I’m often asked by clients, “How can I drink and not screw up my diet?”
I never say no to alcohol with my clients diets as it’s not realistic. Often, the all or nothing mindset sets people up for failure, because once they have one beer, they decide, “Oh well, I’ve already screwed up so I may as well have 10.” Which combined with the ‘drunken munchies’, means game over.
Beer, shots, margaritas; they can all be ok. Following a few rules could save you.
Things you need to understand:
- Consuming more calories than we need makes us fat. Under normal circumstances, it’s the fat that we eat that is stored.
- The fat in the foods we eat will only be stored when we go over calorie 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 energy balance for the day, so indirectly they cause fat gain my causing us to store the fat we consume.
- Alcohol does not have any fat, but it has an energy value, and that is usually combined with carbs (either from fruit as with wine, hops/wheat/barley as with beer, or sugar from carbonated drink mixers).
- Alcohol calories take priority as fuel in the body over other fuel sources (like your love handles). This is because the by-product of alcohol metabolism, acetate, is toxic. So when you drink, fat burning stops until you burn those calories off.
- Drinking can easily push us over our calorie budget for the day. This causes some, or all of the dietary fat we ate on this day to be stored as body-fat, depending on how much over your maintenance calories you drank.
- 1g of alcohol contains 7 kcal, 1g of fat contains 9 kcal.
Three questions to check that you have understood these points:
Question 1: Your food intake for the day is 1000 kcal under your calorie needs for the day. You eat 50 g of fat on this day. You have three drinks, totaling 500 kcal. Do you gain or lose fat on this day?
Answer: You are still in a 500 calorie deficit, so you lose fat. Around 55g of it (500/9).
Question 2: Your food intake for the day is exactly at maintenance calorie needs. You have eaten 100 g of fat on this day. You then consume drinks totaling 500 kcal. Do you gain or lose fat on this day?
Answer: You are over calorie needs by 500 kcal. You store around 55 g of the 100 g of fat you have consumed on this day (500/9), the rest is burned.Question 3: Your food intake for the day puts you in a 500 kcal deficit. However, you then go out binge drinking with the boys and consume 2000 kcal worth of drinks. Do you gain or lose fat on this day?
Answer: Your net calorie intake puts you in a 1500 kcal surplus. All fat consumed on this day up to a value of 1500 kcal (~166 g), will be stored. If you kept fat intake low on this day, only that amount of fat will be stored.
All good? Don’t worry if not just yet, let’s have a look at how we put this into practice.
How To Drink And Not Screw Up Your Diet
Drinking In Moderation
The key is to adjust for the calorie content of the alcohol you are drinking. You can look that up here. You then need to reduce your food intake by that amount to maintain the calorie balance for the day.
The best way to do this is to reduce your fat and carb intake.
Example: You drink three beers
Carbs and Protein contain ~4 kcal/g, Fat contains 9 kcal/g.
If the calorie total for those three beers (that’ll be carbs and alcohol) comes to 600 kcal, consider taking out 75g of carbs (300 kcal) and ~33g of fat (~297 kcal).
- Alcohol gives us energy, but with none of the benefits associated with the other macros. Thus, frequent binge drinking isn’t going to be sustainable.
- You’re likely not going to want to adjust the protein macro, given it’s muscle sparing properties.
What are the downsides of doing this often?
When you are dieting, recovery can become an issue. When using alcohol calories (instead of say, carbs) to make up your calorie budget you’re stealing from the band-aid drawer so to speak. In moderation it’s not so much of an issue.
When you are bulking, you’ll gain more fat that you otherwise would have.
Once A Week Hard Drinking/Binge Drinking
Note: I’m not suggesting anyone ‘drink’ their calories on a regular basis. I’m just saying, you don’t have to let worries about your diet spoil your social life.
Counting calories isn’t very fun when you’re in the middle of a party, and if you’re drinking a lot, you’ll be over your calorie allowance for the day easily.
So, on days that you know you are going to really drink, take advantage of the fact that your body has trouble storing anything but dietary fat in the short term when we go over our calorie balance for the day.
- Keep your fat intake very low on this day.
- Eat your protein for the day to preserve muscle mass (lean sources such a chicken, egg whites, casein protein) and restrict carbs to veggies.
- Drink shots, dry red wines (they are lower carb), and zero-calorie mixers (I like Coke Zero and Jack) in whatever quantities you want, and don’t feel guilty.
If you follow those few rules and keep it to one a week you won’t ruin your diet or hard-earned body.
I hope you found this helpful. Questions welcomed in the comments. – Andy