Do you ever feel guilty for drinking? If you’re anything like me, you bust your ass all week in the gym and kitchen to create the body you want and once the weekend rolls around the desire to kick back, pop a top, and hang with some buddies is ever present. Problem is, those adult libations you so liberally enjoy are polar opposite to the rest of your lifestyle. But they’re good, and you don’t want to be the hermit who doesn’t drink, eats out of tupperware, and isolates yourself from society because you’re one of those “health nuts.”
Wait, nevermind, you don’t care what other people think about you, that’s the sign of a weak-minded individual and since you lift weights 4 times a week you have the mind of Marcus Aurelius! That’s cool, let’s cover how you can include alcohol in your lifestyle plan without sacrificing all of your hard work in the gym or your demanding social life.
After coaching clients for more than 8 years I recently sat down and threw together a way to include alcohol in our nutrition system. For a very long time I simply threw out this blanket statement: “alcohol is poison, drinking is a detriment to fat loss and isn’t allowed on my program.” This worked well for some, but the majority of my clients drank anyways and just lied about it.
I also ran into a conundrum when I would go meet my buddies for some beers and inevitably run into my clients doing the same. Talk about an awkward interaction when the dude you’re paying for nutrition advice is sucking down wings and beers (not practicing what he preaches) and you run into him while you’re doing the same and passing off your 5 lb weekend weight gain as “too much sodium from the pickles on my lettuce wrap.”
Yes, I enjoy eating food that is not good for me and pouring poison into my gullet, so why did it take me so long to realize it was unrealistic to believe my clients weren’t going to give that up? Because I believed my word was that of a messiah and no matter what I said people were going to listen to me, and when they didn’t get results it wasn’t because my direction was wrong, it was because they lacked will power and were mental midgets. Thankfully I’ve since changed my approach and not only can I avoid guilt ridden encounters when out on the town but the results both myself and clients are experiencing are amazing.
To explain how alcohol can be included in a nutrition program one first must know how to count macronutrients and convert them into calories. The 3 macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Alcohol is not a macronutrient but has a caloric value attached to it as well.
1 gram of protein = 4 calories
1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories
1 gram of fat = 9 calories
1 gram of alcohol = 7 calories
Counting macros is a popular approach when attempting to lose or gain weight – it’s also important to know that in order for either to happen you must be in a caloric deficit (lose) or surplus (gain).
Now that you understand the very basic math associated with measuring food we can move on to the reason you’re here in the first place – how do you include alcohol in your program without effing everything up?
Not yet, almost there 🙂
You probably believe that your light beer only contains 3 grams of carbs, after all, Lance Armstrong drinks them when he trains and all the skinny beautiful people in the commercials pound them down after their day of mountain climbing and golfing at Pebble Beach. Right, well here’s the thing: alcoholic beverages are not required to contain a nutrition label. Unlike every other food or beverage item in existence, alcohol does not fall under FDA regulation and therefor doesn’t have to include what’s supposed to be law – a simple label identifying what is contained in each product. This leaves you believing that your booze of choice is healthier than it really is, especially those claiming “light” or “skinny.”
Let’s use the the Lance Armstrong beer as an example. It’s marketed to those who live a fit lifestyle so it serves our purposes well. On the label it states 2.6 grams of carbs and ONLY 95 calories. Using the math above we can break it down and find this:
2.6 grams of carbs x 4 = 10.4
95 – 10.4 = 84.6
Where are those remaining 84.6 calories coming from?
Does beer contain protein or fat?
These are questions you’re left to answer on your own as alcohol companies purposely omit certain information on the label with the hopes that you’ll do exactly what you’ve been doing and ignore the other 80+ calories since they’re not coming from one of the 3 primary macronutrients. “Ghost calorie” is a term used to describe the remaining calories that come from the actual volume of alcohol in your drink (remember each gram of alcohol contains 7 calories).
The 84.6 “ghost calories” from our beer example come from 12 grams of alcohol (84.6/7).
The average alcoholic beverage contains between 10 and 14 grams of alcohol – totaling 70-98 calories.
Instead of ignoring those calories and hoping they disappear because you’re afraid of how bad you’re jacking up your plan you need to count them. But how?
My clients and I follow macro counting with a touch of flexible dieting sprinkled in to create sustainable plans that encourage long term adherence – a fancy way of saying we eat and drink whatever we feel like as long as we fit our consumption into our macro parameters. Alcohol is not a macronutrient, but we must count those ghost calories somehow, so we substitute them for carbs or fat.
Below is a list of common alcoholic drinks and their calorie amounts:
To include one of these options take the total amount of calories and decide if you’ll be substituting for fat or carbohydrates. If you chose carbs divide the number by 4 to determine the grams of carbs you’re substituting for, if choosing fat divide the calories by 9.
Here’s how each option would break down:
Those are some pretty big numbers huh?
That’s the common reaction I get when teaching people how to account for booze in their program.
In order for this system to work you should be keeping track of your macro intake. If you don’t do that, well, you probably didn’t read this far. But if you did, search macro calculator on Google, enter your info and you can have your own numbers set up in a couple minutes.
I’m not encouraging drinking, quite the contrary, from a nutritional standpoint alcoholic drinks are devoid of any benefit. However, sustainability is the foundation of any proper lifestyle plan and I’m choosing to acknowledge the reality that most of my clients drink and teaching them how to do so while continually making progress is infinitely more valuable than shunning them for their completely normal adult behavior.
Consider this a give and take method. You’re given leeway to include what’s largely considered a no-no for anyone seriously pursuing health and fitness goals by taking away whole, nutritious food. In return you must exercise responsibility and realize this is NOT a pass to drink all of your carbs and fat but rather a strategy to allow you to enjoy life a little bit more.
Now go have some unadulterated, guilt-free fun!