Contrary to popular belief, alcohol isn't the fat-storing demon it's often made out to be. Here's is everything you need to know about alcohol, fat loss, and how you can incorporate drinking into your weight loss plan.
Before we get into the topic of alcohol, fat loss, and actionable advice for drinking while dieting, we need to make sure that we are in the right headspace.
(so you'll need to read this sober 😉 ).
I want you to quickly think about and answer this question:
"WHY are you losing weight and making fitness a priority in your life?"
For most of us, the big "whys" include:
- Losing fat and building a lean & healthy body we're proud of.
- Being Strong and improving our confidence
- Feeling comfortable in our own skin
- Feeling more attractive
Of course, things like improving health, avoiding disease and living longer all make the list of reasons to lose weight, but they aren't usually what wake you up in the morning to pack a healthy lunch for work and get in a 6 am workout.
Most of us want to look sexier and feel better about ourselves - and there's nothing wrong with that.
But regardless of what motivates us to live a health-oriented lifestyle, we all want to improve the quality of our lives and increase the amount of pleasure we derive from it.
Here's Where Alcohol Gets Thrown into the Mix
For a good chunk of us, drinking alcohol is part of enjoying life, and the good news is that it's totally possible to drink and still accomplish your fat loss and fitness goals.
We've been told time and time again that alcohol and losing weight don't mix. And, for the most part, it's true. There's no real fat loss benefit for drinking alcohol.
But does that mean you have to avoid it entirely? Heck no!
Far too often, we hear that something is "bad" for our fitness goals and our gut-reaction is to avoid it at all costs.
We're told eating fast food is bad, so we curse Ronald Mcdonald back to Clown Hell. (sidenote: I got cold chills thinking of a hypothetical "Clown Hell"...)
We are told that bread is the master fat-storing pleasure food, so we do away with it and cry in the corner as we eat our lettuce-wrapped turkey burgers.
But, the truth is that most of the things labeled as detrimental for losing weight, in reality, aren't all that bad.
More often than not, it's an issue of moderation and control, and in that way, alcohol is the same.
I think we can agree that, when consumed in excess, alcohol can very easily lead to unwanted fat gain, overeating, and questionable decision making...
But if you plan your consumption and practice moderation with your drinking habits, alcohol can still be a part of your life without negatively affecting your fat loss priorities.
Alcohol may not physically help you lose fat, but it's not going to automatically shut down your body's ability to lose fat, build lean muscle, and stay thin either.
Fitness-related hoopla aside, drinking can provide positive life benefits such as reducing stress as well as lead to more socializing and fun with friends.
In this article, you'll learn:
- 5 Must-Know's About Alcohol and Fat Loss
- The Mindset of Moderate Drinking
- The Five Decrees of Drinking on a Diet
- How to Handle a Hangover
- Drinking and Dieting Without Counting Calories
- The Best Fat Loss Friendly Drink Choices by Category
This is a longen'. But it's packed-full of 100% actionable fat loss advice, so sit back & enjoy!
5 Must-Know's About Alcohol and Fat Loss
Must-Know #1 - All weight loss comes down to calorie balance. If you consume a greater number of calories than your body needs, you'll gain weight. If you consume fewer calories than it needs, you'll lose weight.
The ONLY way you'll gain weight is from consuming too many calories, regardless of where the calories come from.
Do you know how calories affect weight loss?
Must-Know #2 - three primary macronutrients make up our food: Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fat. All three of these macronutrients contain calories.
Alcohol is unique in that it doesn't fit into any of these three macronutrients but still contains calories. Thus, it is often considered a fourth macronutrient.
Each macronutrient contains a specific number of calories per gram:
- Protein has 4 calories per gram
- Carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram
- Fats have 9 calories per gram
- Alcohol has 7 calories per gram
Must-Know #3 - Another unique characteristic of alcohol is that it's not easily or directly stored as fat. However, the caveat is that drinking alcohol makes it more likely that your body will store fat from the food you eat that day.
Must-Know #4 - Here's why: you liver converts alcohol (ethanol) into this stuff called acetate which is then oxidized to carbon dioxide and water.
Your body essentially treats alcohol as a poison (hints the term: inTOXICation), and prioritizes getting rid of it before moving on to food calories.
So alcohol isn’t stored as fat, but rather suppresses fat burning temporarily – making it easier to store body fat from excess food calories. (This is especially true if the food you're eating puts you in a calorie surplus for the day.)
Must-Know #5- Unfortunately, It’s very easy to drink too many calories from alcohol and push over your calorie budget. Liquid calories, in general, are going to be much less filling and satiating than solid calories.
Think about how easy it is to drink a 100 calorie eight-ounce glass of OJ.
To quickly summarize those 5 Must-Know's:
Alcohol calories work differently than other calories in that they aren't directly stored as fat. However, alcohol calories are metabolized before food calories, making it easier to store fat from the food you eat.
So, when all is said and done, the calories from alcohol still account towards your daily intake.
If you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain fat. (whether those calories come from protein, fat, carbs, or alcohol)
Now, I don't know about you, but I think this is some freakin-fantastic news!
You see, not only is it possible to drink alcohol and not gain fat, you can actually lose fat while drinking (that is, if you practice calorie control and moderation).
Here in a minute, I'll give you the most effective and actionable strategies for drinking alcohol while losing fat - I call them the 6 Decrees of Drinking on a Diet.
But before we can talk about how to drink alcohol while dieting, we need to discuss the mindset required to achieve a positive alcohol-fat loss relationship
With the right mindset, you can easily juggle fitness goals with non-fitness pleasures and still get amazing results.
The Mindset of a Moderate Drinker
Regardless of our individual reasons for losing fat and getting fit, we are all making fitness a priority in our lives.
The benefits of fitness are stupendous, but the reality is that doing all of the things needed to be successful (i.e. going to the gym, eating right, creating healthy habits, etc.) can be very time-consuming.
A lot of hours, early morning workouts, willpower, sweat, spoiled workout clothes, self-motivation, cooking, prepping, measuring, and planning goes into achieving the body you want.
So it makes sense why people are afraid or hesitant to do things that could potentially undo the hours of hard work they put into their fitness goals.
But as we've seen from countless studies and failed New Year's Resolutions, complete restriction from "non-diet" foods, drinks, and activities usually ends up biting these same people in the butt.
They put so much effort into their fitness goals and avoiding temptations that they eventually burn out.
They go out one night, slip up on their perfect diet plan, and feel so guilty that they say, "screw it," and go way overboard.
Then they play "damage control" the next week by restricting even more only to do it all over again come the weekend.
It's a perpetuating diet cycle that you do NOT want to get caught up in.
I've been there, done that, and don't plan on going back.
So how can you avoid going back and forth between overly-restricting and giving into temptation?
Moderation is the "Secret Sauce" For Drinking Alcohol and Losing Fat Simultaneously
Moderation is the middle-ground between the two extremes of fitness.
On one side of the extremes, you have the people like we just talked about who are too restrictive, and on the other side, you have people who are way too loosey-goosey with their diet and exercise to get real results.
Right in the middle, though, is where you find the folks who are gettin' shit done!
It's where you find moderation, sustainability, and long-term success.
When it comes to drinking, you need to find this moderate-middle for yourself. Where you land will depend on how important drinking is to you with regards to your fitness priorities.
For example, if you enjoy going out and drinking semi-heavy on a weekly basis (4-8 drinks, 2-3 nights a week), then you'll have to be okay with the possibility of having slower fat loss progress.
On the other hand, If your goal is to maximize your rate of fat loss, then drinking less frequently (a few times a month or every other weekend) and only have 2-4 drinks max when you do go out will undoubtedly yield greater results.
The Bottom Line: being on either extreme of the dieting spectrum (being too restrictive or too lenient) is a recipe for failure. Instead, you need to find the "Moderate-Middle" between your fitness goals and your non-fitness pleasures.
This moderate-middle is different for each person depending on their personality and goals.
For drinking alcohol, you need to determine a) how quickly you want to get results, and b) how much and how frequently you want to drink.
Once you figure that out, you can start organizing your plan for drinking alcohol on a diet.
The Five Decrees of Drinking on a Diet
This section is more for those who drink more than 2-3 alcoholic beverages a few times a week or every other weekend.
If you are only having 2-3 drinks a few times a month, it's probably nothing to worry about.
I wouldn't even worry about planning ahead of time for the usual beer, glass of wine, or low-cal mixed drink as the added calories will be minuscule in the grand scheme of things.
But, if you are one of my party-hardy followers trying to lose fat while maintaining a social life that involves semi-regular drinking, then you'll benefit from following these Decrees.
(Note: If you're only having 2-3 drinks, but they are super-sized 500-600 calorie margaritas or liquor slushies, then you should follow the advice that follows as well.)
All Five Decrees Revolve Around Planning
Planning is vital for lasting success with most things–especially when you want to drink alcohol on a diet plan.
Failing to prepare for a night out of drinking can quickly turn into a fat-gaining disaster...
You see, part of the enjoyment of drinking is that it has a destressing and mood-loosing effect. It's great when our intentions are good, but this same effect is also what sometimes causes us to make decisions that we wouldn't usually make under normal circumstances.
For example - When you're slightly inebriated (or wholly intoxicated), you're more likely to make food choices that negatively impact your fat loss goals.
This is why it's so crucial that you plan ahead of time. By planning out your drinking, you significantly reduce your chances of overeating on high-calorie "drunk" foods such as pizza and Insomnia Cookies.
To assist you in your plan, I created this list – the 5 Decrees of Drinking on a Diet – to help you out.
The First Decree: You MUST Account For The Calories
For myself, I've found 600-800 calories to be a good buffer to save up for (4-6 tequila drinks with a zero-calorie mixer).
You may need more or less of a buffer depending on how much and what you drink, but either way you'll need to account for the additional calories.
Remember, you'll only gain weight from drinking if it puts you into a calorie surplus for the day. If you can stay in a deficit, or at least not go over your maintenance calories, you won't gain fat.
The Second Decree: Get in Protein & Veggies Early
Prioritize lean protein sources and veggies during the day will provide a couple of benefits.
For one, lean protein and vegetables will help you stay fuller, and lead to less late night snacking. Secondly, they'll help you get in a healthy amount of fiber and micronutrients for the day.
The Third Decree: Avoid the "Drunk Meal"
Like I said early, it's not usually drinking alcohol that causes weight gain but rather the 1 am Taco Bell (aka extra food) you're eating that pack on the extra pounds.
The best way to avoid post-drinking snacking is to plan to eat BEFORE going out for drinks. If you make this decision before you go out – no drunk food – you'll be much less tempted.
Note: if you do eat after drinking alcohol, just be sure to save your calories for the food or practice portion control. (Unfortunately, drunk calories count too)
The Fourth Decree: Stick to Lower-Calorie Beverages
IPA beers, sweeter wines, and fruity mixed drinks are fine if you only plan on having 1-2 drinks, but more than that and the calorie count will quickly start to add up.
The reason is that the added carbs and sugar in these types of drinks are going to inevitably make them higher in calories.
Instead, you should opt for dry wines, light beers, or liquor mixed with zero-calorie mixers (i.e. rum & diet or tequila & sparkling water).
Dry wine, light beer, and liquor don’t usually contain added sugar and carbs, making them better options if you plan on having more than a few drinks.
The Fifth Decree: Don't Overdo a Good Thing...
I keep harping on this idea of moderation, but it's seriously so freaking important when trying to balance fun with fitness.
The more you drink (and move from "a little tipsy" to "I can't feel my face"), the less likely you'll be to follow through on your drinking plan.
Not only will it lead to bad decision making, but it will also cause a host of undesirable outcomes days afterward. (Ever had a hangover?)
Whereas a 1-3 drinks won't really affect workout performance or recovery, having 4, 5, or more heavy drinks will.
You'll have a crappy workout the day after drinking, or you won't adequately recover from working out before drinking.
Your best bet is to be sane, and practice moderation.
Being moderate with your drinking will give you all of the benefits while limiting the possible drawbacks.
(sidenote: you'll have to define what "moderate" means to you 😉 )
The Five Decree Short-List:
Decree #1 - Alcohol calories still count. If you're tracking calories to lose weight, you need to account for alcohol too.
Decree #2 - If you know you'll be drinking later in the evening, be sure to plan your meals out beforehand with mostly lean protein and veggies to help with satiety and hunger.
Decree #3 - If you can, avoid eating during or after you've started drinking as it's usually a recipe for disaster.
Decree #4 - Stick to low-calorie drinks such as liquor and a zero-calorie mixer. You'll get the benefits of drinking without the added calories of sugar-heavy wines and carb-loaded beers.
Decree #5 - Don't overdo it....
No one is having fun the day after drinking too much.
Avoid it all together and practice moderation - there can ALWAYS be too much of a good thing.
How To Handle a Hangover
If you only have a few drinks, then you probably won't have to worry about dealing with a splitting headache and/or inside-out stomach feeling the day after drinking.
But if you do end up having more than 2-3 drinks (I'm looking at you Mr. "12-Pack Jack"), then don't be surprised when you wake up with symptoms of a nasty hangover.
I don't drink often, nor have I ever drank enough to get seriously sick, but I have experienced some of the undesirable consequences of drinking a little too much.
Here are some of the things I do to both limit the chances of a hangover and also recover from one:
- Stay hydrated throughout the night: A lot of the groggy and low-energy feelings of being hungover are usually a result of being mildly dehydrated.
- Eat, or don't: Listen to your body, sometimes a hearty breakfast is all you need to get up and going while sometimes it's best to avoid food until your stomach settles. Whatever you choose, just be sure that you are drinking plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
- (Wo)Man Up!: Honestly, there's not a whole lot you can do to eliminate the negative effects of drinking entirely. You may just have to suck it up and fight through it temporarily.
Your body isn't worried about how much your head or tummy hurts while it's trying to get rid of the ethanol poison you forcefully shot down your mouth.
"DUDE, WTF - that's like your sixth tequila shot! What did I do to deserve this?" - your Liver.
Drinking and Dieting Without Counting Calories
If you're trying to lose fat quickly or in a certain amount of time but don't want to count calories and macros, I'll first ask - why not?
In my personal experience with losing weight and helping my clients achieve their fat loss goals, I've found tracking calories to be the best way to see quick and consistent results.
Here's Why You Should Be Counting Calories to Lose Weight
But, if you are against tracking for some reason, here's what I recommend you do:
During the day, eat lean protein sources and starchy/green veggies only.
Protein sources might include:
- Egg whites
- Egg substitute (Egg Beaters)
- Chicken breast
- Lean ground turkey
- Lean steak or beef (around 96/4)
- Non-fat Greek yogurt
- Protein Powder
Veggie sources might include:
- Mushrooms (not the magic variety)
- Green Beans
When you go out, stick to low-calorie drinks such as liquor and zero-calorie mixers or dry wine.
The protein and veggies will keep you fuller throughout the while keeping calories low, and the low-cal drinks will allow you to drink more for fewer total calories.
The Most Fat Loss Friendly Drink Choices (by category)
Not all alcoholic beverages are created equal. If you want the most bang for your buck, you should be choosing drinks that contain a higher alcohol-to-calorie ratio.
Here are some common drinks with the alcohol-to-calorie ratio (from greatest to least):
- [BEST] 80 Proof Liquor on rocks or Zero-Cal Mixer
- Dry Red & White Wine
- Light (low-carb) Beers
- Cabernet & Sweeter Wines
- Regular Beers/Ales/IPAs
- Four Loco (maybe just skip this one...)
- High-Calorie Margaritas
Note: each drink above accounts for one serving or 14g of alcohol (5oz wine, 12oz bottle of beer (5% abv), 1.5oz liquor or 12oz liquor & zero-cal mixer, etc.
Best Beer Options (12-ounce bottle):
- Budweiser Select 55 - 55 cals - 7g alcohol
- Rolling Rock Green Lite - 83 cals - 10.4g alcohol
- Michelob Ultra - 95 cals - 11.8g alcohol
- Miller Lite - 96 cals - 11.8g alcohol
- Busch Lite - 95 cals - 11.5g alcohol
My favorite: Kentucky Bourbon Ale - 190 cals - 29g alcohol
(not great for quantity, but great for taste if you're only having 1-2 total drinks)
Best Wine Options (5-ounce glass):
- Skinny Girl Red Wine - 100 cals - 16.8g alcohol
- Dry, White - 94 cals - 12.8g alcohol
- Cabernet - 110 cals - ~14g alcohol
Best Mixed Drink Options (1.5 ounce + mixer):
- Tequila (80 proof) and club soda - 96 cals - 14g alcohol
- Jack and Diet Coke - 98 cals - 14g alcohol
- Vodka and sugar-free Redbull - 105 cals - 14g alcohol
My favorite: "NorCal" (tequila-double shot, club soda, lemon & lime squeeze) - 190 cals - 28g alcohol
My second favorite: Old Fashioned - 180 calories - 18g alcohol
In the same way that 2-3 slices of pizza every once in a while won't lead to excessive fat gain, but scarfing down a whole pie every night will, alcohol only becomes a serious problem in excessive amounts.
The occasional 1-2 drinks, 2-3 times a month won't matter much in the grand scheme of things. Those extra 500-800 calories are minuscule when looking at a total month's worth of calories.
But any more than that and you'll need to account for the calories from drinking while losing weight.
At the very least, you'll want to reduce the amount of food you're eating the day of drinking to balance the alcohol calories with the food calories.
Remember, fitness is meant to ENHANCE our lives, not make it more stressful.
You shouldn't have to skip your best friends bachelor party or pass on drinks with your hot Tinder crush just because of your fitness goals.
Practice moderation, use common sense, and you can have your liquored-up cake...and eat it too? (not sure where I was going with that, but you get the point 😉 )
Want Help Losing Fat and Keeping It Off Forever?
Alcohol is only one obstacle in the way of keeping you lean.
If you want to have long-term success, you'll need to have moderation, balance, and self-discipline in all areas of your life.
And the best way to find this balance is through embracing a few, but fundamental truths of losing fat, the main ones being:
- Eating in a calorie deficit
- Using exercise strategically to build muscle
- Developing the patience to be consistent over time.
Following these Three Indisputable Truths of Fat Loss are what have allowed me to lose weight and effortless keep it off for good.
Here's How You Can Lose Fat Once and For All
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