Who doesn’t love a cold beer or chilled white pinot grigio at the end of a long, hot summer’s day? And when the leaves are changing during fall and the weather feels a little crisper, the ciders taste just a little sweeter, don’t they? And in winter? Picture snow falling, you’re sitting on a warm couch (with lots of pillows of course), a room lit only by the lights on the Christmas tree, family laughing, and a recently uncorked bottle of red. It’s cozy, isn’t it? Maybe even perfect.
Most of us reading this are not alcoholics. But most people do enjoy, at the least, celebrations and social occasions with a drink in hand. And readers of this blog are health-consious individuals who exercise, make smart choices, and perhaps, enjoy a glass of red by the festively decorated fireplace.
Is there anything wrong with this?
And should there be anything wrong with this? How many health-consious individuls sometimes suffer from some sort of holiday guilt? Maybe it’s even year-round guilt? I don’t drink a lot but I do enjoy a glass every now and then, and sometimes more often than not. I guess it all just depends, right? And I feel like you’re probably in this boat with me sometimes. And like me, you probably even already know the same things that all fitness professionals tell you about alcohol:
Alcohol gets in the way of your progress. Alcohol causes weight gain. Alcohol makes you eat more. Alcohol causes you to lose sense of any and all will power. Alcohol causes you to binge eat, drink, and lose your hard-earned progress in the gym……
But I’m not referencing excess drinking or drinking beyond control. What I mean is, how do you figure out how to enjoy social settings, holidays, and the occasional local brew without blowing your hard-earned health-concious efforts and feeling guilty for your splurge?
It’s called balance. And more importantly, knowing HOW MUCH and WHEN to make the best drink choices–for YOU.
That’s right. You can do this…without ramifications or guilt. How?
First, let’s just remind you that yes, you’ll get better and faster results without alcohol. When it’s in your system, it is very difficult to gain muscle OR burn fat. But there is a way to figure out the best way to drink, be happy, and still rock a great bod.
Myth: Most people believe that alcohol will “make you fat.”
But as we can all attest at this point–science and our bodies are both rather tricky. Alcohol doesn’t necessarily make a person fat. The body recognizes alcohol as a poisonous substance and it wants to rid it from your system quickly. Therefore, whatever your body is currently working to digest takes a backseat to the alcohol you just drank. While your body is processing the alcohol, all the other food you ate is just sitting in your gut–latching onto fat cells.
Fact: Alcohol suppresses your ability to burn fat. It halts the body’s natural fat-burning abilities. (Hence the food that’s now lounging around in your gut.)
When I try to explain all of this to most people, the next question I typically get is “So I just shouldn’t eat when I drink, right?”
WRONG. When have you EVER had a good experience from drinking on an empty stomach? I doubt many people have. So no, don’t drink on an empty stomach.
So what can you do?
You can get away with a few drinks here and there and a lot of it depends on your choice of beverage. General guidelines will point to beer and red wine as superior choices because they’re a bit more bitter, you’ll tend to drink less, and both are known to help suppress appetites. You can also minimize weight gain by simply going to the gym before your have your cocktails!
That’s right! Drink post workout!
Beer can be a decent post-workout recovery tool and technically if you’re going to have a couple beers, it’s actually better to consume them post training. But that’s only if strength training and only if kept to a maximum of 3-5 beers for men and 1-2 beers for women. Don’t drink alcohol after cardio–the body is not primed to take in alcohol the way it is after lifting weights. When consuming alcohol after steady state cardio like running, biking, or swimming; alcohol will actually lower the testosterone levels in men and raise them in women. So men will lose their ability to synthesize muscle protein and women will actually gain body fat faster.
Plus, if you’ve gone to the gym already, you’re more likely to continue making healthier decisions throughout your evening because you’re already making health-consious decisions as is. So if you hit the gym, have your alloted numbers of beverages with some healthy snacks, you’re less likely to binge drink and gorge on sweets or fried appetizers because your brain is already in its health-consious state.
How does alcohol impact your macronutrient ratios, or your overall daily nutrition?
Alcohol is actually a separate macronutrient–though it’s the only one the body doesn’t need (protein, carbohydrates, and fats are the other three). Every gram of alcohol contains 7 calories. Empty calories at that. So when tracking your calories and macronutrients (or even if you don’t track), at the very least, you should make sure you eat enough calories and hit your protein goal for the day. Eat your carbs and fats earlier in the day with enough time for them to digest before you start drinking. When having your drinks, avoid carbs and fats–don’t forget that alcohol allows your body to store these macronutrients, which may convert quickly to fat cells. Stick to eating protein and lots of veggies while you drink. It’s practically impossible for protein and vegetables to turn into fat.
Always avoid mixed drinks if you can because of the high sugar content. And we all know by now that the more sugar we have, the more we tend to crave it. Too many mixed drinks could result in terrible body aesthetics…among other negative consequences.
Do NOT try to “sweat it out” at the gym the night after too much drinking.
We know, it happens. But waking up to go “sweat it out” is actually one of the worst things you can do. The body is already trying to get the alcohol out of your system. If you exercise, you stop this process. All that alcohol in your system just sits there and waits for you to finish your workout. And when you’re done? It re-floods your bloodstream and makes you feel worse than before. So IF you do drink too much, do NOT try to work it out. Rest. Rehydrate, and try to take in good amount of protein, sodium, and potassium.
One last point from one of my favorite websites, T-Nation.com:
Alcohol is a non-nutritive calorie source. It’ll drain your levels of B-vitamins, zinc, magnesium and others. This can put you at risk for what’s known as long-latency diseases or issues. This is when the metabolism suffers slowly over time due to poor nutrition. So make sure you supplement with a good quality multiple vitamin and mineral supplement any time you drink.
As for a great mineral supplement, we highly suggest Drip Drop Hydration.
For more information and references on nutrition, macronutrients, body composition, fitness, health, and exercise, grab a copy of our Total Health and Fitness Makeover, available in both PDF and Print Versions.
As alwasy, don’t forget to subscribe to strongfigure.com!
This week’s conditioning workouts: