Can you get jacked, stay lean, and still enjoy drinks with your friends?
It’s possible. Really.
Let's be honest: you go to the gym so you can look hot.
Yes, of course, you want to be strong and healthy into your old age. But if you’re like most people, you lift weights and eat right to look good in clothes and look hot naked. So you can command attention in the room and get noticed.
When you’re feeling good and have a slammin’ bod, you want to socialize and meet people. And often that means having a few drinks.
But here’s the thing: when you turn into Mr. Funtime Drinksalot, your rock-solid body goes soft pretty quickly.
So there’s a problem…
Too Much Booze Will Erase Your Muscle Gains
Alcohol is not a friend to your muscle mass. It will make you weak and zap your drive to hit the gym. This happens through a variety of mechanisms, but the main problem is lowered testosterone levels. So the key is knowing how much you can tolerate and when to stop.
To protect muscle mass and testosterone on a night out, the research is pretty clear: you can drink up to 0.5 gram of alcohol per kilogram of bodyweight. Beyond that your muscle-building hormones drop, sleep is compromised, stress hormones rise, next-day performance suffers, and you generally feel like shit.
So how does that translate into real life? A 175-pound person can have around 3 drinks — that’s a mixed drink or shot, a 12-ounce beer, or a 5-ounce glass of wine. If you’re under 140 pounds, stick with 2 or less.
As long as you follow this guideline, a few drinks here and there won’t affect your strength and muscle mass. So unless you’re getting sloppy on the regular, you can drink socially without sacrificing gains.
Which leads to the inevitable question…
Will Booze Make Me Fat?
Contrary to popular belief, alcohol doesn’t easily get stored as fat. But it does halt fat burning, and it causes the fat you eat to be stored on your gut, ass, and elsewhere. How do you minimize this? Eat less fat on the days you’re going to drink.
When you reduce food calories to account for alcohol calories, you can maintain your weight. If you count macros, substitute each drink for 10-12 grams of fat. And don’t forget to count the carbs that may be in your drink. That’s 5-7g of carbs in a glass of wine, or 10-15g in beer.
Stick to hard liquor with zero-calorie mixers (like club soda or diet soda). Dry wine and light beer are also good options. Avoid sugary cocktails (like margaritas or negronis), sweet wine (sorry, rosé lovers), and heavy beers like IPAs or Guinness. They’re loaded with carbs, and they make you want to drink and eat more.
There’s one important myth to dispel here: brown liquor does not contain sugar or carbs. That’s right, whiskey, bourbon and rum contain the same number of calories as clear liquors, like vodka, tequila and gin. Even if a drink is made from sugar cane (like rum), the sugar is fully converted to alcohol when it’s fermented and distilled. All 80-proof liquors have around 110 calories per shot with zero carbs and zero sugar.
Once you’re buzzed, you’ll have to avoid the drunk munchies. Alcohol reduces inhibition and can lower blood sugar levels and increase cravings. Translation: you want to eat the refrigerator and a side of fries.
Whether you’re drinking at happy hour or late night, have a protein-heavy dinner with lots of veggies and fewer carbs and fat. Don’t drink when you’re hungry, unless you have dinner planned ahead. If you’re only social drinking, you should still have to wherewithal to make smart choices.
But What if I Want to Get Smashed?
Special occasions happen. You want to celebrate and not do some lame booze-for-pounds calculation. You’re going to drink and you’re gonna get drunk.
Here’s how you mitigate disaster:
Hit your protein target for the day, and eat as many non-starchy vegetables as possible. If it’s a training day, you can eat a few carbs around your workout, but this should be a protein/fiber-centric day.
Plan ahead to avoid the drunk munchies. When you’re wasted, you really don’t give a shit about some tips you read on a blog…you just want the french fries. Do your drunk self a favor and plan ahead with protein-heavy snacks such as cottage cheese, pre-cooked chicken or steak, lunch meat and low-fat cheese slices, or Greek yogurt.
Stay hydrated. Excessive alcohol interferes with your body’s ability to rehydrate itself, so try to go 1-for-1 with drinks and water. Sure you might have to pee all night, but it’s better than feeling like death the next day.
Stay fed and don’t drink on an empty stomach. This shouldn’t be a problem if you focus on protein during the day and plan late-night protein snacks. Having some food in your stomach will slow the absorption of alcohol so you can carry a nice buzz all night instead of getting fall-down drunk by 11PM.
Plan Your Training and Drinking Around Each Other
Your goal is to maximize fitness and maximize fun. You can do both if you know how to plan your week.
Drink on training days. You’ll probably be eating more calories and carbs on the days you lift (or at least you should be). Saving drinks for higher-calorie training days will make the food/booze substitutions easier. Just remember: the more you drink, the more you kill your recovery from training.
Work out early in the day. If you can work out between your first and second meal, you’ll have more time to recover and feed your muscles post-gym and pre-bar.
Plan to hit the gym the next day. Planning a workout for tomorrow will keep you honest tonight. And while you can’t literally “sweat out the booze,” a post-booze workout gets you back on track quickly.
If your main goal is fat loss, drink less overall. Fat loss is just easier when you don’t drink. You’re trying to maintain a caloric deficit, and your body needs fat and carbs for recovery, hormonal balance, and overall health. Trading them out for alcohol is less than ideal.
Follow these simple guidelines and you’ll be on your way the social life you want in the body you need.