The elephant in the room when it comes to fitness and health is often times the conversation about alcohol. We know alcohol isn’t going to help us reach our fitness goals and it probably holds us back to some degree, but how much? How much is too much to derail you from your goals? Is some alcohol actually good for your health? Are you actually being honest about your alcohol intake? How about the calories that you eat when you have some drinks in you?

Talking about strategies for consuming alcohol while still reaching your goals and having a life, is a conversation that needs to happen.

**First, I want to point out that this post has nothing to do alcohol abuse or alcoholism. If you don’t drink alcohol that is completely OK. I want to discuss some realistic strategies for those of you who like to enjoy wine night with the ladies or a few brews with the guys during the Packer game. As a nutrition coach, I realize my clients are going to drink alcohol and that is OK. I mean I enjoy my Blue Moon and whiskey old fashioned just as much as the next person.  I know how to balance “fun” alcohol consumption while still having the body and health I want. 

Negative affects of alcohol to your health, specifically your body composition:

  • “Empty calories” means calories in alcohol do nothing to support muscle gain or retention. Having muscle on your frame is the key to a healthy and efficient metabolism. Alcohol has been proven to break down muscle in the long term. I said long term. 6 drinks on a random Saturday doesn’t ruin your progress. 
  • Some research to support alcohol calories are stored as fat mainly in the stomach. When my clients cut back on alcohol intake they always say their stomachs are flatter. Hmmmm interesting.
  • Usually leads to malnutrition in the short term (drunk munchies) and the long term (overall more poor lifestyle eating habits). This malnutrition is the main reason those who drink more alcohol, usually carry more body fat. Not necessary the alcohol causing weight gain.
  • There are numerous other negative health affects I won’t get in to.

Positive health benefits of alcohol:

  • There is some research to say that a glass of wine a day aids in heart health. Do you take advantage of this too much though? I don’t recommend a glass of wine a night for most people, because this can easily turn into 3 or 4 glasses after a long day at work.
  • You can have fun! In the short term this is very important to have a good life balance. Obviously we know what happens when this goes too far though.

How much alcohol is OK to drink?

  • USDA guidelines say “1 drink per day for women” and “2 drinks per day for men” is “moderate” and safe consumption.
  • I argue, that to lose weight, feel better, have better body composition and overall be healthier this needs to be less. 3-4 drinks per week is my recommendation if you are serious about shedding some lbs.
    • I drink more than this on most weeks, but I am also not on a journey to lose 50lbs, I am lucky that I am still 25 with a fast metabolism and the rest of my nutrition is 99% spot on.
  • The “right amount” is the amount that allows you to reach your goals while also still having the fun you want to have. Some sacrifice might be needed. If you can get to your goals and be happy while drink 12 drinks from Friday through Sunday then I say keep at it.

Lets run through some scenarios where alcohol is present and what to do.

Its a big day. It’s Saturday and you are going out for a buddy’s birthday who you haven’t seen in a year. You know you are going to have like 6 Bud Lights and maybe a mixer. Wait, this is a college buddy who you used to go ‘hard’ with..don’t forget about the shots.  Be realistic and always assume you will drink more than you plan. You sit back thinking about how this one night is going to ruin your progress. The 30lbs you have lost the past 6 months will all go to waste after this one night. You have momentum rolling, but you can’t (and don’t want to) miss this night out.

My advice?

Go out. Take the shots. Enjoy the night and don’t stress out about it. There is a time and place to make sacrifices and this isn’t one of them. To be successful in the long run you need to be happy. If this means 15 drinks, a burger and late night pizza talking about how “those cheap beers used to actually taste good,” then enjoy your night. One night means nearly nothing in the big scheme of things. I am giving you permission to take those shots of Jack. As long as this is an exception to your momentum…and you get back on track tomorrow.

OK. You have had a bad week at work. Just like every other week the past 6 months. This “bad” week turns into happy hour with the co-workers on Friday night…12 weeks in a row. This is week 13 and happy hour is approaching. Do you go?

My advice?

No. You need to break this habit NOW. If you are frustrated with your body and health what will one more happy hour do? I mean it isn’t going to put you over the top but, there is no better time than NOW to start making healthier choices if you aren’t happy. 

What about the random wine night with the ladies and you have been making healthier choices for 6 weeks and can’t allow yourself to lose momentum. Here are my tips for going out and staying on track:

  1. Drink a protein shake an hour before you go. This will fill your stomach and those drunk munchies won’t be as tempting. I usually care more about the food calories I eat when drinking than the alcohol calories. These can add up fast with fatty foods like pizza.
  2. Bring a protein bar. Again…trying to combat those munchies as much as possible.
  3. Drink a glass water between every drink. OK I would have NEVER done this in college..and don’t now, but this helps fill your stomach. Trust me it really works.
  4. Be conscious of the pour size. Portion size of alcohol matters much more than type of alcohol. A serving size of most booze is 1.5 ounces and most are between 90-120 calories. You can very easily double or triple the calories you think you are consuming if you don’t know what 1.5 ounces looks like.
  5. Stay away from sugary mixers. Common sense right?
  6. Diet mixers are OK as long as you aren’t drinking 6 of them a day every day. That is a random number I used. Just don’t over do it. In the short term of your one night having some drinks, the artificial sweeteners aren’t going to kill you.
  7. Light beers have less calories than craft beers. I hope that is common sense.
  8. If there is food, try to bring your own dish that you can control. If you can’t then politely eat some of the food, but keep the portion size small.
  9. Plan ahead. Try to have some sort of idea of how many drinks you are going to have and any food you might have.
  10. If you are tracking your macros, remember to track your drinks. Alcohol has 7 calories/gram while other carbs have only 4 calories/gram. This means alcohol calories add up quickly!

Take away:

  1. One night will never ruin your progress. IF you get back on track the next day. But, a consistent 1 day wayyyy off track on a weekly basis can be enough to derail your ability to reach your goals. 
  2. Enjoy yourself guilt free. As long as you get back on track the next day.
  3. Watch your drunk food calories as much if not more than your drink calories. Don’t worry so much about which type alcohol you are drinking. They all have 7 calories/gram.

If you don’t drink alcohol your journey is that much easier.

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