Here’s a question that comes up all the time:
Can you achieve your health and fitness goals and still drink alcohol? Is there such a thing as healthy drinking?
The short answer is yes. The longer answer is still yes, but you’ll need to follow a few basic rules.
Light to moderate drinking – less then 7 drinks per week for women, less then 14 drinks for men – doesn’t seem to have any negative effects on the body or brain. In fact, we’ve had a number of clients lose a significant amount of fat while still drinking alcohol.
The media loves to play up the positive research findings of alcohol. Wine is good for you! Beer is better at hydrating you than water!
Now while it is true that there is a compound in wine called resveratrol that has been studied to show it’s anti-oxidant properties, you’d have to drink about 10 bottles of wine to get any significant amount. And beer is 90% water, so yes, drinking beer can help hydrate you. But let’s not start bringing six packs to the gym now.
Healthy Drinking = Light To Moderate
Heavy Drinking = Bad News
What we do know is that when alcohol consumption becomes heavy – over 14 drinks per week for men and over 7 drinks per week for women, then you start to increase a host of risk factors including: high blood pressure, cancer, learning and memory problems, and of course alcohol dependence.
The reality is that drinking is a part of our culture. It’s a social lubricant that’s woven into many areas of our culture, especially in the business world. And let’s be honest – drinking can be fun. It can taste delicious.
I firmly believe there is a way that you can drink your booze and still stay healthy and fit. Here’s your 4-step plan for healthy drinking:
1) Remember, Calories Still Matter
A few things happen to your body when you drink. For one, your inhibitions fade away which can lead to “liquid courage” or “beer muscles” as they like to say. Alcohol impacts good decision making, especially around food choices. When’s the last time you ordered a pizza at 2am sober?
It’s not only poor decision making, but alcohol has a numbing effect on the stomach which allows you to eat a larger amount of food than you’d normally eat.
So in order to avoid these poor decisions, you need to have a game-plan.
Here’s a simple rule that we use with all of our clients. On the nights that you do drink, sub out either the starchy carbs or dessert for alcohol. Make a conscience choice to have the drink or 2 and not have something else.
So that means skip on the bread, rice, potatoes, or dessert and enjoy your drink instead.
2) Not All Drinks Are Created Equal
Understand that fruity cocktails like pina coladas, daiquiris, premixed margaritas, and sangrias are absolute calorie bombs. One of these drinks could have almost 400 to 500 calories. If you have 2 or 3 of those, you have now just consumed almost a days’ worth of calories with no food!
Large mixed drinks with soda or fruit juice would also have a lot of calories.
Beer and wine are in the middle ground. Keep in mind that tasty pale-ales or lagers will have a few more calories than light beers.
My advice is to order a hard liquor of your choice with minimal to no mixer.
My favorite is a clean Margarita – Order good tequila, add a decent amount of lime juice, and maybe a splash of orange juice if you want to sweeten it up a bit.
Or a Martini works well too.
Either way, now you can make a more informed choice. If you love the fruity cocktail, by all means drink it. But understand what you’re getting into.
3) Stay Hydrated
The most important rule of drinking is that you stay hydrated throughout the night. We all know that alcohol will dehydrate us, but keeping water intake up will also ensure that you process the booze more efficiently and minimize the negative effects on the body.
For every drink you have, make sure you have at least a 12oz glass of water. Yes, you will pee often. But you’ll also be much less hung over in the morning. It’s well worth the extra 2-3 visits to the bathroom if you ask me.
4) Keep Weekly Drinks Under 15 For men, Under 8 For Women
Moderate drinking will not cause harm as we discussed above, especially if you make good choices with your booze. However, there is a cut-off point where chronic drinking will start to negatively affect your health. There are so many variables that will determine that specific amount for you and your body.
As a general rule, most studies show that heavy drinking (over 15 drinks per week) will harm you in the long run. If you are a larger man, close to 200 lbs or higher, 15 is probably the accurate upper limit, but for the smaller women out there (under 120 lbs), I would say 7-8 might be all you get before it starts affecting your health.
Make a Slightly Better Choice – That is All
So, again it’s not about telling you what you should or shouldn’t do. It’s about being informed and having the knowledge to make better decisions. The big point in all of this is that getting healthy, dropping a few pounds DOES NOT and SHOULD NOT be an all or nothing deal.
You can still drink and maintain a healthy, fit body that works well. The idea is that you make slightly better choices once you have more understanding of what’s in certain drinks.
You make slow progress and you move the needle week by week. That’s how you make lasting change that actually sticks.
Plan out the drinks, enjoy them and stay focused on what you’re trying to achieve.
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