gym and the kitchen, you need to get good information on how to balance your alcohol intake with your fitness goals. It is possible.
First of all let's get a few things to consider out of the way. While alcohol does account for around 7 calories per gram, there are a few things to note about this.
First the NET calories or the calories actually absorbed after minusing away the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) is actually 6.3 calories per gram. It takes your body energy to metabolize the alcohol.
Second, the calories are mainly empty containing no nutritional value with the exception of carbs in beer and wine. So you need to account for these empty calories in your daily calorie intake, as it will affect your energy balance.
Third, keep in mind the recommendation on weekly consumption for health risks at 14 servings per week for males and 7 servings per week for females. (Why men get to drink twice as much as women in this equation is a mystery to me.) It does however serve a good starting point. If you regularly drink more than that then you may face other health issues down the road other than bodyweight. Just try to keep your weekly total around there.
For the 3 most common types of alcoholic drinks we find the approximate calorie counts as follows:
- 1 bottle of beer (330ml) : 150 calories (for a pint roughly double that)
- 1 glass of wine (5 ounces): 125 calories
- 1 shot of spirits (45ml): 100 calories
So when out on your binge keep track of how many drinks you have. The more accurate the better. One caveat, it is impossible and really no fun whatsoever to do this. A good estimate will do. Just keep it on the high side. If you look at the math then 10 drinks of spirits should get you really drunk and only have about 1000 calories. That is easy to account for during a week, maybe just cut a bit of calories or add another cardio session. Easy, peasy. Here are my top tips to make sure your night of debauchery doesn't totally derail your fitness goals.
On the big day, stick to a diet of mainly protein and vegetables, minimizing your carb intake. You do need some carbs in the beginning of the day, so pick a fruit or two, no starchy carbs. Make sure you eat your biggest meal (protein and veggies only) before you go out. You should arrive at the bar with a full stomach. Also, make sure you are well hydrated before. Consume at least one liter of water before going out. Food and hydration will slow down your drinking response, causing you to sip those first few drinks slowly. It will also save you the next morning: drinking on an empty stomach while thirsty is always a bad idea.
2. Stick to the low calorie options
As we saw above pure spirits are your best option to keep calories low. pick your favorite like vodka, gin, whisky and either consume it on the rocks or mixed with water or soda. If you absolutely have to have a soft drink stick to diet coke or something like that. Approach cocktails with caution the can be calorie bombs if you are not careful. Best advice is to stick to the classics and ask for less sugar, while avoiding ones with lots of juice and high calorie ingredients. Sip your drinks slowly and enjoy your time with your friends. If you can, have a bottle of water after every two drinks. You will thank me in the morning.
3. No eating while drinking
This is a big one. Always remember it. Most bar food is notorious for being high in calories. Avoid those yummy peanuts, chicken wings, french fries and such. Once you've had a few drinks, your ability to moderate your choices becomes difficult. If you arrived at the bar stuffed full of protein and veggies you won't be as tempted to eat If you must snack try edame, its lower in calories and high in protein. Repeat after me "no eating while drinking." It's super important.
4. Get back to your routine as soon as possible
This is self evident I think. Unless you went on a total bender and have the entire philharmonic orchestra playing in your head in the morning, get back into the gym asap. Most people alternate rest days with workout days, so you can use what I call "drinking timing" to ensure you don't derail your fitness regime.
What that means is if you go out on a workout day aka post workout, then you will have the whole next day to recover. This is possibly the best time to have a big night out. Just make sure your post workout meal follows the guidelines above, with the exception of adding one handful of complex carbs to replenish your muscle glycogen. During your rest day make sure to take a 30 minute brisk walk, It will help.
If you chose to go out on a rest day, meaning you are supposed to go to the gym the next day, proceed with caution. Your best option is to have a light night out, limiting your consumption and making sure you go home early to get a good night sleep. Failing that, go workout out anyways. Even if you are hungover, keep your body in its routine. It will be painful, but maybe will teach you a lesson. You may try a supplement like curcumin to reduce the hangover. Just take it with oil and black pepper to aid absorption. Curcumin has been shown to help the body metabolise alcohol.
While you should definitely moderate your drinking, I think you still need to have a social life. Many people when they start their journey, they try and quit everything at once. This almost always results in failure. The trick here is to build awareness first and then make sure your daily habits are in line with your goals. It is possible to balance your social life with your fitness life. No one wants to live in a cave.
If you need some coaching to help you get your nutrition and fitness on track, I am a certified nutrition coach and personal trainer. Hit me up for a free consult below.