In this article we’ll explore the effects of alcohol on our bodies and fitness goals and answer the question on many dieters’ minds: “Can I drink alcohol and still reach my fitness goals?”
How can Alcohol obstruct our progress at the gym?
- Interrupted and poor quality sleep
While you may start snoring as soon as your head hits the pillow after a few drinks, you will not get enough REM sleep, which is the type of sleep in which your body restores itself and recovers. As a result, muscle recovery will not be as good and you will have less energy the next day, meaning your workout will suffer.
- Slower muscle building
Those who drink heavily are likely to suffer from reduced muscle protein synthesis and a decrease in peak performance even up to 36 hours after drinking.
- Increased cravings for junk food
We recommend whole foods and complex carbohydrates to help regulate blood sugar and limit the peaks and crashes experienced when you eat sweets and processed foods. Alcohol, or more accurately the sweet cocktails or fizzy mixers it often comes with, sends your blood sugar skyrocketing in exactly the same way as a bag of gummy bears, meaning that when the crash happens, you are more likely to grab fast food or anything nearby to satisfy your hunger.
- A don’t care attitude
Despite all your very best intentions, when you drink alcohol you are more likely to make decisions that you wouldn’t make sober. This can mean that you end up eating foods that you wouldn’t usually eat, as well as making it harder to say no to the next drink.
- Fat burning is put on hold
In simple terms, your body is designed to get rid of alcohol as a priority (we can’t store it), which means that, while alcohol is being processed, your body can’t do any of the things you want it to focus on, like burning fat or building muscle. On top of that, calories you eat when your body is already ‘busy’ will get stored as fat for your body to deal with later.
Follow these 7 tips to minimise the damage if you know you're going to be drinking:
- Drink in moderation
You’ve heard it a thousand times but it really is the only way to be able to keep alcohol in your life and still earn a body you are proud of (binge-drinking has been associated with higher levels of belly fat). We can process approximately one unit of alcohol in one hour, so stick to one drink an hour or less, and try not to have more than 2 drinks in one sitting.
- Choose wisely
Opt for clear spirits with soda or a diet mixer over creamy cocktails.
- Track everything you consume
In the same way that you would (we hope) keep track of the foods you eat when you are sticking to certain macros or calories, make sure you also track your drinks. Knowing just how many calories are in an espresso martini might just be the nudge you need to save them for very special occasions!
- Hit your protein goal for the day BEFORE you start drinking
Protein will help you feel fuller for longer (giving you a better chance of avoiding that junk food later) and will also help maintain your muscles.
- Take a good pre-boozing supplement
We recommend b-vitamins, curcumin and some silymarin (milk thistle extract), all of which combine to give the liver what it needs to help process the alcohol and toxins that your body has to deal with when you drink. A great supplement that we recommend to clients is Liver Defense from Proteus Nutrition
- Drink water before, during and after your other drinks
Alcohol is a diuretic, so making sure you are sufficiently hydrated at all times will narrow your chances of waking up with a dry mouth and a pounding headache (both signs of dehydration). Your liver also needs to be fully hydrated to properly do its job of detoxifying the alcohol from your body.
On days you know you will be drinking, try to drink even more water than usual – you will thank us afterwards!
- Consider your daily calories
We certainly do not recommend starving yourself to make room for the calories you plan to drink later, but it is sensible to consider some healthy swaps for the meals surrounding a drinking event. Eating lower fat is one option, since fat contains more calories per gram than carbohydrates (and you will already be eating your regular amount of protein). A pre-going out meal of lean steak with vegetables would be a great choice.
ATP Personal Training uses a step-by-step process working with you to find out what works best for your unique circumstances to socialise sensibly and create new healthy habits that keep you sustainably healthy and in-shape.
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