Refer back to Part 1 for the 411 on the effect of alcohol on your fat loss or muscle gains. In short, it’s not a pretty picture.
I’m not going to tip-toe around it. Alcohol consumption makes things a lot harder for the body composition conscious individual
Part 1 concerned the scientific rationale behind alcohol and weight management / body composition.
Part 2, however is more in the realms of me thinking aloud, and offering some practical strategies regarding alcohol consumption and fat loss, or at least maintaining a relatively lean body.
But now, let me light the way for you a little.
Up to now, I’ve sort of given alcohol a bit of a kick in the balls (and quite rightly, to be honest). But much of my philosophy lies in the concept of balance:
‘fit/strong/healthy meets enjoyable lifestyle’.
Let’s therefore bring in some balance, and talk about the potentially beneficial things associated with alcohol consumption
- Let’s face it. It tends to coincide with holidays, parties, other fun times, and great memories that you will remember far more than a Friday night in with your brown rice and chicken! #alittleperspective
- As mentioned in part 1, the research on alcohol is mixed. Some of it indeed is positive. Alcohol consumption has been linked to living longer, for instance (Gaziano et al, 2000) Anecdotally, the French for instance seem to drink their share of red wine and live to long, healthy lives (statistically far more so than Americans/Brits etc).
- A potentially positive effect on insulin sensitivity and diabetes (Arima, 2002) (Pietraszek, 2010).
Certainly, if you want to get in TOP shape, you likely need to get rid of alcohol (unless you’re one of those genetic freaks).
But if a staying in reasonable shape whilst keeping alcohol in your life sounds like a reasonable compromise, here are some strategies that may help you:
STRATEGY 1 – Don’t drink alcohol AND eat at the same time
Alcohol is given number 1 priority when it hits the body (Siler, 1999). It is the first thing your liver is looking to metabolise and convert into energy once it enters the system.
When drinking, consider that each gram of alcohol equates to roughly 7 kcal. Yes, you do the mathematics (refer to Part 1 how many calories are in beer/vodka-redbull/wine). You’re probably having your fair share of alcohol-calories if you’re out for the evening drinking.
Now because ethanol metabolism is given a priority, let’s ask for a minute: what’s going to happen to the rest of the calories in your cocktail, not to mention the food you just ate?
You got it —>> Fat storage!
Your body puts a stop to other metabolic processes in order to deal with a far more pressing issue of the toxic mess. And until it has been dealt with, your body will be forced to delay utlisation of fatty acids and, essentially, your food.
A good analogy I’ve heard before is this: a man can’t possibly work two jobs at the same time. He needs to wait until his shift is over from the first before starting the next. In this context, alcohol metabolism is the job number 1.
STRATEGY 2 – Better choices of alcoholic beverage, for health and body composition
An example: Red wine
Not all alcoholic drinks are created equal. Some drinks (like red wine) can even be healthy and beneficial.
Red wine is one of my favourite things in life… at least it was, until I discovered through my LEAP MRT test that grapes are a highly inflammatory food to my body. But just because my body doesn’t respond well to wine, it doesn’t mean you need to miss out on its extensive benefits:
- High in resveratrol, procyanidins and saponins. Between the two of them, this can reduce inflammation, reduce LDL cholesterol, inhibit cholesterol oxidation, protect against neurodegenerative diseases, help insulin sensitivity and have a protective effect against type II diabetes.
- Contains melatonin – which can help with sleep.
1-2 glasses of red wine (only in the evening) can actually be a very healthy habit for some populations.
Another example: Cocktails vs shots
Unless you have no brain, you’ve probably worked out by now (having read Strategy 1 above) that delicious sugar-filled cocktails with a thousand and one colourful syrups are not going to help with weight loss. They’ll help with piling on the body fat.
A better shout, if you want to have some fun whilst minimizing the body fat spillover is to go for drinks that are almost entirely alcohol as far as their calorie content goes.
For instance, a large (35ml) shot of vodka = 72.
All of this comes from alcohol.
Translating this into simple English: drink straight spirits in moderation. 4 shots is far more physique friendly than 4 spirit/mixer combos, which effectively is the same amount of alcohol – but with a truckload of added sugar. I’m not for a second condoning alcohol excess, or not telling you to go and down a litre of vodka! What I am saying however is that if your intention is to get a little “tipsy”, you can drink beverages of a higher alcohol:sugar ratio to your advantage.
STRATEGY 3 – Avoid drinking alcohol with ‘mixers’ to stay lean
This is pretty self-explanatory, and is basically an extension of my last point.
The excess sugar and calories from your mixers will just be stored as fat – not to mention the rest of the damage inflicted upon the body by high sugar intakes, such as a build up of AGE’s and inflammatory markers.
STRATEGY 4 – Protective measures peri-drinking
TIP 1 (generic tip):
Drink green tea and eat antioxidant rich foods like blueberries and apples, to boost antioxidant status in the body.
This will aid the liver with biotransformation and combat any alcohol-induced problems.
TIP 2 (pre-drinking tip)
Eat a small, balanced meal an hour or two before you know you’ll have a few drinks.
This meal should be low in carbohydrates but contain enough protein, fibre and healthy fats to keep you satiated and make sure that blood sugar is stable.
It will also may help prevent blood sugar lows and hunger strikes later on, which will make you more likely to cave in to cocktails / fast food.
STRATEGY 5 – Drink alcohol less frequently
TIP: Don’t let alcohol become a daily thing, or ANY more than once a week (ideally) if you want to prevent fat gain and maintain body composition.
If you’re drinking every day, or even more than twice in a week, it’s not great news (for the mind, body, or the soul).
It may be the case that you need advice from a Jedi ( … that’s Obi-Wan, not me):
“You want to go home and re-think your life”.
Another advantage to drinking less frequently is that your body seems to become less accustomed to alcohol, meaning that on the rare occasion you do decide to have a few, you’ll be far more of a lightweight, and be able to enjoy yourself more.
STRATEGY 6 – Plan your workout times strategically.
Do not to train heavily when you know that later on that day, you’re going to be shunting your recovery capacity with alcohol.
Hard training + high alcohol consumption = No lean muscle gains – perhaps muscle loss – and compromised hormonal status! (Valimaki, 1990)
You’d be completely negating any of the hard work you did in the gym, because as we know, our gains come not when we’re in the gym but during our rest and adaptation. So definitely don’t do a tough workout on the day of a party, let alone a couple of hours before.
For years, I tried to get my best friend out of this habit. He maintained that he didn’t think it made much of a difference, and that he wanted to ‘get a pump’ before an evening out… That ‘pump’ is short lived when you follow it with booze! … And the next day you feel flat as a soft drink left out in the sun for three days.
Of course, eventually he started listening to me, stopped training on days that involved drinking, and proclaimed “Man, this is making such a difference to my body!”
… Finally, I got through to him!
As well as this, the morning after is not a good time to be hitting the gym hard either.
TIP: never try a high volume leg workout the day after a party!
You’ll be weak, it will suck, you will cry, everyone will laugh at you … I’m just guessing… Of course, this has never happened to me 😉
However, just because you shouldn’t aim to set a new PR or do a 100 rep pull up challenge the following day, I don’t think you should skip the gym altogether.
Certainly, the morning after would be a good time to do some interval training or gentle cardio. At least do something to stimulate blood flow, and get back to business on the following day.
STRATEGY 7 – Plan your workout periodization strategically.
Anyone on top of their training game knows that you cannot train “100% balls-to-the-walls” all of the time.
Training with intensity, determination and drive is fantastic. But you must train intelligently, too. If you continue to do max. lifts, strip sets and 100 rep challenges all the time, you will overtrain and stop making gains.
So the best thing to do is periodize your training, alternating between intensification and accumulation phases.
You should also incorporate deload phases into your programmes, where you reduce work volume and let your body compensate.
De-loading doesn’t mean not training. But it does mean taking it easier.
It’s in these de-load phases, that it would be the ideal time to party, or so to speak – and not when you’re in the midst of the most demanding workout programme of your life.
STRATEGY 8 – Question your own behaviours
Ask yourself a few questions:
- Am I doing this because I actually want to? Or has it just become ‘the norm’ in the context of my social circle?
- Is this making my life any better?
- If I didn’t ‘drink’, where would I be now? What would I be doing, in general?
- If challenged, could I actually go out to a party, and NOT have anything to drink?
- If no, why not?
- Are the people I’m hanging out with any good for me …?
For many people, they are in complete control of their lives, habits and they are living in balance.
But for others, they need to dig a little deeper… Perhaps alcohol has become a way to momentarily cover up your insecurities, give you false confidence, or help you to hide from reality.
Hey, I’m not here to answer any of these questions for you! This is for each man/woman to do for himself / herself.
No one is in control of your own life but you!
And it all starts with being honest with ones self.
To wrap it all up:
Understand that alcohol may well be your rate limiting factor in fat loss and muscle, especially if you drink and you’re not in great shape.
When all else is on track: you are training hard; diet is in order; you’re staying hydrated, sleeping well – and yet you still see a baffled look on the face of every person who you tell “Yeah, I go to the gym”, then something’s clearly wrong.
If you’re one of those lads / ladies who likes to party up and go out on the lash fairly frequently, well please put two and two together.
You do the math! It’s obvious why you’re not in as lean as you would like to be!
Listen. I didn’t make the rules. Believe me, if I could change things, I would. And whilst I want you to have the best of both worlds, sometimes, something’s got to give. You may have to transition away from something to make room for something better.
Hopefully it won’t come to this, and you can still drink (in moderation), have the odd night out, and maintain a lean body via applying some of the damage control principles.
But to reiterate what I said initially: I’m not going to tip-toe around the reality of it.
You, yourself need to make this assessment. What do you love more – Six pack abs, or a six pack of beer? Sex on the beach (the drink!), or looking sexy on the beach?
And that’s a decision only you can make.
Arima H, Kiyohara Y, Kato I, Tanizaki Y, Kubo M, Iwamoto H, Tanaka K, Abe I, Fujishima M. Alcohol reduces insulin-hypertension relationship in a general population: the Hisayama study. J Clin Epidemiol. 2002 Sep;55(9):863-9.
Pietraszek A, Gregersen S, Hermansen K. Alcohol and type 2 diabetes. A review. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2010. Jun 3
Siler SQ, Neese RA, Hellerstein MK. De novo lipogenesis, lipid kinetics, and whole-body lipid balances in humans after acute alcohol consumption. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Nov;70(5):928-36.
Välimäki M, Tuominen JA, Huhtaniemi I, Ylikahri R. The pulsatile secretion of gonadotropins and growth hormone, and the biological activity of luteinizing hormone in men acutely intoxicated with ethanol. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 1990 Dec;14(6):928-31.