Updated: Apr 20, 2019
Every time a holiday weekend or big sporting event arises I am asked the infamous question "Can I drink alcohol and stick to my nutrition plan?" The answer is yes, it can be done. However, I have to preface this article by saying that alcohol is the worst thing you can do for building muscle. It not only lowers your testosterone but it stops muscle protein synthesis. I could get into more scientific detail on this but Menno Henselmans did a great job in his article, 'The effects of alcohol on muscle growth,' which can be found here . I highly suggest checking it out.
Aside from alcohol lowering testosterone and stopping muscle growth, it has calories. Alcohol is actually the 4th macronutrient. Most people know about the big 3 - Protein, Carbohydrates and Fat- but alcohol is in fact a macronutrient and it has 7 calories per gram. That's almost double the calories of protein and carbs but a little bit less than fat.
Protein -4 calories/gram
Carbs - 4 calories/gram
Fat - 9 calories/gram
Alcohol 7 calories/gram
It gets even more complicated when we get into beers because it also is based upon alcohol by volume (ABV) or % of alcohol in the beer, as well as efficiency, which is is defined as the percent of potential grain sugars that are converted into sugar in the wort. (TBH I don't even really know what that means but it's complicated!)
More bad news- Alcohol is digested before the other macronutrients that you have eaten. Generally Carbs are always broken down first. Alcohol and carbs both suppress fat oxidation but alcohol is metabolized before carbs to remove it from the body. The big difference between carbs and alcohol is that carbs can be stored as glycogen (energy) and then excess is stored as fat. This means if you have consumed more calories than you needed in one day by drinking alcohol your body is now going to start storing those excess calories as fat while it's busy breaking down the alcohol. FUN TIMES!
Finally, we all know that judgement is impaired by alcohol. Most people will eat more, and eat anything when they drink. What was once a forbidden food suddenly becomes a great idea. How many times have you stopped for pizza , fast food, Dunkin Donuts or Shake and Steak after a night of drinking? Or for those who aren't into fast food, think about a nice dinner at a restaurant. By the time you have a cocktail and a few glasses of wine your judgement on portion sizes and dessert has gone out the door.
PRO TIP: A good way to avoid this is to order your food before you start drinking!
Now that I crashed your party, let me revive it by telling you how you can get in the least caloric drinks and share some of my favorite cocktails and mocktails!
PRO TIP: If you don't want to drink and don't want to be harassed by others all night, grab a club soda with a lime and everybody will think you have an alcoholic drink. I've gone as far as telling the bartender that I'm not drinking so when guys try to order me a drink please make it non-alcoholic. The struggle can be REAL.
Your Best Choices - light beer, clear liquor, dry red wine or homemade alternatives to the fancy drinks.
Here’s a few of my favorite low sugar drinks:
Mojito (can be made frozen)
What you need: -Fresh Mint -Fresh limes -Ice -Light Rum -Sugar Alternative (Stevia is ideal) -Club Soda
Non frozen- Muddle mint and some fresh-diced limes at the bottom of your cup, put in 1 -2 packets of sweetener top with ice. Fill cup ¼ with light rum. Add 1 ounce of fresh lime juice. Shake up until well mixed. Top off with club soda (AFTER you shake).
Frozen- Add a hand full of mint, ice, juice from 8 fresh limes (NOT lime chunks), pour rum on top of ice until ¼ full. Add sweetener (probably 5-8packs) Blend thoroughly. Pour in cup and top with club soda.
Yields about 5 servings depending on the blender size.
What you need -Fresh lime juice -Tequila -Sugar Alternative (Sweet & Low, Splenda or stevia) -Ice
Pour ingredients over ice & shake or blend.
*optional use fresh OJ instead of sweeteners
Caipirinha What you need -Cachaca Rum -Limes (cut into 1/4" wedges) -Sugar Alternative ( Stevia) -Ice
In a rocks glass, add 1-2 packets of sweetener, diced limes and muddle well. Add ice and pour cachaca over.
Beer– Guinness is the lowest calorie & carbohydrate Beer. Other beer choices would be light beer. Avoid ciders & flavored beers. Here is a good guide to beer calories click here and click here for chart with carbs
Wine- Dry red wine is best. Champagne has higher calories but low sugar, while white wine and sweet red wines have more sugar. FitVine Wines have a healthier alternative to sugar filled wines and can be found in most supermarkets or liquor stores.
This chart can give you an estimated amount of calories based on the alcohol (not the mixer) consumption.
PRO TIP: I buy a huge bag of limes at Costco and juice them all then portion them into 1oz bags and freeze them to use later !
What you need:
-Frozen lime juice
Put frozen lime juice in blender, once blended pour over crushed ice and top with club soda
* can add stevia for extra sweetness
What you need:
- 1 cup Cubed Seedless Watermelon
- 8 oz Coconut water
Place the 1 cup watermelon in a blender until liquefied. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add pureed watermelon, coconut water, squeeze juice from half of the lime into the shaker. Strain into two chilled martini glasses.
You can make this with alcohol as well by adding rum or vodka
Bonus- Watermelon has citrulline which has potential antioxidant and vasodilatation roles . Coconut water contains potassium which can help with hydration.
If making your own mixes are too much work there are a ton of low calorie spritzers, hard seltzer, natural mixers and other similar products on the market now. Stores such as World's Fair and Bed Bath and Beyond often carry them. Make sure you always read the ingredients. And don't get fooled by Agave or other high fructose calorie filled buzz words.
And my all time favorite is Kombucha which can contain alcohol and now can be found at some bars!