The elephant in the room of any conversation about nutrition is ALCOHOL. Can you drink alcohol and be healthy? Can you drink alcohol and still lose weight? How much alcohol is too much? Which kind of alcohol is best
The holidays are the absolute perfect time to be discussing alcohol consumption and overall health, because it’s this time of year that consumption tends to increase. All the holiday parties and festivities… an extra glass of wine because your Mother In Law is at it again… a beer or two during the big game… eggnog spiked with a little rum…Bailey’s in your coffee… champagne toasts on New Year’s.
You get the point.
So the question then becomes how CAN you navigate drinking occasionally and still reaching your goals… whether those goals be to maintain weight, lose weight or even gain weight. Y’all know it’s bulking season, right!?
Just like everything else in life, alcohol doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Alcohol is a part of social life and everyone needs a social life because it helps increase a sense of belonging.
The answer is that you can absolutely drink on occasion and still reach your goals. The key word in that sentence being OCCASION just in case you missed it. Whether you choose to consume alcohol in social situations is totally up to you, but for some people, drinking occasionally is a non-negotiable. That doesn’t mean that it’s healthy and balanced if you’re going out on weekend benders and drinking 6-8 drinks 2-3 times a month. Plus, outside of calories in, blackout drunk isn’t cute when you’re no longer 21.
The concept is pretty simple. If you intake more calories than you need over time you will gain weight. On the flip side of that if you take in less calories than you need over time you will lose weight. Alcohol, if not taken into consideration properly, can be a sneaky cause of weight gain. Especially around the holidays.
In addition to calories in versus calories out, there are several major considerations to take into account when factoring in allowing alcohol to fit into your overall healthy lifestyle.
Alcohol isn’t a food, meaning that it provides 0 nutritional benefit to the body. However, it does have calories, so it has to be accounted for in some way. Our macronutrients also provide calories. Proteins and Carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram and Fat provides 9 calories per gram. Alcohol is neither of those. Alcohol provides 7 calories per gram.
Unlike protein, carbohydrates and fat, alcohol cannot be stored for later use in the body and must be metabolized and used immediately. This means that food that is eaten in the presence of alcohol will not be metabolized as it normally would be. Alcohol is metabolized by converting it to acetaldehyde and then further breaking it down to acetate. The body perceives acetate as a toxic substance and works to rid the body of it as quickly as possible. So in essence, alcohol is the asshole who cuts the line at the amusement park.
So How Do You Track Alcohol in Your Macros?
You have goals you want to reach, but you want to get your drank on too. So how do you balance that out? Well there’s a few ways actually.
First of all it depends where you are in your journey and what your goal is that will help you determine how to track your alcohol. If you’re maintaining weight and eating more intuitively, than you can probably be more intuitive with paying attention to your alcohol consumption and do the conversion between alcohol and food in your head. If you have weight loss or performance gain as a goal, then you need to be a little more precise about the way you track your intake.
If gaining strength, increasing performance or losing fat are goals of yours you will want to account for your alcohol consumption and swap food calories out for alcohol calories. The absolute easiest way to do this is by finding out the caloric value of your alcoholic beverage and then subtract the required amount from your macros for that day.
There are three ways you can subtract calories for alcohol. You can subtract from just your carbohydrates for the day, you can subtract from just your fats for the day or you can subtract equally from both carbohydrates and fat.
Here’s how it works:
Say you ordered a glass of wine. The typical pour size for wine is 6 oz. Most wines are 12% ABV which makes that 6 oz glass of wine equal 115 calories. You could count that wine towards your carbs only by dividing that 115 by 4 because carbs are 4 calories per gram. This yields 28.75 so you would subtract 29 grams of carbs from your day to account for the glass of wine. You could choose to count the wine towards your fats and divide the 115 calories by 9 because there are 9 calories per gram of fat. This yields 12.77 so you would subtract 13 grams of fat from your day. The third option puts you subtracting equal amounts of both carbs and fat to account for your alcohol. In this case you would divide 115 in half to get 57.5 calories you would allot to each carbs and fat. 57.5 /4= 14 and 57.5/9= 6 so you would subtract 14 grams of carbs and 6 grams of fat from your food that day to account for the glass of wine.
Say you ordered a Corona which has 148 calories. Tracking it as just carbs would mean a 37 gram reduction for the day. Tracking it as fat would mean 16 gram reduction in fat for the day. Tracking it as equal parts both would mean subtracting 18 grams of carbs and 8 grams of fat.
Seems simple, right? It definitely takes a bit of work, however work is what it takes to reach your goals. This is where planning ahead will come in handy as well. If you decide in advance how many drinks you want and of what types then you will be able to better plan your day to still stay on track and stay both balanced and healthy overall.