When trying to lose body fat and get in shape, one of the biggest barriers people face is giving up alcohol. Going out for a few drinks is something we look forward to, due to the social benefits it offers and the fact that it is a reward for the hard work we put in during the working week. Spending time and having a laugh with friends and family over a few drinks can be important for mental health, and such an enjoyable event to look forward to can maintain your drive and motivation at work.
However, many people worry when they want to get into shape, they have to remove alcoholic events form their life altogether. For some, this is not a huge issue, but for others, who thrive off the social interactions that these events provide, reducing or giving up alcohol can be a real struggle. As a result, they can give up their goal of trying to get in shape in order to maintain their social life.
So, the big question is, can you do both? Can you still include alcohol into your routine and make progress with your goal of fat loss? This is what we will explore.
The first thing to point out is how alcohol can negatively affect your fat loss progress. It has what we call ‘empty calories’ (calories with no nutritional value i.e. protein, carbohydrates, fats). Therefore, it can dramatically increase your calorie intake, which means you are more than likely going to be consuming too many calories, which halts and negatively affects fat loss progress. In addition, it encourages your body to break down the ‘empty calories’ consumed as energy, instead of the essential macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fats). This means that these macronutrients are not going to be used properly in your body, which affects progression and encourages fat storage.
There are other negatives that come with alcohol. If consumed excessively, it gives you hangovers, which makes you feel unwell and reduces your productivity the following day. This means that the efficiency of your training will decrease if you are even feeling well enough to train at all. Alcohol also negatively affects the quality of your sleep, which is crucial for recovery and progression. This is because it inhibits the production of the hormone, leptin, which means that you are not going to feel as full or satisfied the next day and therefore are likely to have large cravings, particularly for junk food, which when consumed, affects your diet and your physical progress.
Finally, when consumed excessively (3-4 drinks or more), alcohol negatively affects testosterone levels for men, which is key for toning/building muscle. It can then take 2-3 days for those testosterone levels to return to normal, which delays and hinders progress.
However, despite all the issues that come with alcohol consumption, it still forms a part an important part of many people’s lives. As a result, it can be very difficult to give up completely, especially when they are in social environments. Is there a way around this? If so, how?
If you are going out for drinks or would like to have a drink or two at home, then you can do so. However, you have to be smart about your consumption so that it does not affect your progress. When it comes to calories, you ideally want to stay within your target intake for the day, which means tracking everything you consume, including liquid calories (alcohol, in this instance).
What you need to look out for are alcoholic drinks with a high number of calories, such as beer, wine (red and white), pale ale, cider, and champagne. When consumed excessively, these drinks can drastically shoot up your calorie intake, so make sure you track the calories consumed and have the drinks in moderation. This way, you can still enjoy yourself and stay on track with your progress without entirely restricting yourself. However, do not do this every night – one to two nights per week is what you should aim for, if you really want to consume these types of alcohol and still make progress.
If you want to consume alcohol but are worried about the calories, a good tactic is to go for spirits, such as Vodka, Gin, Rum (all combined with mixers, if you prefer), Martini, or a cocktail without sugar. These drinks have fewer calories and for many people are tastier, more sustainable options. However, as mentioned, keep this consumption in moderation and do not make this a very regular occurrence in order to stay on track in your fat loss phase.
Where excessive alcohol intake can really throw people off track is not just with the consumption itself, but with the behavioural changes after. As mentioned before, it can make you feel unwell and tired in the morning, meaning less productivity the next day. It can also lead to your body craving high-calorie ‘junk’ processed food which can drastically increase your calorie intake. The combination of less productivity and higher calorie intake, as a result of huge alcohol consumption, is going to negatively affect your fat loss progress, especially when this happens on a frequent basis.
So, if you can drink moderately (1-2 nights per week), track it, fit it into your calorie intake, and get back to your routine the next day, then your fat loss progress will not be thrown off track. However, if you are someone who lacks strong willpower and ends up in the aforementioned vicious cycle, going off alcohol for a significant period of time may well be what is required to stay on track with your goal of fat loss.
Finally, there are some other tips to make sure alcohol does not affect your progress. These include banking your calories for alcohol consumption later, so you don’t go over your intake for the day, not drinking heavily the night before your workout so your session the next day is intense and productive, and having a limit on how many drinks you will have that evening (spacing drinks out is a good way to ensure this). Also, make sure you drink some water so that you are not dehydrated the next morning, whilst pre-preparing a meal will mean that you have something to eat when you come back and reduce the chances of you binging on heavily processed foods, such as takeaways.
So, the underlying point is that you can have alcohol and still make progress with your fat loss. However, the alcohol consumption needs to be moderate and should be tracked so that you know how many calories you are consuming. Avoiding alcohol for most of the week is going to be key, but don’t totally restrict yourself, so long as you are in control of your overall consumption.
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