I’m one of our resident Exercise Physiologists, and also an accredited Strength and Conditioning Coach, Personal Trainer and Level 1 Weightlifting Instructor. Outside of the gym, I tend to go in search of good food and great coffee. And yes, Dan’s Shoulder Stretch is mine.
Can you prepare yourself for a big night out and still stay on the bandwagon when it comes to fat loss? I don’t want to admit it, but the answer is yes!
[Caveat: I’m not advocating alcohol as an everyday solution to dealing with your own life. This is about surviving a work or social binge and coming out the other side with your diet intact.]
Maximum Damage, Minimum Alcohol
Most people drink for two reasons – to get drunk or to be social (and not get drunk). This first part is driven at the former: getting intoxicated with less alcohol (cheap, easy and lower in calories).
What you need to know is this – firstly, when alcohol is consumed, it essentially inhibits metabolism of all the other macronutrients (fats, carbs and proteins). It takes priority in the liver, because, well, it’s toxic. And secondly, alcohol does contain calories, but not as many as you’d think (if you’re smart about it).
So we can use this to our advantage.
Rule #1: Minimise fat and calorie intake on the day of drinking.
Eat really well for the first half of the day, but minimise fats. Lean meats, vegetables and some carbs are fine. Not the day for a bacon and eggs breakfast.
[Despite what you’ve heard about carbs getting converted to fats (de novo lipogenesis), it’s actually incredibly inefficient in humans. If there’s fat in the blood, it’ll get stored as fat. Carbs won’t, hence the low-fat diet for the day.]
You’re also going to have to be a bit frugal with your overall calories. This is just to offset the calories you’ll drink later that night.
[If you’re reading this and thinking “but I usually start drinking in the morning,” that’s not good. Stop that.]
Rule #2: Don’t eat for a couple of hours before drinking.
Remember, I’m not suggesting this is in any way healthy. But as you’ve probably experienced, drinking on an empty stomach hits you so much quicker. There’s nothing to buffer the rate of gastric emptying, and so the alcohol makes it into the bloodstream much quicker. You won’t need to drink much at all to get pretty tipsy, and you might even earn the moniker “Toucan Sam.”
Rule #3: Dry whites and spirits FTW.
These are lower in calories, and often “cleaner” in terms of the hangover the next day. No cocktails, no sugary drinks (liqueurs) or mixers (soda water yes, tonic water no).
Rule #4: No binge eating (or at all).
Most of the damage to your fat loss efforts comes not from the alcohol, but from the ridiculous food choices we make. Nobody eats the petrol station kebab while sober…
Minimum Damage, Maximum Alcohol
The opposite scenario. You’ve got to endure a four-hour binge session with work colleagues because it’s part of the “culture”. It’s expected that you’ll have a drink in hand at all times, but you want to keep your wits about you and stay in control.
Rule #1: Eat a big meal of protein and carbs before drinking.
This will act as a buffer to any alcohol by slowing the rate of gastric emptying. Just as we discussed before, protein and carbs (particularly high-fibre varieties) are very unlikely to be stored as fat, but will drastically slow the rate that alcohol gets into the blood. Think very lean steak, potato and salad. No dressings or “fixings”.
Rule #2: Space drinks out as much as possible.
Slowly. And intersperse each drink with a glass of water. You’ll be running to the toilet all night, but you won’t wake up feeling half as bad as you could have…
Rule #3: Avoid the canapés.
Remember, the alcohol doesn’t do the damage. The crap food around the alcohol does. If you do have to eat something, go the high-protein, low fat option.
The Take Home Message
I’m not suggesting that alcohol becomes a regular part of your daily diet. I’m acknowledging that you’re human and that you like to interact with other humans in a relaxed social environment sometimes (unlike me…does that make me a sociopath?).
These tips are designed to become a “damage control” protocol for those times when you know things are either going to get messy, or you’ve got to “maintain face” in the eyes of your colleagues.
Minimise the fat, be conservative on your calories and enjoy your night, guilt (but possibly not hangover) free.
[If you want a more detailed explanation of the science behind this stuff, read some of the work from Martin Berkhan (Lean Gains) or Menno Henselmans (Bayesian Bodybuilding). They’re smart dudes and have the science to back it up.]