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Alcohol and Fitness
This is something I hear (or variations of this) on a regular basis. Believe me, I get it, I really do! A lot of people want to lose weight without having to completely sacrifice their social life. It is here where alcohol plays a big part, whether it is to have fun or just to relax.
Providing there isn’t an underlying issue here, there is no reason to deprive people of this pleasure, in pursuit of their fitness/health goals.
However, let us be very clear on this, if we consider all other factors to be equal, on a diet, the non-drinker will outperform the drinker. It is well proven that alcohol will negatively impact your fitness goals in several ways. To name just a few:
- It is calorie dense (7 Cals a gram) but adds no nutritional value, harming the energy balance equation (this is more commonly known as an empty calorie).
- It will impair recovery from training, slowing down improvements.
- It will lower your testosterone levels, encouraging the body to hold on to or even increase body fat.
- It will weaken resolve, meaning other less healthy eating patterns may re-emerge after a few beverages.
- Alcohol, once in the body, is the first fuel to be burnt. This means that if you have filled up on junk-food alongside…then bad move, that may well get stored as fat!
As a fitness professional, I am well aware of all the above but I still choose to moderately drink and so I understand why it is important to the average person. First-hand experience has shown that persuading people to cut it out entirely is impractical and all this does is set people up to fail big-time when they fall off the wagon, “I’ve already failed by having one drink, I might as well finish the whole bottle now.”
By allowing a drink here and there, within the structure of a diet, we can avoid this negative behavioural pattern. It keeps people feeling good about their progress towards their goals, whilst still enjoying a little of what they fancy.
With this additional knowledge, I can now lead you onto just how we can structure alcoholic drinks within a diet.
Alcoholic drinks differ in Cals/gram
First of all, it is important to know that not all alcoholic drinks have the same number of calories per gram. For instance, your best choice would be a clear spirit such as a vodka or gin with a slim-line tonic or diet mixer. If not this, the second-best drink would be a dark spirit like a whiskey or a rum again with a diet mixer and finally a red or white wine. The alcoholic beverages that would be best to steer clear of where possible, would be the beers, lagers or ciders which tend to do more damage to the waistline. Ultimately, though, drink what you enjoy but just try and be more conscious of the alcoholic and calorific values as well.
Planning is necessary
If you know you have a big event coming up and alcohol will be involved, then why not try to estimate what type of drink it will be and what the quantity will be. Armed with this information, you can input this into a good tracking app (I use myfitnesspal), you will be able to work out the estimated “calorific damage.” If this figure is relatively high, you will need to create an allowance by slightly cutting down on your calorie intake a few days prior to the event (ideally out of fat or carb allowance). Ideally, this works the best when you can track every day, as it allows a reasonably accurate figure of how many calories you consumed per day. On the other hand, if you do not expect to be drinking much, you may be able to fit this around your daily plan and still comfortably meet your calorific targets.
Guidelines to follow
Depending on the results wanted, these are the guidelines I would follow:
- For the elite performers (those looking to have sub 10% body-fat), I would advise as close to a complete abstinence of alcohol all together. If you cannot remove this from your diet, I would seriously consider your training motivations and your attitude to alcohol.
- For those who are new to exercising and are progressing nicely, please just be aware of what your alcohol intake is and just keep it to moderate levels. If fitness results start to slow or drop off, be aware that alcohol MAY be the cause, dependent upon how much and how frequently you drink.
- For the people who find a quick beer after work regularly turns into a mammoth session, I would suggest that there may be a problem. Regardless of your fitness goal, I would encourage you to seek help, and immediately change your behaviours by avoiding pubs/bars, or volunteering yourself as the group designated driver.
To conclude, it is possible to consume alcohol in moderation, and still see improved fitness results. Whilst alcohol will never contribute towards improved health, through sensible planning you can minimise its harm. Elite fitness is not compatible with regular drinking but lesser levels may well be, it is all dependent on your starting point.