Drinking, a vice that most of us partake in; whether it is a beer every night or going out and partying on the weekends, there is no denying that alcohol is everywhere nowadays. As someone who takes fitness seriously, should this affect your choice to drink? After all alcohol can destroy your muscle growth, increase your estrogen and make you overweight very quickly right?
Not so fast, these myths perpetuated in some fitness communities are not always true. While alcohol can definitely affect an individual negatively when drank in excess on a regular basis, it can also be a safe and viable option for those who enjoy it and want to stay in shape as well as stay healthy! In this article we will discuss how alcohol is processed in our body as well as how to drink without it affecting gains in the gym.
The Science Behind Drinking
By itself alcohol has about 7 calories per gram, 3 more than carbs and fat, but 2 less than dietary fats. Like protein though, the TEF (thermic effect of food) of alcohol is about 20%. What this means is that the body is not very efficient in its ability to use alcohol as energy, and that 20% is lost. This makes the actual value of alcohol closer to 5.5-5.8 calories per gram. While this is not a very big change in caloric value, it is enough to make a slight difference when consuming upwards of 100 grams of alcohol or more in a night (which is about seven drinks).
A misconception about alcohol is that it causes a “beer belly”, or can make an individual gain body fat on its own. In reality this is not exactly the case, as alcohol is not easily stored as fat (the process is too difficult in the body). Do not get too excited though, as alcohol is more of an indirect cause of body fat storage. When consumed, alcohol is broken down into a compound called acetate, which is toxic in the body, causing it to take precedence over other macronutrients to be used for energy. When your body would usually use the carbs and dietary fat you ate for dinner as fuel, when paired with alcohol this is not the case, leading to those carbs and fats going straight into fat storage. While this will not happen to a major degree when only a few drinks are consumed, the amount of fat storage that occurs will increase exponentially depending on many factors that will be discussed in the next section.
How to Drink & Stay Healthy
While some might say not to drink at all for ideal health this also as not entirely accurate, as a single drink for woman and two for men can actually have health benefits (including increasing insulin sensitivity, testosterone and a smaller risk of developing certain diseases). This article is not for individuals who stop at a “moderate” amount of alcohol per day though, it is for those who enjoy drinking to get intoxicated and have fun with their friends. When it comes to consuming double digit amounts of drinks in a night to lose inhibitions, it becomes a great deal harder to not let it affect progress in the gym and in the mirror. It is not impossible though, as there are many tips to have a good time but stay healthy inside and out.
Frequency is the most important thing to be aware of, as the more often you drink the more likely it is to affect training. Once a week, maybe twice is the most you should be drinking in excess as doing this multiple times a week will not only make you more likely to store body fat but will also affect your workouts. It is also important to try and plan a rest day for the day after drinking, because while drinking in moderation will actually slightly raise testosterone, in excess it will considerably lower testosterone for up to 24 hours (not to mention hangovers never lead to great workouts).
✓ Choose Your Drinks
Next would be choosing your drinks carefully, as some will be terrible for your waistline compared to others. Any drinks that have soda or juice mixed in will more than likely cause those sugary carbs to be sent right into fat storage. Opt to have hard liquor mixed with diet soda or drink it on the rocks. Another good choice would be wine which has almost no carbs.
✓ What You Eat
What you eat the day of is very important to help prevent fat gain. While nobody is sure how much they will drink when they go out, it is important to estimate and take out an equal amount of calories from carbs and fat throughout the day to make sure you do not go over your calorie limit for the day. Another important point to keep in mind is eating after you begin to drink. This is something that should be limited or even cut out completely to prevent the possibility of the food going right into fat storage.
While it might be hard to not eat once you have become intoxicated it is most definitely important to help prevent unwanted fat gain. With all these tips in effect it should be easy to enjoy a night out with friends without worrying about it affecting your progress!
Be warned though that if you have drank a lot, not eating on the night will probably lead to you feeling even worse the following morning. So the top tip is to drink in moderation and make sure you drink plenty of water before going to bed.
The next day it is important to make sure you prevent muscle breakdown, and supplements can be a very useful way to help with this. Here’s a few supplements which are worth using:
Branched Chain Amino Acids are essential for protein synthesis and prevent muscle breakdown. Sipping on these the day after you’ve been out drinking will help protect your muscles and also help you re-hydrate.
When you get back from your night out casein would be a great protein powder to take to provide your body with a source of amino acids throughout the night to prevent muscle breakdown and help recovery.
One serving of Impact Whey Protein provides 21 g of protein as well as 4.5 g of BCAAs. Protein is essential for muscle growth and maintenance, so the day after drinking you need to make sure you get in a good protein source. You may not want a full meal, but you can down a protein shake in a matter of minutes.
Take Home Message
Drinking has been and will always be a controversial topic in the context of overall healthfulness and those who exercise. While some argue alcohol will limit fat loss, increase estrogen and lower testosterone no matter what and in any quantity, this doesn’t have to be the case when done smart. At the end of the day there is nothing wrong with having a good time and no need to regret it the day after when the topics we discussed in the article are applied! But of course, drink responsibly and take a cab home.