How to Get a Buzz and Still Booze on a Diet

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I’m going to let you in on a secret - you can drink alcohol and not ruin your training or diet. Happy hour can have its place in your meal plan, as long as you make smart choices.

Alcohol (By Itself) Doesn't Make You Fat

To fully understand how each type of alcoholic beverage impacts your health and nutrition goals, it’s important to know how your body processes alcohol. Alcohol isn’t metabolized by your digestive system like food is, but rather goes through a series of stages taking part in your liver and kidneys. Because of this, alcohol in its pure form cannot easily be stored as fat.

However, alcohol also blocks the oxidation of fat by up to 70%, which means that dietary fat consumed while drinking will easily convert to stored fat, and your body will stop burning its fat stores for fuel. This is because your body will preferentially use the alcohol as fuel over the fat, carbs and protein you’re actually eating. So, until you’ve stopped drinking, you’ll be storing most of what you eat and your body’s fat burning power will come to a halt.

Though your body burns it for fuel, alcohol doesn’t count toward your macros for the day. When tracking alcoholic beverages or accounting for them in your meal planning tool, you don’t need to track the actual grams of alcohol, as these won’t be stored. Of course, you should remember to count the sugar and macronutrients from any other ingredients in the drink.

How Drinking Can Screw Up Your Training

Aside from the short-term metabolic effects of drinking alcohol you experience while drinking, you may want to consider the impact on training overall. Studies have indicated that moderate alcohol intake can reduce levels of testosterone over time.

As is to be expected, higher levels of alcohol consumption also impact testosterone. A study out of the University of Helsinki noted that binge drinking not only decreased testosterone production by 23% between 10 and 16 hours after drinking started, but that levels of cortisol increased by 36% in that window—not the best conditions for building muscle!

The Best Way to Drink

So, what are the best forms of alcohol to drink to meet your fitness goals? If your aim is to build muscle and decrease fat, you should stick to light beer, very dry wines or hard alcohols, served without sugary mixers.

Beer

Heavy beers should generally be avoided, as the carb count of beer tends to be quite high. If you really can’t live without this brew, light beers and those marketed as “low-carb” are the best options for staying on track with your fitness plan.

Wine

While some wines are incredibly sweet and high in sugar, there are plenty that are perfectly acceptable to drink while still meeting your fitness goals. Though many people assume white wine contains more sugar than red wine, this isn’t true. Instead of focusing on the type of wine, look instead at how dry the wine is. Typically, dry wines have less than 1 gram of sugar per ounce, while sweet wines may have more than twice that amount.

Hard Alcohol

In terms of hard liquor, the color doesn’t really matter. Contrary to popular belief, dark liquors do not actually contain any more sugar or carbohydrates than clear liquors. Of course, this only applies to the alcohol in its pure form. Flavored alcohols and mixed drinks can pack in between 18 - 60g of sugar, in just one serving.

If you don’t want to drink your liquor neat or up, mixing with seltzer water or club soda and a squeeze of lemon or lime is your best bet. Though tonic water closely resembles club soda, it actually contains 32g of sugar per can, and is best avoided when trying to stay on track.

Mixers matter not only in terms of nutrition, but also in how they impact your drinking experience. Carbonated mixers have been shown in studies to increase the rate at which alcohol is absorbed into your blood stream, so you'll feel drunker faster than you would consuming the same drink with a flat mixer. The type of liquor doesn't matter in terms of effect while drinking, though there is slight evidence that suggests certain compounds in whiskey may mitigate the onset of hangover symptoms the next day.

Overall, it’s important to remember that one night a week of consuming two to three drinks won’t ruin your progress, and that sticking to your meal plan the rest of the week is far more important for meeting your goals.

Sources:

Fat matabolism - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10539756
Fat storage - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3280601
testosterone - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15166654
Binge drinking - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2128439
carbonation - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17720590