Alcohol & Fitness: Do they mix?

Many who start on the fitness journey, dread this question.

Will I need to completely give up alcohol? 

Does fitness come at the cost of my social life?

What! No Beer? Whaaaaaa!

And it’s a fair question, what with the fitness-industry’s relentless anti-alcohol stance. But what is it about alcohol that sparks such an extreme reaction amongst fitness-enthusiasts? More importantly, is the path to fitness one of complete abstinence? Or can you do something about it? Let’s find out.

The 3 Problems with Alcohol

Empty Calories

If you remember from the first post on weight-loss diet, we spoke of Empty Calories – calories from foods that have zero nutrition. Foods that are just plain calorie bombs. Foods that are, in effect, just (some form of) refined sugar. Alcohol is the king of that category.

That’s the prime reason why fitness nerds hate alcohol. Because it eats up your calorie quota but gives you nothing in return. No protein to build muscle, no good fats for lubrication and no good carbs for energy. Just calories that your body has no use for. So it doesn’t really process them, just stores them away. Bad deal.

Diuretic

Second problem with alcohol is that it dehydrates you. And dehydration messes with your body’s ability to synthesize protein. Which leads to muscle loss (or lack of gain after a strenuous workout). Alongwith all the other dehydration-related issues that I’m sure you’ve heard of. If not, read this.

Alchohol begets alchohol

The third, and perhaps the biggest problem with alcohol, is that unlike food – the more you have, the more you want. It’s the reason why restaurants  have ‘happy hours’ and ’shots on the house’. Ever seen them be that generous with food?

So, what’s the verdict?

Should you stop consuming alcohol forever?

Well, I’d say yes if it was possible. Clearly, when it comes to fitness, there is no good that alcohol brings (if you ignore the stray ‘wine improves heart health’ sort of articles). But equally clearly, stopping drinking isn’t a solution.

But maybe managing it is. Here are some pro tips:

Reduce calories

First up – below is a visual list of calories in different alcoholic beverages.
gallery_nrm_1420046916-alcohol-infographic-2

And here is an alcohol calorie calculator for you. Go on, check how many calories from alcohol alone are you consuming every day/week/month.

From the list, you’d notice that most hard liquor – whiskey, rum, vodka – has a similar number of calories per ml. What makes one alcohol worse than the other, then, are 2 things:

  1. What you mix your alcohol with?
  2. How much of it you (tend) to have?

As you’d notice, cocktails have about 2-3 times as many calories as neat alcohol. Clearly, all that extra sugar is coming from the mixers. The juices and the cokes and the syrups that make your cocktail so yummy. And it’s the yummy-ness of the drink that makes you have more than you ought too. Did you know that alcohol is actually a depressant ? Why you feel high and happy while consuming it is because of all this extra, unnecessary sugar that’s entering your system.

So first and foremost, cut the mixers. Like most people, I started drinking with the ’tasty’ drinks like Screw-Driver and LIIT and Baileys (which is a calorie bomb if there ever was one). But once I learnt this truth, I’ve trained myself to love the simplest of drinks – Whiskey + Water.  A combination you can find anywhere, that adds no extra calories, and that compensates for the alcohol caused dehydration right from the start.

Which brings me to the second point.

Hydration.

We’ve spoken about how important water is in the fitness scheme of things. Well, that importance doubles in the presence of alcohol. So either find a drink where water is the mixer, or follow this simple thumb rule:

Have a glass of water for every glass of alcohol you consume.

This has dual benefits. It’ll keep you hydrated, and reduce your ability to over-drink. And you’ll have a much, much more pleasant morning the day after.

Over-drinking

Which brings us to the last problem. How to drink but not keep drinking? How to consume in moderation?

This is the holy grail really. A few drinks at a few social gatherings isn’t that big a problem really. Its when few becomes quite-a-few that things starts getting really ugly. And as we know, alcohol has this peculiar way of making you want more. So what can you do to break this trap?

There are 3 tricks that work well for me. Two we’ve discussed – don’t have ’tasty’ cocktails or mixers that make you want to drink more and drink a lot of water to hydrate and keep yourself full.

The third trick I use is that I eat after two drinks. And I eat a full, protein heavy, low-carb meal. It’s important to note both the meal composition and timing.

I eat after 2 drinks because over-time I’ve noticed that it’s around the third drink that I begin to lose control over how much I want to drink. That heady feeling settles in and I get into my ‘oh cmon I deserve this’ mode and put back a few more and then it’s all down-hill. You should notice your inflection point and eat before that. The presence of food in your tummy will get your body back in action (trying to digest the food) and not let the alchohol wreak havoc on your brain.

Even more importantly though, don’t let that meal be full of carbs. (I know, that’s exactly what you crave when you drink. The body is bitch sometimes). Carbs, are a bit like those sugary mixers when it comes to activating the reward sections in your brain. Simply put, too much carb will push you further into the ‘happy-feeling’ seeking mode, which will, in turn, lead to more alcohol (Atleast that’s how it works for me. The minute I have some bread or some dessert with my alcohol, I suddenly am like ‘bring-it-on’)

Eat a lot of protein instead, and the body will need to do some hard work breaking it down. Also, the extra protein will help compensate for the protein-synthesis hampering effects of alchohol that we spoke of earlier. Win-Win.

Wine & Beer

These two deserve a special mention. Especially beer. From the calorie list, you’ll see that a glass of beer has more calories than 30ml of any other alcohol. But that’s not the main problem. Problem is the way we consume these drinks. In pints, by the glass, and maybe thrice a week. That’s the problem.  I just wanted to call them out because they aren’t as innocent as they look. They are more calorie dense (given the unit of consumption) and more harmful (given the frequency at which we consume them) than regular alcohol. So beware.

There is also something to be said about snacks – alcohol’s evil-genius brother. This master-of-disguise that hides there in plain sight, is as harmful (if not more) as alcohol, and yet acts all innocent. But I’ll say it in another post.

For now, be happy in the knowledge that you don’t need to be a monk to lose weight. But alchohol is quite bad for your diet and hence must be had in moderation, without mixers, and with a lot of water. And remember, eat before you tip over.

Oh and everything I said assumes that your calorie quota allows for it. Cheers!

Comments

  1. Partha Basumatary

    Bhai, tu HERO hai… Seriously, never read a better fitness blog than yours. Many colleagues and friends in office also go through your blog here in KL… Keep it up!!!

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