Spring is here nation; we made it through yet another winter, and for yet another winter you were faithful to the iron. While other folks hunkered down to avoid the cold, you donned your layers and dutifully kept training day in and day out. And, I would put money down that at some point during that winter training, thoughts of summer crept into your head – backyard barbecues, sun, sand, and pool parties. As winter came to a close, maybe you even dusted off that Leaning Protocol to start trimming down a bit before it was time to show up in a bathing suit.
Fast forward to your first time out in the sun in that suit – someone offers you your favourite drink, and suddenly a list of questions starts scrolling through your head.
Will this affect my performance? Will this throw off all my macros? Will all that hard work over the winter be dismantled one cold one at a time?
Then of course you remember one of the key Power Athlete mantras: Don’t be weird. For hard charging athletes though, these questions aren’t completely abnormal, so we’re here today to help address some of them and maybe put your mind just a little more at ease.
Is Alcohol a Macronutrient?
The short answer is…it depends. Alcohol DOES provide energy at 7 calories per gram, second highest to fat, making it very calorically dense. However, these calories lack one key component found elsewhere: nutrients. The calories you get when drinking alcohol are just that and nothing else, calories. And, at the consumption level of alcoholics (this includes frequent binge drinking), it can lead to skeletal muscle disease (Parr et al., 2014). And as everyone knows, high consumption of alcohol can also lead to severe liver damage
Having Your Cake And Drinking It Too
So assuming you’re not binge drinking on a regular basis, here are some easy ways to enjoy your favorite drinks without affecting that hard work you’ve been putting in:
1. Know Your limits. This one is obvious, but we have to say it. Know how much alcohol you can handle and not go overboard. We’ve found the best strategy is to keep it to one day per week. Ideally, that day is a rest day, with only two drinks for dudes and one for ladies. If you wanted to enjoy some suds more often, another more moderate strategy would be to use these as upper limits for your daily consumption (though again, this isn’t the ideal strategy).
And before you ask, no you shouldn’t “save you drinks from the week” and then have 14 drinks as a guy and 7 drinks for ladies on the weekend. While yes that averages out, it is considered binge drinking and can be detrimental in several ways (late-night Taco Bell or pizza anyone?). No matter how dialed in you were during the week, the weekend caloric bomb of alcohol plus late night eating will undo that work.
2. Timing. There is some evidence to suggest that alcohol can impede muscle protein synthesis, and that it’s best to avoid alcohol before (obviously) or after a workout. How soon after a workout? Ideally, you’d give it several hours before drinking. So that Saturday AM party pump before the beach might not be the best idea, depending what your goals are.
3. Choose drinks wisely. Not all drinks are created equally. Some drinks are higher in calories, which can add up quickly depending how fast you’re guzzling them. And beware of mixers; those tend to have a lot of hidden sugars (which is what makes them so dang tasty). The ideal method would be to drink your drinks, straight, on the rocks, or with soda water.
4. Stay Hydrated. As they say, you only rent beer. Alcohol is a diuretic, sending you frequently to the bathroom which affects your hydration status. Dehydration leads to poor exercise performance, recovery, and is usually a primary culprit in those wicked hangovers. Going on a bender the night before a grueling workout (Memorial Day Murph, anyone?) can be a recipe for Rhabdo if you’re not careful. An easy way to stay on on track and help stave off this monster is to drink one glass of water after each one of your drinks.
The Micro(brews) On Macros
You’ve got the tips in your back pocket, and your strategy for the big beach party. Now you have just one last question – how to I track the macros from those drinks?
Since alcohol is technically not a food, it doesn’t require a food label listing macronutrient levels and nutrients, which can be frustrating for those folks who are tracking everything. One thing we can guarantee: there is no protein in alcohol. But, there are carb and fat-like properties. Typically, the only information you have in hand is the number of calories. With these two pieces of info, you can ballpark some rough numbers to drop into your macro calculator.
See the graphic below to see some common alcohol measurements:
The first way is to enter your alcohol as a carbohydrate. Carbs have 4 calories per gram, so if you divide the total number of calories by 4 that will net your carb grams. For instance, light beer is typically 104 calories per 12 oz, which means you would record 26 g of carbs.
The second way to enter alcohol is as fat. Fats have 9 calories per gram, so you divide the total number of calories by 9. Going back to our light beer example, at 104 calories per 12 oz, you would record 11.5g of fat (104 / 9).
One key point: notice how it says either carb or fat – not both. So for example, if you’re over on carbs for the day, track as a fat (or vice versa)
Make sure you enter one or the other, not both. Remember to keep it moderate, even if you’re drinking light beer. If you drink 3 light beers, you’ve consumed a large portion of your carbs or fat (78g of Carbs or 34.5 g of fat) for the day, with ZERO added nutrient benefits.
DON’T. BE. WEIRD.
We have to say it because we’d be remiss if we didn’t. To maximize health, performance, and body composition, the ideal amount of alcohol to drink is zero (sorry). There’s no way around that. However, we have to return to Power Athlete’s mantra, Don’t Be Weird. If you’re training for a show, or have a huge game coming up, maybe foregoing some drinks would be a good idea in this context. But if you’re out with the boys (or girls), there’s something to be said about having a couple with your friends and enjoying yourself.
If you look back when we were offering some tips, notice how the words “ideal” and “best strategy” kept popping up. We can’t tell you what to do – to quote Power Athlete alum IngoBee, you do you playa, I’ll do me. But, if you manage it well, alcohol can be a part of any exercise and nutrition plan. Be sensible and moderate. If you need some help learning how to stay on track while still throwing a few back, click the link below and get connected to a Power Athlete nutrition coach!
Coaching: Power Athlete Nutrition Coaching
Education: Power Athlete Academy
Parr, E. B., Camera, D. M., Areta, J. L., Burke, L. M., Phillips, S. M., Hawley, J. A., & Coffey, V. G. (2014). Alcohol ingestion impairs maximal post-exercise rates of myofibrillar protein synthesis following a single bout of concurrent training. PLoS ONE, 9(2). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0088384 Steiner, J. L., Gordon, B. S., & Lang, C. H. (2015a). Moderate alcohol consumption does not impair overload-induced muscle hypertrophy and protein synthesis. Physiological Reports, 3(3). https://doi.org/10.14814/phy2.12333
Rob has been in the fitness/strength and conditioning industry for 21+ years. For the last 12 years, he has owned and operated CrossFit West Houston. Through CrossFit, Rob found Power Athlete the methodology course and earning his Block One. Nutrition is a passion which lead him to currently pursuing a Masters program in Nutrition at Lamar University and Power Athlete Nutrition coach.
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