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In this page you’ll learn how to enjoy alcohol while dropping fat and building muscle at the same time. In my book that’s what I call a win-win! I want you to get the greatest enjoyment and pleasure in life, while working towards your fitness goals.
At the end of the day, what’s the point of looking fantastic if you can’t enjoy it? That’s crazy! I always say our health, fitness and nutrition is here to enhance our lives, not overpower it.
Transforming your physique is awesome, but it’s not everything. Going out and socializing does not have to be put on hold until you reach your goal. That logic is absurd and it will only end up biting you in the ass. You’ll invariably put much more attention and mental energy into your fitness and nutrition than needed. This will lead to a lack of motivation and inevitable burnout.
If you stress and obsess about your workout and diet, you are far more likely to screw up through perfectionist thinking (believe me, I know!). But when you blend and balance your fitness and dieting efforts into your lifestyle, your journey to a transformed maintainable physique is much more rewarding and enjoyable.
So by all means go out and have drinks every now and then. Loosen up a little, have some fun and enjoy the progress you’ve made recently, and it will only bring you more happiness, fulfilment and further motivation.
It doesn’t have to be a trade off! You don’t have to choose between going out and getting in shape or eating dessert and having abs. This page details the very best strategies to enjoying alcohol, and food, while making progress in your transformation.
“How is Alcohol Processed in the Body?”
It can’t be stored so is always processed before anything else you digest.
Technically speaking, alcohol is not stored as fat. Your body actually has no storage capacity for alcohol, so it must be immediately eliminated. It’s for this reason that alcohol is always given the highest digestive priority in your oxidative hierarchy, ahead of other fuels.
As soon as you absorb it, the alcohol is metabolized by the ADH pathway into acetate, which is used as the fuel source instead of other nutrient intake or fat stores. All the time your body is stuck processing alcohol intake, fat oxidation halts and takes a back seat.
If you drink alcohol in addition to your normal calorie intake, this will put you into a calorie surplus. The alcohol you drink is given priority and your body will be running off the alcoholic calories for the next few hours while the other food in your digestive system is shuttled away into fat storage for later use (you get fatter).
“Does Drinking Alcohol make me Fat?”
Over 100 years ago, Atwater and Benedict proved that alcohol contains 7.1 calories per gram and that these calories count as part of the energy balance equation. As a result, it’s the management calorie intake that determines if fat storage will occur.
For this we need to look at the entire day’s dietary intake as a whole, and how alcohol intake affects appetite and eating behavior. Research has consistently found that alcohol can distort your body’s perception of hunger, satiety and fullness (alcohol is more calorically dense).
If drinking stimulates additional eating, or adds additional calories that aren’t compensated for, and that leads to positive energy balance, then you get fat. Period.
Calories per gram of Protein
Calories per gram of Carbs
Calories per gram of Alcohol
Calories per gram of Fat
“Does Alcohol Give You a Beer Belly?”
Given the right conditions, YES IT CAN!
Abdominal fat accumulation (also known as “android” or “central” obesity), is not just a cosmetic problem; it’s a serious health risk, regardless of your actual body weight.
Visceral fat (the fat around your organs) accumulation increases the risk for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high blood lipids, glucose intolerance, elevated insulin levels and even a higher mortality rate.
A recent study by Ulf Riserus and Erik Inglesson, has added to our knowledge about alcohol, insulin resistance and abdominal obesity. By using a large sample size and the gold standard method for insulin measurement, the researchers found a very “robust” association between alcohol intake, waist circumference and waist to hip ratio. They pointed out that a high alcohol intake, especially hard liquor, was closely associated with abdominal body fat, not just total body mass.
This scientific support to the “beer belly” phenomenon, is given in the right conditions: a caloroic surplus and hormonal disarray.
Hormones may be strongly involved because high alcohol intake has been shown to decrease blood testosterone in men, and also increase cortisol levels, which can lead to visceral fat accumulation. Age may be a factor as well, as the study above also showed the highest correlation between alcohol use and abdominal fat was specifically in older men. This can happen to women too, as they tend to shift their fat storage from hips and thighs to the abdominal region once menopause arrives.
“Do Women Process Alcohol Better than Men?”
No, but they do compensate for it better.
Continuing on from the study above, gender also seems to play a major role as the correlation between alcohol and body fat gain is much stronger in men in almost all circumstances.
The statistics showed that when men drink more, they gain more weight. Women don’t. A simple and likely explanation for this is that women seem to be better at compensating for the alcohol calories they consume. In other words, men tend to drink and eat, while women tend to drink instead of eating.
Hangover, what’s that?
If you want to get the most from alcohol and to experience it best, you must learn to drink the right way. It’s only when you drink the wrong way, that alcohol starts to become something unhealthy and starts to take away more than it gives you.
Moreover, by drinking properly, you limit your calorie intake, and you’re able to wake up feeling like a million bucks the next day.
Now, no question about it, some days you might end up pushing your limits, but on the whole, the idea is to learn how to nail down this whole moderate drinking thing. Which, of course, requires us to address why we’re even drinking in the first place.
Why are you really drinking?
If you rely on alcohol to give you confidence and to throw away your inhibitions.
If you drink to escape your problems and cope with stress.
If you’re hiding behind the real you by using alcohol as an alternative identity to others.
“How can I truly enjoy and express myself without having to depend on excessive drinking?”
Answer: Be Present in the Moment
What is stopping you from letting go and having fun? Your mind. When you’re able to ground yourself in this moment, dissolving the past and the future, there is no fear, no anxiety.
Enjoy a few drinks, but don’t rely on the drinks to give you confidence. Just make a few drinks part of the experience. And enjoy yourself, have fun, and let go.
Having the ability to just have a few drinks and be completely un-stifled is insanely awesome! You’ll save tons of money on alcohol. You’ll get in way better shape and you’ll develop natural confidence, not a false sense of confidence that’s dependent on alcohol.
On top of that, you’ll be much more composed and witty when you’re not in a drunken stupor. Your social acuity and ability to read situations will be much higher.
Think of it as a skill and you have to develop it. It will be awkward at first, you’ll have to push through that and eventually your ego will let go. You’ll reach this incredible state where you’re totally at ease, nothings holding you back and you feel incredibly confident and totally present.
Some people want to drink to escape their problems and to cope with the daily stresses of life. Or maybe they just want to get out of their head and feel alive and express themselves. And the answer is still, to be present. What problem do you have at this moment?
There aren’t any problems in the moment. There are things you either have to accept, or work towards making a desired change.
Guide to Drinking
How to properly enjoy alcohol, while still progressing towards your fitness goals.
Be Mindful of your Drinking
If you drink mindlessly without thinking about how much or what you’re drinking, you are doomed to suffer the consequences.
If however you drink mindfully, if you’re aware of the calories contained in alcohol, if you’re aware of the calories from additional food consumed during or after drinking, and if you compensate for all of the above so you stay in energy balance, you won’t get fat. If you stay in a calorie deficit, you will drop fat and get leaner.
With that said, beer and wine lovers — with a gleam in their eyes – might be wondering: “You mean I can drink and still lose fat – I just need to stay in a calorie deficit?”
Yep, that’s exactly what I mean. But before you rush off to the pub for a cold one, hold that thought for a minute while you consider this nutritional reality: Empty alcohol calories displace nutrient-dense food calories!
- Abdominal fat accumulation.
- Visceral fat increase.
- Cardiovascular disease.
- Increases blood pressure.
- High blood lipids.
- Glucose intolerance.
- Elevated insulin levels.
- Higher mortality rate.
- Disrupted sleep patterns.
- Increased cravings for carbohydrates.
- Fatigue and exhaustion.
- Decreased serotonin levels which can trigger and amplify depression.
Understand the effects that ANY amount of alcohol can have on you. By being prepared for these effects to occur, you can embrace them and make better decisions on how much alcohol you want to allow yourself.
Alcohol can stimulate appetite as alcohol can distort your body’s perception of hunger, satiety and fullness.
Alcohol can slow fat burning as it takes priority in the oxidative hierarchy for metabolising caloric intake.
Alcohol can affect hormones by reducing testosterone and increasing cortisol, both of which can effect the progress in your workouts.
Alcohol can hinder muscle building by reducing sleep quality (worse recovery) and energy levels for workouts (less performance).
Plan your Drinking into your Calorie Budget
When you calculate your daily caloric budget (from the nutrition guides here), you need to also give careful consideration on how those calories should be “spent.” For example, if a female is on a 1500 calorie per day nutrition plan, does she really want to “spend” 500 of those calories — one third of her intake – on a few alcoholic drinks, and leave only 1000 for health-promoting food, fiber and lean muscle-building protein?
I know that some people will answer “yes” to that question, but then again, if some people spent their money as frivolously as they spent their calories, they would be in deep trouble!
Drinking alcohol on a fat loss program doesn’t necessarily cause weight gain or slow down your weight loss, but it can still be a waste of calories. In my opinion, an optimal scenario is to first achieve adequate intake of protein, fiber and all other essential nutrients first and obtain the highest nutrient density possible, given the small “calorie budget” available. After you’ve budgeted those calories, you can use any spare calories for your treats such as desserts and drinks.
A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association revealed significantly higher calorie intakes among drinkers, and much lower nutrient densities of vitamins, minerals, protein and essential fats. The skinny, but malnourished and atrophied alcoholic is another perfect example of someone who has stayed in an energy deficit by replacing quality nutrient dense food calories with worthless empty alcohol calories.
A caloric deficit alone can cause you to lose weight, regardless of the macronutrient ratio or source of the calories. But for the perfect balance between health, muscularity and leanness, you need much more than a caloric deficit — you need nutrition and you need enough fuel to power your training sessions!
Keep under 2 standard drinks OR 3 – 5 low calorie drinks.
By setting yourself a budget of 1 – 2 drinks of beer, wine or a cocktail, then that will only be 250-300 calories. Alternatively, if you want to drink 3-5 drinks, then choose the lower calorie options (see graph below).
Low calorie options would be your favourite liquor of choice (vodka, whiskey, gin) and some sparkling water! The advantage of sparkling water is that it will help fill up your stomach with no calories, while also hydrating you. An ounce and a half of liquor is around 90-100 calories.
Beyond those one or two drinks, alcohol becomes toxic and not beneficial in any way. As Andrew Prentice of Cambridge wrote in his much cited paper, Alcohol and Obesity:
“Alcohol is essentially a poison which must be detoxified as soon as possible.”
Binge drinking and getting drunk never has a place in a fitness lifestyle (not to mention hangovers aren’t very conducive to good workouts).
Although you could drink and “get away with it” if you diligently maintained your calorie deficit, drinking does not help with your health and fitness journey. For lifelong weight maintenance and a healthy lifestyle, if you drink, do so in moderation and only occasionally, such as on weekends or when you go out to dine in restaurants. Moderate drinking, including daily, has been associated with cardiovascular health benefits. However, I don’t recommend daily drinking because behaviors repeated daily become habits. Behaviors repeated multiple times daily become strong habits. Just a quick reminder, in case anyone forgot: Habits can be hard to break and habitual drinking can lead to alcoholism. Even with moderate use, there have also been some concerns over breast cancer and high blood pressure.
Drink in MODERATION. I can’t stress it enough, because it’s that important. If you want to lead a win win win life, you need to become a master of moderation and mindfulness. This means having the control and discipline to stick to less than 2-5 drinks during a social outing. Do that and you will get all the positive effects of alcohol with little drawbacks. Overdo it, and alcohol will take from you.
Calories Consumed (Standard Drink Size)
Burn those alcoholic calories away!
By choosing low calorie drinks and drinking in moderation, you can control the calorie intake. But you can also control your calorie balance by burning more calories during your social event. This is especially true if you’re going to a bar. There’s walking involved and dancing and a decent amount of movement.
Remember, as long as you are consuming less calories than you’re burning, there’s simply no way of storing fat. Most likely, you’ll wake up leaner than before. If you enjoy the evening by standing, walking, dancing, jumping and generally being as active as possible, you can burn a tonne of calories!
Just be aware that burning more calories, DOESN’T mean you can drink more. Stick to the same daily calorie budget as you always do, and use the additional calorie burn as a bonus to your progress. It will also keep you busy, boost your metabolism, and can divert your appetite from mindlessly sitting around and eating.
How many calories could I burn?
Aim for activities that use large muscle groups, namely your legs or your arms or both, to elevate your heart rate for a prolonged period of time. By understanding how many calories you are actually likely to burn in these activities, you can manage your drinking intake accordingly without inadvertently underestimating your calorie burn.
Note: Calories burned are average for 180lb male for 30 minutes. Click here for full complete calorie burn details.
Calories burned (30 minutes for 180lb adult)
Be wary of mindless snacking / eating
The biggest issue with drinkers, is what happens during and after drinking alcohol. It’s easy to snack at finger foods at buffet events or BBQs, continuously refilling your plate and coming back for more. It’s also easy to down mountains of pizza, popcorn, chips and dip during a lethargic evening of drinks and movies.
Obviously, if after slamming 8 drinks, you decide to ingest 800+ calories, you’re going to gain weight.
Note: food items below are taken from the UK Nutracheck website
High calorie dense food options (Least filling, least nutrition, most calories)
Snacks like this don’t have to be forbidden, but if you choose to eat say a single doughnut, then thats probably all you’ll be able to fit in your calorie “budget” for the evening. Yes it’s fine if it fits your calorie and macro allowances, but be aware it may not fill you up or satisfy you as much compared to other options.
- Chips / Doritos – 354 cal / small bag.
- Salted Butter Popcorn – 317 cal / 80g.
- Chocolate buttons – 340 cal / small pack.
- Ice cream – 170 cal / small scoop.
- Doughnut (glazed) – 410 cal / doughnut.
- Fish and chips – 838 cal / medium portion.
- Pizza 12″ regular – 1835 cal / pizza.
- Garlic Naan Bread – 395 cal / standard piece.
- Muffin – 401 cal / chocolate muffin.
- MacDonalds ¼ pounder – 516 cal / burger with cheese.
- KFC meal – 795 cal / Zinger and drink.
- Burger King – 721 cal / Whopper with cheese.
Low calorie dense food options (More filling, more nutrition, less calories)
By eating more of these as your foods of choice at social events, you’ll be budgeting your calories much more wisely and getting much more bang for your buck. Why? Because they will leave you feeling fuller, more satisfied, more nutrients in the body, more stable energy and less chance of excess calories and weight gain.
- Carrot sticks – 14 cal / 60g.
- Plain popcorn – 194 cal / bag.
- Pineapple pieces – 41 cal / 100g.
- Frozen yogurt (plain) – 112 cal / 125g pot.
- Strawberries – 27 cal / 8 strawberries (100g).
- Salmon Grilled – 215 cal / 1 steak (100g).
- Subway Chicken Sandwich – 304 cal / 6″ sub no cheese/sauce.
- Indian Chicken Tikka – 154 cal / small portion.
- Water melon – 28 cal / 100g.
- Lamb chops – 149 cal / 70g boneless portion.
- Beef Mince (lean) – 177 cal / 100g.
Substitute with Water!
One of the main reasons for a hangover due to the diuretic effects of alcohol causing dehydration! The main effect of dehydration is seen in your blood, which clumps together and can’t carry oxygen to all parts of your body. As an effect, you’ll feel tired, low on energy, and your immune system will be lowered; sound familiar?
Studies show that most people are so dehydrated; they mistake the body’s natural call for water for hunger!
- Drink water at social events.
- If you’re feeling conscious of people judging you with water in a bar, fill a coloured beer bottle with water.
- If you are hydrated at night, your body will spend less energy digesting food during sleep, and focuses more on better sleep.
- The more hydrated you are, the easier it is for your body to control your body temperature.
- Carry a 2 litre water bottle with you and drink it all day.
- Keep liquid intake to a minimum before bed so you’re sleep isn’t disturbed by trips to the bathroom.
Don’t drink alcohol if you want to sleep well that night.
Some people think that a “night cap” of alcohol will help you sleep; this couldn’t be further from the truth. While alcohol may temporarily relax some muscles in your body, it’s extremely detrimental to your sleeping system.
Alcohol will suppress the 3rd, 4th, and 5th stage of sleep, which will result in a very light, un-restful sleep. Reduced REM sleep usually leads to a REM sleep rebound, in the form of intense dreaming or nightmares, which weaken your sleep for days afterwards.
Considering that most people combine alcohol with coffee to fight hang-over, this is a deadly combination for your sleep system! Alcohol also dehydrates your body, so even small doses of it will produce un-restful sleep. As you remember, your blood vessels dilate during deep sleep to allow more blood flow to the muscles. If your body is dehydrated, this process is much more difficult because dehydrated blood doesn’t flow as well through your blood vessels as fully hydrated blood.
Warning: Never Combine Alcohol With Sleeping Pills! If You Do, You’re Risking Your life!
At the end of the day, it’s your choice. If you wanna drink and have a crazy time, that’s fine. Accept it and live it for the moment. Over time you may start to enjoy the high of an awesome workout, more than the chemical enhancement of alcohol.
Think about this. Are you spending all week investing in that body that you’re working so hard for, putting your time, effort, respect, blood, sweat and tears into transforming yourself, and then you’re going out in the weekend to get wasted, binge hard, puke everywhere like crazy, undoing an entire week of effort and commitment? If so, you need to seriously think about what you truly want to achieve and how badly you want it. What is more valuable to you in the long term?
I believe when it’s time to work, it’s time to work. When you’ve earned a celebration, it’s time to party! You just have to be mindful, and drink for the right reasons, not the wrong reasons. For some people, dependance on alcohol is like living in an altered state of ego. They go out partying, and they aren’t themselves. They use the experience as an escape from the reality of the previous week.
For many of my clients, their optimal strategy is to avoid alcohol while on a fat loss program. After reaching their goal and shifting back to maintenance, (when they’re lean and have a larger calorie allowance to work with), they drink in moderation if that’s their choice. This isn’t the case for all my clients, as many enjoy a perfect balance of alcohol and good nutrition in their calorie budgets.
I also believe that if you are a wine or beer lover, it’s better to go ahead and enjoy your drink in moderation, while using everything you’ve learned on this page. For some people, attempts at forced total abstinence could lead to binges, it can make long term dietary compliance more difficult and sabotage weight maintenance efforts altogether. For long-term success, it’s important that you’re healthy and happy, not healthy and miserable.
And for those people who currently do not drink, I suggest that you do not start regardless of what anybody says. Although the current theory in the scientific community is that small amounts of alcohol (particularly red wine), provide some heart health benefits, there are countless alternatives to gain similar or greater benefits, both from exercise as well as the intake of other foods such as fruits and vegetables; foods which coincidentally, are low in the diets of most heavy drinkers, and which are well-spent calories that help your fat loss efforts, not hurt them.
Last but not least, if you choose to drink, then don’t beat yourself up afterwards! Just drink moderately, sensibly and responsibly, and plan it carefully into your calorie budget as part of a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, essential fats and other nutrients… then you can enjoy it without guilt! In the long run, it’s all about energy balance, nutrition and moderation.
This is where all my research and background studies for this page comes from.
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