Alcohol and staying in shape - how to mitigate the damage.

Richard Blake

It’s starting to feel a lot like summer which means only two things. Sun’s out and guns out. Or buns out. So, it could be 3 things. 3 very important things. Another thing that comes with summer is fewer clothes and fewer opportunities to hide our bodies under big winter jackets. And, of course, summer means drinking in the day time at BBQs and beach parties. Despite what you may you be thinking, this article is not about how many things summer means, it’s about how to maintain a balance between staying in shape and enjoying alcohol.

There are plenty of reasons not to drink alcohol and I am not encouraging you to drink it, I am just trying to help you limit the damage if you have already made the decision to drink.

I like to ‘feel’ my alcohol. i.e. I like to get a bit of a buzz without having to drink much. So, I try to eat light before I drink. This is contrary to the advice that your mother gave you, suggesting eating a loaf of bread and a pint of milk before a night out. That’s good advice if you want to sap up the alcohol and not be out of your mind drunk later in the evening. However, after many years of practice, I’m able to moderate the amount I drink better than I used to. Plus, I have had my DNA tested by DNA Fit and seen that my enzyme profile means that I digest alcohol slowly. Hence why, at university I was at my most hilarious the morning after a big night out.

Limiting food intake before drinking benefits you because:
1. You consume less alcoholic calories.
2. You consume less alcohol, which is of course, a toxin.
3. The alcohol leaves your body quicker as your liver processes it sooner.
4. You spend less $$$ on expensive drinks.

 

Working out before you drink
Another way to feel the effects of alcohol without drinking as much is to lift weights before you drink. You may have heard that alcohol can lower testosterone. While this is true, one study showed that when alcohol was consumed after a heavy weightlifting workout, testosterone was actually increased (1). Cardio before drinking does not have the same effect on testosterone, so just stick to the weight room.

 

Alcohol and Fat Storage
When you drink alcohol, you store food as fat. The metabolic by-product of alcohol is Acetate. Acetate is a toxin so your body is only concerned with processing this and getting it out of the body. While this is happening, your body stops the digestion of fat, carbs and protein. So, while you can minimize the number of calories you consume from alcohol it is really all the poor food choices you make when drinking that causes the biggest problem. That food gets turned straight into fat. However, it is much harder for your body to store protein as fat than it is with carbs and dietary fat.

 

Here is my step by step guide to drinking without gaining fat.
1) Limit dietary fat intake all day. The ideal amount would be 0.3g per kg of body weight.
2) Limit carbohydrate intake all day. The ideal amount would be 1.5g per kg of body weight
3) Perform a weightlifting session.
4) Chose alcoholics drinks with low sugar content.
Good Alcoholic drink choices
i. Vodka, Tequila, Whiskey, Rum, DRY white wine, Sake, Prosecco, Beer.
b. Bad Choices
i. Sweet white wine, red wine, cocktails.
c. Good Mixers
i. Kombucha, Soda Water, Zevia, Lemon or Lime Juice, Slim Line Tonic
d. Bad Mixers
i. Tonic, Coke or other fizzy drinks, fruit Juice
5) Eat as much protein as you want. Because you need to get your calories from fat and carb free sources you need to fill up on something else. Go for low fat choices like, cottage cheese, chicken, turkey, fat free yogurt, whey protein, egg whites.
6) Make sure to have something appealing in the fridge so that when you come home at the end of the night you have something waiting for you. I like to leave a bowl of home-made turkey chilli or some ham and a Quest Bar to mindlessly devour.

Alcohol is an appetite stimulant and protein has the biggest impact on appetite suppression. So, combining these two things, at this crucial time is going to help you feel full and avoid that trip to McDonalds.

 

The case for beer
You will have noticed that beer was on my list of good alcohol choices but it also has a high carbohydrate content. Why is this, you ask? Although we know that alcohol is an appetite stimulant, beer is a bit different:

• Beer is bitter. Bitter compounds release GLP-1, which supresses hunger.
• Beer seems to lower cortisol in the short term, which supresses hunger.
• There is a lot of liquid and bubbles in beer, which can easily fill you up.

So, this means that sticking with beer, despite its high carb content could work better for you if your problem when drunk is eating too much.

 

The NorCal Margarita
This one comes from Rob Wolf and fits well if you are trying to stick to a Paleo Diet.
It is simply tequila, soda water and fresh lime juice, and it works because:

• Tequila comes from the agave plant, which is a natural product rather than a grain.
• Soda is basically just water so helps prevent dehydration.
• The bubbles in soda help to deliver alcohol into the blood stream quicker and you require less alcohol to get your buzz.
• Most importantly - citrus fruits help to blunt the insulin spike from the alcohol.

You can get away with around one night of heavy drinking per week. Any more than that and you are likely to struggle with weight gain. The other option is to drink in moderation and incorporate your alcohol calories into your daily calorie limit. I have done this before using MyFitness Pal but it requires a lot of preparation and admin. My goal is to help you maintain a balance between a healthy social life and a healthy body without the obsessive planning. Cheers to that!

References:

  1. Heikkonen, et al. The combined effect of alcohol and physical exercise on serum testosterone, leutininzing hormone and cortisol in males. Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research. June 1996;20(4):711-716. pubmed/8800389
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