Alcohol and your fitness goals – 8 tried and tested tips to minimise the impact

Wherever you are in your fitness journey, it is likely that you will know at least something about the 3 macronutrients, or ‘macros’; protein, carbohydrates and fat.  But did you know that alcohol can be referred to as the 4th macro?
Alcohol gives us energy (calories) and is enjoyed by many of us.  But it is not essential to sustain life and so calories from alcohol are sometimes referred to as ‘empty calories’, that is, they provide no other nutrition whatsoever.

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?”

When we decide to get in shape or take steps towards a healthier lifestyle, many of us also try to give up the beer. We know instinctively that alcohol usually goes hand in hand with late nights and unhealthy foods (or sometimes no food at all) and we can foresee that early morning gym sessions are unlikely if we have a foggy head from the night before.
But work commitments, social events and even family celebrations are part of our lives, and on many of those occasions we can feel left out if we aren’t there raising a glass of champagne with everyone else. While it is undoubtedly easier and better for us to stop drinking altogether, it is very unlikely that most of us will do so, and so the best thing we can do is learn how to balance alcohol and to enjoy it in moderation.
It is not optimal for us to include alcohol in our diets when we embark upon a fitness transformation, but it is possible, and so the more we can learn about the effects of alcohol and how we can mitigate them, the better.

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:

  1. 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.

  2. Choose wisely

    Opt for clear spirits with soda or a diet mixer over creamy cocktails.

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

Everyone has different goals when it comes to fitness and their physique, so what works as balance for one person might seem far too strict for someone else.  Whatever your goal is, we recommend that everyone has more alcohol free days per week than days on which they drink.
However much alcohol you choose to consume, more drinking simply means slower results, which can lead to you becoming less motivated, which means even slower results…  But with a little planning you don’t have to be completely teetotal, and even that elusive six-pack may not be totally out of the question.

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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