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).

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

**********************

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 seven 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.

195 Comments

  1. Rick says:

    Hello Sir.

    I’d really like a no-judgement answer to this question, I realize It’s alarming.

    I am in the military and I’m looking to cut down. I regularly fill a glass with just straight vodka and chug it. Probably a red solo cup almost filled up. I do this twice in a night, probably two or three times a week. Am I completely destroying my progress?

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Yes, but also more generally, your health. Specifically, you are damaging your liver and past a certain point it can become irreversible.

      Tell your CO, he will get you the counseling you need.

  2. Derk west says:

    Hi I’m currently on a diet and walking every night and so far I’ve lost 23 lbs. Every Saturday me and my wife have friends over and we drink and have a good time and I’m not looking to change that but I would like to know I’m not ruining my progress for the week by doing so. I don’t eat much and only healthy food before I drink and I drink only whiskey on the rocks is that ok? Or can that hurt what I’ve done for the week?

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      It’s all relative. Currently, you’re progressing, so that answers your question from a fat loss standpoint. (One whiskey on the rocks will be 80-160 kcal. The weekly caloric deficit needed to lose 1 lb of fat is 3500 kcal.)

  3. Bart says:

    Hi Andy,

    Just read the article. Interesting approach. I tend to disagree with the statement that only all the excessively consumed fat is stored when drinking alcohol. First of all why would the fat be stored at all if the is no insulin in the blood which is storing hormone (assuming no carbs was consumed) ? Secondly if somehow there is insulin released to the bloodstream anything that we consume (above daily caloric needs) will be stored as fat not only fats, so will carbs and proteins. Right ?

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Hi Bart, thank you for the questions.
      1. Insulin is not needed for fat to be stored.
      2. No.
      I think you may have read some incorrect information regarding insulin. It comes from the insulin hypothesis of obesity that Gary Taubes and Robert Lustig make their money off of promoting (the former, despite his own research results contradicting his hypothesis). It is an overly-simplistic form of scaremongering that is just about simple enough to gain popularity.

  4. Cathy says:

    So happy to find this information. You are right to say that immediately after drinking when dieting one can feel defeated.
    This information gives me a better understanding of what happens to dieting when drinking and the choices we can make to fit into our lives.
    I feel less defeated this morning. Thanks!

  5. Robert says:

    Hi Andy. Really great article!!

    I would have one question. Very important to me.
    I do leangains. Cutting 0%/-20%
    I’m regularly invited to dinner to my friends. It happens regularly once in 2-3 weeks.
    We drink no alcohol but eat dinner and than I can’t count calories.
    Which pieces of advices would you give me.
    What schould I pay attention to? Eat more protein for instance?
    Should I resign from dinner und take my calculated eating ?
    I’m cutting.

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Hi Robert, the guidance you are after is here:
      The Complete Guide To Setting Up Your Diet

      1. Robert says:

        Thanks Andy!
        I will read it. It’s so common problem, that I’m sure it is described there.
        By the way I will my knowledge extend.

  6. David Apel says:

    Hi Andy,
    Love your site and have made great progress with the information you’ve provided!
    Question regarding this.
    If I knew I had a night of drinking coming up and I solely ate grilled chicken breast/veggies/salad as my meals for the day (which would be very minimal fat). Would the type of drink I have become irrelevant since I’ll be storing minimal fat once I go over maintenance calories?
    I.e. would there be a difference between me having Michelob Ultra vs Sam Adams Summer Ale, which is more calorie dense?
    If I understand everything you’ve wrote correctly, the answer would be “no”, but just figured I’d check.

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Hi David. That’s correct.

  7. Felix says:

    Hi Andy,

    Thanks you for this information.

    However, I’m a little confused. On https://rippedbody.com/how-to-use-intermittent-fasting-to-eat-like-a-king-and-keep-your-abs-this-holiday-season/comment-page-1/ you claim that the weekly intake is more important and you can even out during the following days to avoid fat gain.

    On this page in contrary, you have examples of how much fat will be gained on a single day (“Do you gain or lose fat on this day?”?)

    Which one is true?

    Thanks,
    Felix

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      They are both true. The one looks at what happens on a single day, the other looks over the course of a week.

      1. Felix says:

        Is the fat really “gained” on “that day” or did you just put it that way to simplify? Thanks

        1. Andy Morgan says:

          Yes, it is gained.

  8. Jennifer says:

    Hi how are you 🙂
    I have a question im pretty new to all this and was wondering if you can help me?
    My daily calorie intake is 1200
    and i workout (bootcamp) and burn between 500-600 calories
    How much alcohol would i be able to drink afterwards?
    I drink low carb cider here in australia thats 131cal per drink…

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      How much alcohol would I be able to drink afterward?
      And break even? 550/131.

  9. Maxx says:

    So, as long as I am under my calories intake and never work out but I do walk 30min a day, I will lose weight?

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Hi Maxx, thanks for the question. If your energy requirements exceed your energy intake, you will lose weight. You can estimate your calorie intake needs here.

  10. Chris says:

    Andy, long time fan of rippedbody and LG. Just read this article because I’m having a hard time staying lean lately. I typically have 1-2 beers 3x/week. This article makes it sound really simple. I limit my fat calories on the days I’m going to drink. Is it really that simple? Thanks for explaining this!

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Yup. Most welcome Chris. 🙂

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