We’re asked a lot about alcohol and training. A lot. Sadly we can’t tell you that alcohol isn’t going to screw with your body goals – it is. Heck, we love a drink (or three), but we know it messes with our body composition, our energy levels and our training (sometimes our heads too…). We’re realistic, a lot of people enjoy a drink, BUT, there are things you can do to minimise the effect of alcohol on your body goals.
A client recently asked me if they should cut back their food if they knew they were going out drinking. A bit of a controversial area this – the answer is yes and no… you may want to dial back your food calories a very small amount (and particularly your carbs and fats) if you know you’re going drinking, BUT, if you’re planning a monster session, obviously, eat! Please don’t try to negate all the booze you’re going to drink by eating nothing! This is not a good strategy.
So let’s just look at the science before I get into the ‘hows’.
Here’s a recap on the body’s energy system in simple terms: when we’re in calorie surplus excess energy is stored as body fat. Alcohol is high in calories, so drinking is going to increase your calorie intake.
Those booze calories are almost all carbohydrate calories as there’s a lot of sugar in alcohol. It’s also toxic to your body. Acetate, a by product is prioritised by the body for metabolism – meaning alcohol becomes a preferred energy source for your body so the toxin can be eliminated faster.
Interesting, but what does that mean in simple terms? Well it means that you won’t burn any other energy until the alcohol calories are burned off. Meaning that if you’re in calorie surplus, (which you most likely are if you’re drinking and eating normally) you’ll store some fat as the alcohol has been prioritised as an energy source.
So what to do? All in the name of helping you we’ve battled our way through some drinking sessions to bring you some guidelines…! Tough job!
First up, drink in moderation, which means 1 to 3 drinks. At this amount you can SLIGHTLY dial down your food calorie and particularly carb intake to compensate.
Secondly, try not to do it regularly. Alcohol is what some would term an empty calorie – you’re getting energy but not a lot else (other than some fun and maybe a little headache the next day!)
Plus the downsides – like a fuzzy head, lack of energy the next day, and craving for starchy, sugary, fatty food (fry up anyone?) due to hormone disruption as your body detoxes – means that regularly drinking will play against anyone aiming to lose body fat or who’s trying to add lean muscle.
If you know you’re going to drink a lot one night, or you’ve got a week/weekend of hard drinking (hen/stag do) then there’s no getting round that your calorie targets are out the window (probably along with common sense and dignity). BUT, there are things you can do to help your long term body goals.
Aim to eat a lot of protein – the body doesn’t convert protein to fat as readily as fat or carbs, plus you’ll help preserve muscle mass and feel more full, which might(!) make you drink less.
Get your carb intake from fresh veggies (you’ll need all the vits you can get) and stay away from refined, starchy and heavy carbs (you’ll be getting a stack of carbs from the booze).
Keep your fat intake lower than normal. Remember the body will use the alcohol calories first for energy, so if your fat intake is already low, you’re less likely to store body fat than if your fat intake is high. Sadly that means you need to put down that bag of pork scratchings…
Drink wise, avoid beers, lagers, cocktails and aim for dry wines, champagne or cava – nature brut is the driest, meaning the least sugar and calories. Spirits wise go for clear spirits, so gin or vodka, with low or zero calorie mixers like soda water or low calorie tonic – your head will thank you too.
As for the morning after, well that’s the subject for another post…
Your round when I see you 😉