Can You Drink Alcohol and Still Stay Lean?
Monday, March 14, 2011
This topic seems to be a common struggle I hear from a lot of people: They want to get lean, but they don't want to give up drinking alcohol.
Now, I'm not talking about alcoholic type of drinking (THAT is obviously a problem)... We're just talking moderate, social drinking here.
First, although some people may willingly choose to give up alcohol entirely, I still think most of us can drink in moderation while still staying perfectly healthy and lean. But there are a few tricks that can help you to not pack on the pounds... and I'll mention those in a little bit.
As for myself, it comes down to choosing what I'm going to be strict about to maintain my fitness lifestyle and what I'm not going to be strict about.
For example, I'm pretty strict about never eating anything deep fried or made with trans fats, never eating white bread and never drinking sodas or sweetened soft drinks of any kind. But I'll admit that one thing I've chosen to not be strict about is drinking alcohol
Well yes, it's true... I'm in my 30's now and I certainly don't drink as frequently as I did back in my crazy college days (man those college days were fun!), but I'll certainly enjoy some cold ones when hanging out with friends, going to a BBQ or dinner party, or during a night out at the bars and nightclubs.
It's all about balance in your life, and not every aspect has to be "perfect" in order for you to still get the body and health that you want. You'll drive yourself crazy if you're trying to be perfect.
Of course, if you have no problem abstaining from alcohol and willingly make that decision, then that will certainly be the best thing for your health and your body.
However, for the rest of us who actually do like to partake in some social drinking, here are a few tips that have helped me to stay "single-digit body fat" lean, while still drinking alcohol occasionally.
TIP 1. Obviously alcohol gives you extra empty calories on the days that you choose to drink. Alcohol has 7 calories per gram, compared to 4 calories per gram for carbs and protein, and 9 calories per gram for fats.
However unlike ingesting carbs, protein, or healthy fats from a healthy food source, drinking alcohol gives you LOTS of calories with very little micronutrients.
On nights that I know are going to involve some drinking, it helps to make sure that dinner is based only around protein and vegetables. You're going to take in a lot of empty calories with the alcohol, so eating a good portion of appetite-satisfying protein along with nutrient-rich vegetables can help to control your appetite and give your body the nutrients it needs.
Plus - most importantly - there's just no room for loads of carbohydrate-rich foods if you're also going to be consuming alcohol. Carbs + alcohol is a perfect recipe for growing a beer belly! Try to keep your dinner a fairly low-carb meal to save yourself from extra empty calories.
TIP 2. If you want to save your body from adding layers of ugly fat, stay away from syrupy, fruity drinks that are loaded with sugar. This is a double whammy for your gut, as you're not only getting all of the empty alcohol calories, but also loads of empty sugar calories. Big fruity drinks such as a big margarita, or other tropical fruity drinks can sometimes have as many as 500-600 calories per serving and 70-100 grams of sugar!
to be mentioned, but if you care about your body, any drink that uses soda pop as the mixer is going to be loaded with sugar (usually high fructose corn syrup) and calories.
Instead, your best bet is to stick with a clear alcohol mixed with club soda (NOT tonic) and a squeeze of lime or lemon (hey, at least you get a little vitamin C and antioxidants with the squeeze of lemon and lime!). Vodka with club soda and extra lemon and/or lime squeeze is my drink of choice at the bars and nightclubs.
Stay away from tonic water mixers! Some people don't realize this, but tonic water is loaded with almost as much sugar as regular soda pop... on the other hand, club soda has no calories at all. It's clearly the lowest calorie way to drink.
TIP 3. If you're going to drink beer, you're better off choosing just 1 or 2 dark beers rather than 5 or 6 light beers. Sure, dark beers have more calories than light beers, but dark beers also have more B vitamins and antioxidants than light beers, so you actually get more nutrition from the dark beer. As long as you keep it to just 1 or 2 dark beers, you may still stay within 150-400 calories.
Also, it generally takes a little longer to drink a good dark beer compared to a watery light beer.
TIP 4. Try to get in a high-intensity, full-body workout before your night of drinking. If you do this, at least you've revved up your metabolism and helped your body to process those calories a little faster.
Also, trying to get in some sort of exercise the morning after your night out can also help to get your body back to a good state of health. This may not be your best workouts in terms of energy, but it can help to just get your body moving and break a sweat, and get back to a good homeostasis.
TIP 5. Avoid the late-night munchies after a night of drinking! This is where most people do the biggest damage to their waistlines.
Instead, make sure to have some lean protein and vegetables quickly available at home (perhaps some pre-cooked chicken breasts, grass-fed steaks, or even tuna fish and some veggie sticks) so that you can satisfy your late night post-party appetite with lean protein instead of carbohydrates. Veggies and protein is the key here.
The worst thing for your body is loading up on pizza, ice cream, and other carb-rich junk after a night of drinking.
TIP 6. If you drink multiple drinks socially, try to keep drinking alcohol to only 1-2 days/week maximum if you want to stay lean. On the other hand, if you never drink more than 1-2 drinks per day, I think having 1-2 drinks daily with a meal can still be part of a healthy lifestyle. As long as those calories are accounted for and you still stay within your daily caloric maintenance.
TIP 7. Wine is one of the healthier drink choices. If you must have a drink, you might as well choose wine so you at least get a good dose of antioxidants as well. Red wine is known for it's antioxidant content, however even white wines contain some antioxidants as well... white wines just aren't quite as high in antioxidants as red wines.
Hey, if you can get a little resveratrol while enjoying your company, why not!
And finally, like I mentioned before, drinking alcohol just adds one more thing to your list that you have to work against in getting the body you want.
Abstaining may always be the best choice, BUT we also need to be realistic and know that social drinking is not something that most people are willing to give up entirely.
For that reason, this list of tips to help manage social drinking in a healthier way can really help you to stay leaner and healthier and still balance a little bit of social drinking into your life.
Til next time,
Don't be lazy... be lean.