how to drink alcohol without Sabotaging your gains
I’m often asked , “How can I drink and not screw up my diet?”
First things first. I never say no to alcohol with any of my clients’ diets as it’s not realistic, especially if doing so would have a negative impact on their social lives. Often, the all or nothing mindset sets people up for failure, because once they have one drink, they decide, “Oh well, I’ve already screwed up so I may as well have 10.” Which combined with the ‘drunken munchies’, will certainly negatively impact progress.
Beer, shots, margaritas; they can all be ok. Following a few simple rules can help you ensure you stay on track while still indulging in a few adult pops.
But, before we get into those, here are some key points you have to understand...
- Consistently consuming more calories than we need leads to weight gain.
- The fat in the foods we eat will only be stored when we consume 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 can lead to fat gain.
- Alcohol does not have any fat, but it has an energy value. Many popular alcoholic drinks usually contain a combination of carbs (either from fruit as with wine, hops/wheat/barley as with beer, or sugar from carbonated drink mixers) and alcohol (more on this below).
- Whenever anyone talks about macros they are referring to protein, carbs, and fats. However, there’s actually four macros and the fourth is alcohol. Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram (whereas protein & carbs contain 4 calories per gram and fat contains 9 calories per gram).
- Drinking can easily push us over our calorie budget for the day mainly due to the fact they are ‘empty’ calories, meaning they provide no nutrients or fibre thus do not do anything for satiety levels. In fact, they generally increase hunger levels leading to even more calories consumed from food.
- It’s not great news for building and repairing muscle, as alcohol can dampen muscle protein synthesis, which can negatively impact the recovery process, and potentially slow down your muscle/strength gains. As for fat loss, your body sees alcohol almost like a poison. In an attempt to rid itself of these toxins, alcohol gets priority when being broken down, thus slowing the digestion of protein, carbs and fats. This halts fat oxidation, but also delays carbohydrate and protein oxidation and makes you more prone to fat storage.
But, I thought you said I could drink and not ruin my progress?
"Tell me something I didn't know" is probably what you were just thinking, right?
Well we're getting there but it has to be clear that going out and drowning 12 pints in one night is probably not the best idea, particularly if your goals are pretty firm and your timeline to get there is rather tight. One night of fairly excessive drinking won't kill you so long as these occasions are few and far between, and you follow the upcoming guidelines.
Moderation, though hard to define, we’ll call it when you drink 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 these calories from fats and carbs, as you need the protein for satiety and the muscle sparing properties.
If you're using a food tracking app like MyFitnessPal then you'll notice when you search for a specific alcohol, the calories will show correctly (provided you've selected a legitimate entry) however the macros given will not correctly add up to the given calorie total. Because of this, you'll need to designate those calories to carbs and/or fats and never ever protein.
If you'll only be consuming a few drinks then it shouldn't be too hard to reduce carbs and/or fats from other meals and still hit your macros. I'll go over what you can do if you drink more than in moderation after this example.
Example: You drink three bottles of beer
Remember 1g of protein and carbs contain 4 calories and 1g of fat contains 9 calories
If the calorie total for those three beers (which is actually from carbs and alcohol) comes to 450 kcal, then you’d want to reduce calories by the same amount from carbs and fats. Because fat is an essential macronutrient responsible for many hormonal functions, I always recommend reducing the majority of those calories from carbs (I like 70% from carbs and 30% from fats as a baseline). So, consider taking out ~80g of carbs (315/4) and ~15g of fat (135/9). If you’re low on carbs you can always sway the breakdown to 60/40 or even 50/50 if need be without any worry.
Now, if you have more than 4-5 drinks you'll likely have to reduce calories in other meals so much so that it could be tough especially if you're someone dieting and on fairly low daily calories. So, in these cases here's what you can do.
Example: You drink 6 bottles of beer
Using the same example as above each beer contains 150 calories meaning the calorie total for those three beers (which is actually from carbs and alcohol) comes to 900 kcal. Pretty tough to pull 900 calories out of your day regardless of how many calories you're shooting for daily. So, this is when the next best option is to pull some carbs and/or fats from the day before (if this drinking was planned ahead of time), or pull some from the following two or even three days if it wasn't planned.
Let's say this social occasion came out of the blue and therefore you didn't plan for these extra 900 calories and ended up going over your daily calorie goal by that same amount. You could:
- Reduce calories by 450 in each of the next two days. Using the 70/30 ratio in favor of carbs you'd reduce carbs by ~79g (316 calories) and fats by ~15g (135 calories) for three consecutive days.
- Reduce calories by 300 in each of the next three days. Using the 70/30 ratio in favor of carbs you'd reduce carbs by ~52g (208 calories) and fats by ~10g (90 calories) for three consecutive days.
Although trying to hit your daily calorie and macro targets is the ideal situation, pulling calories & macros from other days and focusing more on your weekly totals is the next best option and will keep you on track far better than simply saying F it, blowing up and then going back to your usual targets. This will almost always keep you from getting the type of results you're after and/or make the process much, much longer.
Now I'm certainly not suggesting you 'drink' your 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.
Here are some other important and helpful tips to implement to make drinking easier while staying on track:
- 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 hard alcohol, dry red wines (they are lower carb), or spirits with zero-calorie mixers (I like spiced rum & Coke Zero or Diet Gingerale).
- If you're going out for some drinks, eat before you go. Alcohol does nothing for satiety and often increases it. Eat a big protein based meal with fibrous veggies beforehand. This will keep you feeling full throughout the outing and thus prevent you from sinking 3000 calories in chicken wings...
If you need more help getting absolutely shredded without having to avoid the foods/drinks/experiences you enjoy shoot me an email or drop a comment below and if we're a good match we can map out a plan just for you.