I'm a Personal Trainer who says 'okay' to having a drink or two. Most will say the opposite, but we turn around and do it anyway. Yes, drinking has negative effects on your body. But no, you do not have to completely cut out alcohol to make progress.
The purpose of me making this guide is to help you fully understand all angles of what you are doing to your body when you drink, and how to mitigate the more negative effects. (This is in no way an article saying it's okay to drink every night as long as you follow this set of rules)
Let's start with the problems (because we all need more of those in life, amiright?)
Problem #1: Calories
Starting with the obvious. Every one of us has heard the excuse "there's just too many empty calories", but had really no idea of what that actually means.
Straight alcohol does not contain carbs, protein, or fat but still carries a heavy 7 calories per gram (compared to 4cal/g for protein and carbs, and 9cal/g for fats).
Making a single 1.5oz shot (pick your poison), let's say vodka, somewhere around 120 calories. And that's straight. Add in a little sugar, spice, and everything nice to make it taste acceptable, and you got a problem.
Other common drinks typically hold different calories, so keep in mind, all are different:
Beer: 180-240cal per 16oz
Wine: 144cal per 6oz
Hard Liquor: 110-120cal per 1.5oz
How to make this suck less.
The good news about problems is that they usually have a solution. So lets break this down.
Let's say you are going out for drinks with friends after a Thursday at work. (Janet from accounting started a nasty rumor about you, so you plan on having a few)
Step one: Stick to liquor and a zero calorie drink (vodka soda, Jack and Diet Coke, etc.). It is more fun to have three vodka sodas at ~350 calories total than one frozen margarita or fun cocktail for the same amount.
Step two: Plan ahead. Go into the night saving 15-20% of your daily calories for alcohol. (i.e. if your daily calorie goal is 1650, go into the night making sure food intake for the day stays around 1300) Especially if your goal is fat loss, it is infinitely better to stay in your calorie deficit while having a couple drinks than to be in a surplus caused by them.
Problem #2: Storing fat can become easier
If you've heard this one before and didn't know if it had any substance, I'm here to tell you it's legit.
If you thought your body put on fat easily already, picture alcohol as eating a mushroom in Mario Kart, speeding up how fast your body stores fat.
Let me first clear up that alcohol doesn't contain protein, carbs, or fats and cannot be converted to fat to be stored.
When you eat food, for the most part:
- Protein is broken down into amino acids. These help your body repair tissue and build muscle.
- Carbs are broken down into glucose and used for energy in your body and brain or stored as glycogen by the muscles and liver.
- Fat is broken down into fatty acids and stored in fat cells. (If you gain or lose body fat is determined by your total calorie intake.)
(That's an extremely oversimplified way to look at it, but for the sake of making this easier to understand, we'll stick with it.)
When you drink alcohol, your body converts it into something called acetate. Now acetate is somewhat toxic to the body, so instead of the body doing what it normally does (burn carbs/protein/fats for energy), it turns to burning acetate to get it out of the body.
How to make this suck less.
This one you can't 100% prevent, but we can definitely lessen the blow. There are three main things you could do:
Step one: Stay in a caloric deficit. Like the last one, plan ahead. Give yourself a little buffer room by not eating as many calories earlier in the day.
Step two: Cut your fat intake to about 10-20% of your daily calorie intake (i.e. if your calorie goal is 1600 for the day, keep your fats around 27g). And try and get it earlier in the day. If drinking slows down and halts the rate at which your body is burning fat, don't give it any in the first place.
Step three: Try and get 80% of your daily protein intake before you go out drinking. Protein is satiating, not letting you feel the liquor immediately. And getting enough in your system helps your body from breaking down important muscle tissue.
Bonus: Maybe stay away from most bar food-- the wings, fries, sliders, etc. AKA some of the most fatso food on the planet.
Problem #3: Sleep
If you've followed me for a while (if you're new, it won't take long), you know I am absolutely obsessed with talking about how important sleep is.
And no, not just because lack thereof makes you a cranky b**** to be around.
Sleep time and quality affects:
- Testosterone, Growth Hormone (hormones that are absolutely necessary for getting lean or building muscle), insulin, and cortisol production
- Nutritional cravings (wanting foods that your brain associates with positive emotion like chocolate, salt, fatty foods, etc.)
- Many functions of the metabolism
- Muscle recovery
- Anxiety levels
- Brain function
And so so so much more.
Now, alcohol can complicate all of that. Even just a "night cap" that makes it a little easier to fall asleep.
Alcohol has a serious effect on the first half (usually 4-5 hours) of sleep, making it hard (sometimes impossible), for your body to fall into deeper Stage 4 and REM sleep. REM and deep sleep is predominantly where the body produces the important hormones that help maintain a healthy metabolism and aid in muscle recovery. And when trying to lose fat or build muscle, the hormones working in your body can be your best friend or your worst enemy.
How to make this suck less.
Well, actually, this one might stay a problem. It just seems like this is one you can't get around.
The one thing I would try to do is down a little mineral water before going to bed so you can wake up a little more refreshed, and the effects won't last more than one day. There's got to be some consequences to having a good time, right?
Bonus Round: Getting Lit (6-12+ drinks)
In the occasional turn-up, on a friend's birthday, anniversary, or whatever you are celebrating (is not texting your ex after seeing their last Instagram story big enough to celebrate? Asking for a friend...), the effects are obviously going to be a little worse. Some things that might mitigate the negative effects:
- Take in only 50-60% of your normal daily calories
- Limit Fat intake to 10-15% of calories
- Try to get as close to 100% of your daily protein in before going out
- Stay as hydrated as possible
And a side note:
Don't be an idiot. Drinking is dangerous, and alcohol is a drug, so make sure you and the people you are with know how to use it responsibly. 😘