Everything you wanted to know about alcohol: how to drink and minimize calories
If there’s one topic today that sparks a lot of debate, it has to be that of alcohol and fitness. You can bet that there are a lot of strong opinions on both sides, and we can’t seem to conclude.
On the one hand, you’ve got folks who state that alcohol is evil, wrong and fattening — the Devil itself. On the other hand, people don’t mind alcohol, and even consume it while still making significant progress in the gym.
And you, as a fitness enthusiast, are probably wondering, “Well, who is right here and what should I do? Must I become a social outcast to make any decent progress in the gym?” No, you don’t. The fact is, there’s a lot to be said about alcohol and fitness, and things aren’t as black and white as some folks seem to think.
Today, we’ll go over actionable tactics you can use to drink alcohol, minimize calories from it, and retain your hard-earned fitness results.
Keep Fat Intake Low to Non-Existent On Days When You Plan on Drinking
This might sound like an arbitrary thing to do, but there’s some actual science behind it.
You see, once you drink it, alcohol makes its way to your stomach and intestines where the whole process begins. Alcohol then travels through your liver on its way to your bloodstream. As it circulates through your blood and back to the liver (it does so multiple times depending on the amount of alcohol you’ve ingested), some of it is broken down to acetate.
Acetate is the real troublemaker here as it prevents your body from metabolizing fatty acids and glycerol for energy. In other words, it prevents fat-burning and instead forces your body to store these nutrients for later use. The good news here is, the mere consumption of alcohol can’t cause fat gain. If it could, that would be an elegant evolutionary trick. To gain weight, you need to eat more calories than you burn each day (i.e., be in a caloric surplus).
So, if you’re dieting for fat loss or are eating around maintenance, you should be okay with that. But if you’re eating a lot of food intending to pack muscle, then you need to limit your fat intake if you plan on drinking later in the day. Why? Well, although your body can convert protein and carbs into fat (for storage), it doesn’t do that very effectively. It instead primarily stores fatty acids and glycerol as they don’t need to be converted further. In other words, protein and carb intake indirectly leads to fat gain when you eat more food, so long as you’ve eaten enough total calories (and fats).
So, when consuming alcohol, you’re somewhat inhibiting your body’s fat-burning abilities, and these nutrients are more likely to be stored as fat.
Pick Your Choice of Alcohol Carefully
Each alcoholic drink, be it beer, vodka, tequila, a sugary cocktail or something else, contains ethanol (alcohol). Ethanol is often deemed the ‘fourth macronutrient’ (along with proteins, carbs, and fats) not because we need it for survival, but because it carries an energetic value.
Theoretically, you can survive on it alone for a while if you don’t have access to food. Each gram of it has about 7.1 calories, and its thermic effect is estimated to be around 20 percent. Meaning, if you consumed 100 grams of ethanol, you would ingest 710 calories, and you would expend 142 calories to break it down. And, yes, you’d be quite drunk.
Now, this is pure ethanol. But here’s the thing:
Nobody drinks absolute ethanol. We all have our preferred drinks, and each has a different calorie and ethanol content. So, certain alcoholic beverages are better when it comes to minimizing calorie intake.
For example, a 1.5-ounce (45 ml) glass of whiskey has about 90 calories, where a drink called White Russian (a mix of vodka, coffee liqueur, and cream) has about 500. So you can see that your choice of drink is important. Your better bets (in terms of calorie contents) include:
- Distilled spirits (whiskey, gin, vodka, rum, tequila, brandy, cognac, etc.) - 1.5 ounces (45 ml) has 90 to 100 calories.
- Light beer - 12 ounces (a medium-sized bottle) has about 104 calories.
- Dry wine - a 125-ml glass (4.2 ounces) has about 85 calories.
Of course, you shouldn’t go overboard with the quantities because calories tend to add up, especially when drinking beer.
You can also mix some of these drinks with diet or club soda to further save calories.
Beware Of Alcohol Munchies
You’re out with your buddies, you’ve had a few drinks, and then one of you has this brilliant idea, “Let’s get some burgers!”
Of course, you all agree because of a phenomenon called alcohol munchies (well, also thanks to social pressure). You see, research suggests that alcohol can increase our appetite. Couple that with the inhibiting effect alcohol has on our better judgment, and you’re much more likely to make some poor eating choices. Plus, if you’ve had your last meal around 8 pm and it’s now 4 am, you’d naturally get hungry if you’re not sleeping.
One great way to avoid this is to be mindful and expect the munchies to occur. Sadly, there isn’t much you can do about it, other than to say no or go for something lower in calories. Another great way to prevent alcohol munchies is to keep your alcohol intake moderate.
Make Sure To Eat Something Before Going Out For Drinks
As we already covered, you should keep your fat intake low on days where you plan to drink. But you still need to eat something before going out for three reasons:
- Having some food in your stomach will help prevent the rapid uptake of alcohol in your liver and bloodstream. That way, you’ll be much less likely to get drunk. But if you’ve ever drunk hard liquor on an empty stomach, you already know that.
- Eating before going out for drinks can help prevent impulsive behaviors later that night (which we’ll cover in just a bit). Research has shown that alcohol can increase appetite and lead to some poor eating decisions in the later hours of the evening.
- Having some nutrients in your bloodstream (particularly amino acids) is a great way to counter some of alcohol’s adverse effects, such as muscle loss.
So, eat more veggies, fruits, meat, low-fat dairy, egg whites, and protein powder throughout the day, and have one meal closely before going out for the night.
What matters most is that you experiment a bit and find what works best for you: a lifestyle change and a disciplined behaviour are what work wonders in every nutrition and wellness program.
Leave Some Calories For Alcohol
As we covered above, alcohol carries calories. So, if you want to drink and not slow down (or ruin) your fitness progress, you need to be mindful of that and leave some calories for it. If you drink often, you probably have a good idea of the calorie content in different drinks and know precisely how much of what you want to drink, so it fits your diet. But if you don’t, then follow these guidelines:
- A 330 ml bottle of light beer has about 104 calories. So if you want to have three or four with the boys tonight, leave 300-400 calories for them.
- If you’re a whiskey person, remember that a regular serving of 1.5 ounces has about 90 calories.
But, really, no matter what your choice of drink is, remember to save up some calories for it, and you’ll do just fine.
Drink in Moderation
Say that, like most folks, you don’t like tracking calories and all that. What if all you want is to enjoy some alcohol and not feel guilty about it? Well, in that case, the best thing you can do (both for the sake of not slowing down your fitness progress and not feeling like trash on the following day) is drink in moderation.
It might not sound revolutionary or advantageous, but it is. You can enjoy two glasses of whiskey with some diet or club soda and have an excellent evening. You can have a couple of beers and call it a night. You can enjoy two glasses of dry wine with some nuts. Nothing is to say that you need to go overboard to have a good time. Keep things moderate, and you’ll find yourself enjoy alcohol a lot more without suffering the nasty side effects. If you are interested to know the effects of coffee on your diet, we have wrote about that too!
And, if you’re looking for a private fitness trainer in Dubai or a gym personal trainer, Fitlov is for you. We understand the struggle and know that no single approach or lifestyle can work for everyone. We’ve helped numerous clients fit alcohol into their fitness regimen, and you can be the very next one!