Fat Loss and Alcohol–how to enjoy a drink & also stay on track to your goals.
So you’re in a caloric deficit, and your coach tells you to try to cut back on the alcohol or take away your precious macronutrients if you want to have a drink…and you’re simply wondering, why?
Here’s the lowdown…
Whenever you drink an alcoholic beverage, it gets immediate priority by your body in regards to your metabolism. It slams the breaks on fat oxidation and suppresses carb and protein oxidation as well.
Alcohol is known to be its “own” macronutrient and is said to contain 7.1 calories per gram. What isn’t talked about very often is the fact that its conversion into energy is inefficient. We can actually say that the real value is more along the lines of 5.7 calories per gram due it’s thermogenic effect, meaning 17-20% of the energy coming from alcohol is lost.
We can consider alcohol to be more similar to protein as it’s not easily converted to fat–that process is too costly for the body. But all the acetate and acetyl-CoA that are found in your cells after consumption, signals the body to stop burning carbohydrates and fat. Your body basically halts your metabolism and stalls your body’s ability to burn fat while it’s breaking down alcohol. Acetate is toxic, so metabolizing it takes precedence over everything else.
In order for you to burn fat and build muscle, you need to be able to manage your calories and your hormones. When you consume alcohol, it impacts both. It also impacts brain chemistry and muscle cell signaling which, in turn, will impact your performance and fat burning capabilities.
Because you need to be able to manage your calories, that’s usually where people get into trouble. Alcohol significantly reduces your natural ability to control the amount of food you consume. Similar to how people say a lot of crazy stuff they wouldn’t normally say sober, the same can happen when it comes to food consumption.
You start to not really care about meeting your macros or reaching your goals, and you start to have negative thoughts causing a “rebellious” type of action to occur. You can end up having more drinks than you planned (more calories), or you eat a bunch of food without remorse (more calories) which then puts your entire week of eating healthy and being compliant down the drain…because who tells themselves that they want to have a leafy green salad and chicken with a few beers? Not many…usually we pair alcohol with foods that have super high calories.
This is usually the reason why coaches try to refer you away from alcohol and have you consume your macronutrients via food instead of liquid courage.
We can also see the scale fluctuate drastically surrounding alcohol consumption, and this is largely dependent on what we drink and how much we drink. Remember, alcohol slows down your metabolism and your normal fat burning processes become interrupted when you drink. You might wake up the very next day the same or lighter–usually from dehydration, and then the scale might spike up the following 2-3 days before it goes back down to normal.
During a caloric deficit, this can really dampen our motivation when the scale goes up or doesn’t budge at all. Then you get yourself into a salty mindset and you have more of those “who cares” moments more often.
So how can I still have fun with friends and live life without sabotaging my progress?
We can “substitute” alcohol for some of our macronutrients with the understanding that your body will be getting less nutrients because of this. You learned above that your metabolism slows down when you drink, so we don’t need to go over that again. You learned that the scale might spike because of this, but you still want to drink and “enjoy life”.
So here’s what we can do–especially if you’re trying to shed some body fat…
In your given food tracking app, LOG EVERY DRINK.
The Cronometer tracking app automatically puts your drinks under the “alcohol” macro category which will then take away the appropriate calories. If you’re in a deficit, leave 10g of fat + 10g of carbs out of your targets PER DRINK you consume to make up the difference in calories added by the alcohol.
-Limit your drinking frequency.
Try to choose 1 day per week, or reserve drinking to special occasions. You start to get into trouble when you go for the “all or nothing” approach. If you don’t allow yourself to enjoy a drink or two, you might suddenly break and go HAM and really cause some issues. If you allow yourself too much flexibility, your body won’t be able to do it’s thang because you keep interrupting its ability to burn body fat when you drink 3-5x per week. Limit your drinking, but don’t eliminate it if you enjoy it and it’s a part of your lifestyle. Just be smart about it.
-Limit your total drinks for the night.
Have a “stopping” number and make it non-negotiable during your deficit.
1-2 drinks 1x per week is my limit during a deficit. But having 0 is better.
See if you can just literally “have a few” and not go all or nothing and get schwasty pants. The more drinks you have, the longer it takes for your body to rid the alcohol from your system.
-Try to eat the majority of your protein goal (80-100% of your bodyweight in grams) early on in your day.
This helps you save room for drinks and the potential to have the higher calorie foods later on.
-Eat a ton of veggies and some berries throughout the day.
This way you know you’re getting in the majority of your micronutrients before you consume empty calories via alcohol or have a higher carb/fat meal later. I take a micronutrient supplement daily regardless if I am drinking or not.
-Choose better liquors and go for straight up, on the rocks or with seltzer.
You want to look for “lower carb” choices such as, tequila, dry wines, vodka, scotch, gin, rum, whiskey, and cognac. These are basically zero carb liquors which means you know you won’t have the added calories in your drinks!
-Limit drinks made with fruit juices, heavy beers, or sweet wines.
These are loaded with extra carbs so if you want to enjoy them…have 1-2 and stop.
-Have a glass of water in between drinks, or “pretend” you’re drinking by having seltzer and lime!
If you want to stay 100% on track without having to worry about alcohol, and you don’t want to hear a lecture from your friends and family that you don’t feel like drinking, disguise it! Order some seltzer and lime, or dump out the beer bottle, rinse it out, and fill it with your favorite beverage! Nobody needs to know…unless they ask you to try it. Then run away.
So hopefully y’all have a better understanding of alcohol’s effects on your body and ways to conquer social events! Alcohol doesn’t have to scare you, nor should you feel out of control. As long as you listen to your coach and you don’t go overboard often, you can still see great results while enjoying your favorite beverages.