The Alcohol Guide

Bartender pouring beer into tall glass

I’m often asked by clients, “How can I drink and not screw up my diet?”

Good question. I never say no to alcohol with my clients diets as it’s not realistic. Often, the all or nothing mindset sets people up for failure, because once they have one beer, they decide, “Oh well, I’ve already screwed up so I may as well have 10.” Which combined with the ‘drunken munchies’, means game over.

Beer, shots, margaritas; they can all be ok. Following a few rules could save you.

But, first…

Here Are Seven Things You Need To Understand The Alcohol Guide - Seven things to understand

  1. Consuming more calories than we need makes us fat. Under normal circumstances, it’s the fat that we eat that is stored.
  2. The fat in the foods we eat will only be stored when we consume over our energy needs for the day.
  3. It’s tough for the body to convert excess protein intake to fat, and only with regular overfeeding does the body convert excess carbohydrate intake into fat. However, they both contribute to the energy balance for the day, so indirectly they cause fat gain my causing us to store the fat we consume.
  4. Alcohol does not have any fat, but it has an energy value. Many popular alcoholic drinks usually contain carbs (either from fruit as with wine, hops/wheat/barley as with beer, or sugar from carbonated drink mixers).
  5. Alcohol calories take priority as fuel in the body over other fuel sources (like your love handles). This is because the by-product of alcohol metabolism, acetate, is toxic. So when you drink, fat burning stops until you burn those calories off.
  6. Drinking can easily push us over our calorie budget for the day. This causes some, or all of the dietary fat we ate on this day to be stored as bodyfat, depending on how much over your maintenance calories you drank.
  7. 1 g of alcohol contains 7 kcal. 1 g of fat contains 9 kcal.
Understood? See if you can pass this three question quiz

Q1: Your food intake for the day is 1000 kcal under your calorie needs for the day, 50 g of your calorie intake was from fat. You have three drinks, totalling 500 kcal. Do you gain or lose fat on this day?

A: You are still in a 500 calorie deficit, so you lose fat. Around 55g of it (500/9).

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Q2: Your food intake for the day is exactly at maintenance calorie needs. You have eaten 100 g of fat on this day. You then consume drinks totalling 500 kcal. Do you gain or lose fat on this day?

A: You are over calorie needs by 500 kcal. You store around 55 g of the 100 g of fat you have consumed on this day (500/9), the rest is burned.

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Q3: Your food intake for the day puts you in a 500 kcal deficit. However, you then go out binge drinking with the boys and consume 2000 kcal worth of drinks. Do you gain or lose fat on this day?

A: Your net calorie intake puts you in a 1500 kcal surplus. All fat consumed on this day up to a value of 1500 kcal (~166 g), will be stored. If you kept fat intake low on this day, only that amount of fat will be stored.

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All good? Don’t worry if not just yet, let’s have a look at how we put this into practice.


How To Drink And Not Screw Up Your Diet

The Alcohol Guide - Drink and diet

Drinking In Moderation

Moderation, though hard to define, we’ll call when you drink 1-3 drinks.

The key in these situations is to reduce your food intake by an amount matching the calorie content of the alcohol you are drinking. You can look that up here. The best way to do this is to reduce your fat and carb intake, as you need the protein for satiety and the muscle sparing properties.

Example: You drink three beers

Remember, 1 g of carbs and protein contain ~4 kcal, 1 g of fat contains 9 kcal.

If the calorie total for those three beers (that’ll be carbs and alcohol) comes to 600 kcal, consider taking out 75 g of carbs (300 kcal) and ~33g of fat (~297 kcal).

What are the downsides of doing this often?

  • Alcohol gives us energy, but with none of the benefits associated with the other macros.
  • When you are dieting, recovery can become an issue. When using alcohol calories (instead of say, carbs) to make up your calorie budget you’re stealing from the band-aid drawer so to speak. This is why when you’re dieting you should aim to drink as infrequently as possible.
  • When you are bulking, you’ll gain more fat that you otherwise would have.

Once A Week Hard Drinking/Binge Drinking

Note: I’m not suggesting anyone ‘drink’ their calories on a regular basis. I’m just saying, you don’t have to let worries about your diet spoil your social life, if alcohol is a part of it, if it’s just occasional.

Counting calories isn’t very fun when you’re in the middle of a party. If you’re drinking a lot, you’ll quickly find yourself over your calorie allowance for the day easily.

Fortunately, we can take advantage of the fact that the body has trouble storing anything but dietary fat in the short term when we go over our calorie balance for the day.

So, on days that you know you are going to drink a lot:

  1. Keep your fat intake very low,
  2. Eat your protein target for the day to preserve muscle mass (lean sources such a chicken, egg whites, casein protein), restrict carbs to veggies.
  3. Try to drink shots, dry red wines (they are lower carb), or spirits with zero-calorie mixers (I like Coke Zero and whisky).

If you follow those few rules and keep these things infrequent, you won’t ruin your progress.

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I hope you found this helpful. Questions welcomed in the comments. – Andy


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About the Author

Andy Morgan

I am the founder of RippedBody.com, this is my sincere effort to build the best nutrition and training guides on the internet. Some readers hire me to coach them, which I've been doing online, via email, for the last six years. If you're interested in individualized, one-on-one nutrition and training coaching to help you crush your physique goals, let's start the conversation.

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