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Guide to Drinking Alcohol and Staying in Shape

So you want to put your best foot forward when it comes to making sure your physique is in top shape. You’re crushing the gym multiple times each week, and always giving it 110% effort. You’re also taking steps to improve your diet by consuming more protein, and eliminating processed sugars and other junk every day. On top of that, you’re sleeping well. You’re not pulling as many all-nighters because you value your recovery and feeling your best for your busy days ahead. But, there’s one thing that you haven’t been able to quite shake yet… Drinking alcohol.

I get it. I’m in the same boat. While you may not be drinking alcohol like you did back in college, perhaps you’re still the type who enjoys socially drinking alcohol while out with friends, or having wine with dinner a few nights a week.

As a social drinker myself, I know the feeling. When out having a good time with friends or celebrating some new accomplishment, it’s often difficult to forgo the temptation to have a drink or two. Especially when alcohol always seems to be around, and everyone has a drink in their hand.

And, now you’re not really sure whether you’re ready to give up drinking alcohol entirely. I mean, you’ve already made so many other sacrifices, and social drinking can be a lot of fun after all. It’s a great way to cut loose and unwind. So does drinking alcohol really need to be cast from your diet if you are to follow the fit and healthy lifestyle?

The good news is that if you have the right approach to drinking alcohol, you don’t need to replace your beverage with water or diet soda every time. Yes, you can enjoy a lifestyle of drinking alcohol and staying in shape. While I won’t say you can drink as much and as often as you want, you don’t have to be completely alcohol-free in order to achieve a great looking body.

Let’s talk about how to wisely incorporate alcohol into your plan so you can enjoy a drink and still be proud of the physique you’ve worked so hard to sculpt.

When Drinking Alcohol, Factor in the Calorie Content

The first thing you should consider when drinking alcohol is the calorie content of your booze. Many people I talk with find it surprising that alcoholic drinks can vary widely in terms of the number of calories they contain. And the number of calories in some alcoholic drinks are absolutely mind boggling. If you aren’t careful, these empty calories can easily translate into a rapid gain in body fat.

Let’s say you ordered the average frozen mixed drink for instance. You already know there’s alcohol in there. That’s why you ordered it. There’s also likely some type of sugary mixer, if that’s the kind of drink you gravitated towards. These two ingredients alone can add up quickly. Before you know it, you’re consuming 300-500 calories or more per drink, depending on the size, which can eliminate an entire day’s calorie deficit in one sitting. If you’re having three or four of these mixed drinks in one night, you can see how quickly things are adding up.

When drinking alcohol, if you go with beer you aren’t much better off. While beer isn’t quite as calorie dense as a margarita or piña colada, it can contain just as many carbs as other drink choices, which will further impact your rate of fat burning. What’s more is that the hops used to make beer has been known to cause testosterone levels to plummet and estrogen levels to rise. So for any male who’s trying to maintain a better body composition and increase lean muscle mass, beer is definitely something you may want to avoid when drinking alcohol.

Instead, try keeping your choices leaner. A clear liquor like vodka, gin, or rum will be a much smarter choice. All of these spirits are typically under 100 calories per ounce. Mix this with club soda, which is calorie free, toss in a lime garnish and you’re good to go. If you insist on adding additional sweetness, you can consider replacing the club soda with diet cola, however, I generally recommend avoiding cola altogether because of the chemicals and artificial sweeteners. Fortunately, diet cola won’t be supplying you with the extra sugar and calories you’re aiming to avoid.

Remember that when drinking alcohol, your body will temporarily reduce its ability to burn body fat for energy. Since your body considers alcohol a toxin, it almost immediately refocuses all of its resources on targeting and eliminating the alcohol from your system as quickly as possible, which is what puts fat oxidation (burning) on hold. And if you were to take this a step further by adding a sugar-based substance to your beverage, commonly found in mixed drinks, you can expect a dramatic spike in your body’s insulin levels, which compounds the chances of additional weight gain.

When dieting to lose body fat, drinking alcohol and consuming a high amount of carbohydrates is one of the most counterproductive things you can do for yourself. So try to avoid this easily-avoidable one-two punch of drinking alcohol.

Another good option when drinking alcohol is a glass of dry red or white wine. Wine is typically lower in total calorie content and provides you with additional health benefits thanks to the antioxidants it contains. Personally, I opt for either a Merlot or Cabernet when it comes to red wines. Sauvignon blanc for white wine. These wine choices have the lowest sugar content of all the varietals.

As you power through the evening, consider alternating one alcoholic drink with one glass of water as well. Not only will this help prevent the dreaded morning-after hangover, but it will help keep you hydrated and slow down your rate of alcohol consumption.

When drinking alcohol I often choose a vodka and soda with a lime garnish. When you factor in the ice cubes, this drink is 75% water. If I think I may need some extra hydration, I’ll usually make my vodka and soda a “tall,” which doubles the water-to-alcohol ratio. It also makes my drink last twice as long.

Watch Your Food Intake When Drinking Alcohol

Now that you have your drink of choice in hand, what do you plan to do when your friends and family start ordering appetizers and snacks? If you pair that drink with a basket of salty nuts, nachos, quesadillas, pizza or chicken wings, you’re going to be in for some serious trouble as far as your lean body goals are concerned. Let’s just hope it’s your diet cheat day. If not, try to make sure you eat properly before you head out. Try not to get into a situation where you’ll be drinking alcohol on an empty stomach or you’ll likely end up eating foods you may regret later, especially considering the fact the alcohol will hit you harder and faster than if you had food in your stomach.

Unless you’re having your drink with a healthy dinner, try to stick to consuming either alcohol or food when you go out for a night with your friends or family. It’s all about keeping your calorie intake well below your daily max.

Prep for a Night of Drinking Alcohol by Timing Your Workouts

When preparing to head out for a few drinks, another thing to keep in mind is timing your workouts before and after. Just as fat burning turns off when alcohol enters your system, so will protein synthesis.

So if you just completed a hard workout in the gym, and an hour later you’re in a bar enjoying a few drinks with your buddies, you can pretty much kiss the benefits of all your hard work goodbye. Your body needs more time to recover and rebuild after hitting the gym, and before hitting the drinks. At a minimum, try working out in the morning if you are planning on drinking alcohol that night. Better yet, try to schedule your night out on one of your rest or diet cheat days, making sure it’s within the context of your overall workout program.

On the flip side, exercising the day after a night of drinking alcohol can be a very productive thing. While you may not feel totally up to it, working up a sweat can help your body rid itself of the alcohol, helping you feel better after the workout is finished. Unfortunately, making your way to the gym the next day could take some extra motivation. Especially if you pulled an all-nighter.

Aim for a light session of cardio training or weightlifting the day after you plan on drinking alcohol. Don’t go in trying to set a personal record, as that likely won’t happen. However, don’t forego the gym entirely either. Just make sure that you are well hydrated going into your routine. Down a few extra glasses of water. If you used my earlier tip about alternating one alcoholic drink with one glass of water, or the tall vodka and soda trick, hydration shouldn’t be as much of a concern.

Preparing for a Night Out

If you’re aiming to lose body fat, you’ll obviously want to do your best to keep your calorie intake under control. Since you’ll likely be taking in some additional empty calories with your drinks, you’ll need to account for this.

Your best course of action is to cut back slightly on your food intake prior to an afternoon or evening of drinking alcohol. However, avoid cutting protein. Especially if you’re training with weights, protein is the one nutrient you must make sure you’re getting enough of. Not only will protein help repair and build muscle, it will allow you to sustain better hunger and blood glucose control once you start drinking alcohol.

Instead, cut back on the amount of carbs and fats you eat. In the three or four meals leading up to your night out, consider consuming protein- and vegetable-based foods, while adding a little healthy fat if needed.

This preemptive calorie deficit plan should help set you up with some “wiggle room” in your diet for the day, which means you could probably enjoy a few drinks without worrying  too much about gaining body fat as a result. As long as you maintain control and don’t indulge in unhealthy snacks or too many drinks, you should be able to stay well below your max calories for the day.

If you’d rather plan a quiet night out with dinner and a glass of wine, simply try cutting back on the carbohydrates in your meal. One glass of wine will typically equate to 100-150 calories, so if you offset this by reducing the number of calories in your meal, again, you shouldn’t have any problem staying on track and hitting your daily calorie budget.

As a social individual, being exposed to alcohol can sometimes be unavoidable. If you follow the tips in this guide, including steering clear of sugar-filled mixers, creating a calorie deficit, and consuming additional protein, you shouldn’t have any trouble sticking to your diet and keeping your lean and muscular body intact after a night of drinking alcohol. Remember, just because you’ve taken up a healthy and fit lifestyle, it doesn’t mean you have to stop having fun entirely. Enjoy a balance between drinking alcohol and staying in shape. Enjoy, but be safe.

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