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How to Drink and Stay Healthy While Avoiding the Beer Belly

Drinking with friends around a barrel. Very hipster

Alcohol is probably one of the quickest ways to pause and/or reverse weight loss. Most people know that alcohol contains calories but how many calories are in popular drinks can be shocking. You can eat healthy and restrict your calories for an entire week and make up for all those calories in one night of drinking. Furthermore, alcohol has other lesser known effects that can be hindering your progress. However, there are certain tips and strategies you can follow to drink alcohol while minimizing the impact it has on your health and waistline. 

To confirm what you are probably thinking, yes, I am a buzzkill at parties. So please bear with me as I kill the vibe real quick and then give you some actionable tips to keep your diet on track while still enjoying yourself (and maybe even help reduce your hangover the next morning). I will buy you a shot if you stick around for the whole article (only redeemable in person and you have to find me. Basically where’s Waldo with a prize)

THE BUZZ IS A BUZZKILL

Alcohol itself is about 7 calories per gram. For context, protein and carbs are both 4 calories per gram and fat is 9 calories per gram. However, alcohol is the only macronutrient that does not serve some use to the body, besides convincing you that you can sing and dance like Beyonce.

Drunk Dancing GIFs | Tenor

It’s no surprise to anyone that alcohol can be detrimental to our health, especially prolonged heavy use. In moderation, it can be a part of your life with lower chance of ill effects. You can even still get to single digit body fat while drinking, albeit not as much or as often as you may like. Let’s take a look at some of the lesser known effects of alcohol on our bodies.

  1. Does a Night Cap Help Sleep

The fact that this is a question probably spoils the answer. But I have heard many people claim that they sleep better after drinking. Especially for those who struggle to fall asleep, alcohol can seem like a great crutch to help you fall asleep faster because of its relaxing effect. While it is true that it can help you fall asleep faster and you can still get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep after drinking, there is a major loss in sleep quality. 

Alcohol has the effect of limiting the amount of REM sleep you get in a night. This usually means you will wake up feeling groggy and still tired. This is because REM sleep is essential for restful sleep where the brain recovers from the day. It is also important for overall brain health and long term memory. Being deprived of REM sleep can be detrimental to your health and shorten your life.

Plus, the compounding effects of bad sleep due to alcohol consumption can lead to a slower metabolism, reduced recovery after training, sugar cravings, inhibited mood, and more. Basically, it increases your risk of being fat and sad. Sleep is extremely important for overall well being. I have barely scratched the surface of why it is important to get 7-8 high quality hours of sleep a night. But trust me, it is one of the best things you can do for your overall health.

Now, just because you have one drink before bed does not mean your sleep is worthless. Drinking in moderation (1-2 drinks) has an effect on your sleep but it is minimal [1]. When you start getting closer to binge drinking levels, your sleep will become adversely affected [1]. The more you drink, the worse your sleep gets. 

I have personally measured the effect alcohol has on my sleep using the sleep tracking app, AutoSleep, and saw results that corresponded with the above. The results honestly shocked me as I could see a clear correlation between how much I drank and the quality of my sleep. It seriously makes me reconsider having a casual drink or two before bed on a random night. Plus, I notice my resting heart rate can be anywhere from 10-30bpm higher during sleep after alcohol consumption. That is a lot of extra stress on the heart when it should be taking it easy.

Everyone is different though and how many drinks you have can affect your sleep in a different way than it affects me or anyone else.

  1. Alcohols Effect on Training

Alcohol can slow your progress in the gym. For one, if you wake up and struggle through a hungover lift, you are not training your muscles as well as you are capable of. This means you are leaving potential growth on the table. And this is if you even make it to the gym in the first place.

What about drinking after a training session? Well, if you keep it in moderation (~3 drinks for 150 pound male) and have a proper recovery meal after your session, your body will still work its magic and repair your muscles, albeit not as well as no alcohol. If you start getting above that drink threshold, the muscle recovery can become severely impaired. This means that you will suffer from a detrimental effect for up to 3-5 days post drinking episode. This will seriously impact your ability to build muscle. You can still make progress, but it will be stunted.

Excessive alcohol consumption can also reduce testosterone levels. Testosterone is a key hormone in muscle synthesis and just making you feel good in general. 

Full disclosure, the amount of actual designed studies testing alcohol’s effect on muscle building and fitness are limited. A lot of this is based on speculation from alcohol’s chemical effect on the body and subjective data. So while studies using the scientific method with control groups may be lacking, the idea that alcohol negatively affects the results of your training has a strong consensus of being correct.

  1. The Beer Belly: It’s Real

As was mentioned earlier, alcohol contains very little, if any, nutrients that the body can use. Furthermore, the body treats alcohol as a toxin and it wants it gone ASAP. What this means is that our body pauses using blood glucose as energy to use the alcohol first. This means the burning of fat to create glucose pauses, as well as the use of consumed food as energy. As a result, the calories from the food you consumed, as well as any alcohol calories that are not needed for energy, will be stored in your fat tissue.

Moreover, the consumption of alcohol has been shown to correlate with increased visceral fat levels. Visceral fat is not the typical fat that you can pinch on your body. Visceral fat is stored around the organs. This leads to an extended, bloated looking gut. 

Furthermore, visceral fat is dangerous to a proper functioning body. This is because the fat stored around the organs excrete hormones that cause inflammation [2]. This causes damage to the arteries, as well as damage to the surrounding organs [2]. Without getting too deep into it, inflammation is bad for the body and research keeps emerging linking it to more and more possible health problems.

Jumping back to alcohol and getting fat, we have all most likely been exposed to the drunk munchies. When we drink, the odds of us craving an unhealthy meal or snack increase. Considering how alcohol pauses use of food as energy, those drunk munchies may lead to even more fat gain than they typically would.

BRINGING THE BUZZ BACK

Like I said, I am real fun at parties. With everything we just covered, it would probably seem the next fun thing I would tell you is to not drink anymore. But nope. That’s not realistic for everyone, including myself.

Obviously, alcohol has basically intertwined itself in our social dynamics so completely forgoing it can be a choice many of us do not want to make. Instead, adopting a few strategies can help keep your Friday night from becoming a diet killer. 

MINIMIZING CALORIES FROM DRINKING

A good rule of thumb is your standard drink will contain 100-200 calories. However, sugary mixers or higher ABV drinks can quickly up that amount.

For instance, an average 8oz margarita clocks in at ~300 calories, and if you are someone who likes a jumbo marg (~30oz), you can expect about 1,100 calories. ¡Dios Mio! 

Craft beers typically have higher ABVs than their non-hipster counterparts, bringing their typical calories into the 200-300 range.

The difference between 100 and 200 calories may seem small, but when you drink multiple beverages a night, the calorie differences can really add up. For instance, if you drink two 9% beers per night (250-300 calories each), you would have been able to drink 5-6 bud lights (or other light beer) for about the same amount of calories. 

The same can be applied to mixed drinks. A single rum and coke comes out to about 250-300 calories. Instead, you could have the equivalent amount of calories in three vodka or tequila sodas (soda water). 

Concerned about the taste? Ask for a splash of lime juice in your drink or carry around one of the zero calorie sweeteners like mio or crystal light. Several of my friends in college would go out with packets of crystal light to add to their drinks if they did not like the taste, quickly making the drink taste much better. Plus, switching out a sugary mixer for water/seltzer can work wonders for keeping you safe from a hangover the next day.

The end of the article will have calorie comparisons for popular mixers and drinks, as well as some ideas for mixers to minimize calories.

TRACK IT LIKE FOOD

For the most part, a calorie is a calorie. Therefore, if you want to stick to your diet, tracking alcohol calories just like you would track food calories is important. Planning ahead when you know you will be drinking later that day can be the difference between a successful diet and a diet that fails. 

For instance, if you eat about 2,000 calories a day to maintain your weight and you are going out later, have a plan. So, if you think you will have about 4-5 drinks that night, assuming 100 calories each, you would consume only 1,500 calories from food that day. The remainder of those calories would be saved for the alcohol. This will ensure you stay on track with your diet. These calories do not have to come all from one day. You could just as well eat 1900 calories a day for the 5 days beforehand to create that 500 calorie deficit for alcohol. 

That said, creating huge food calorie deficits that you make up with binge drinking alcohol is not safe for your overall health. This food deficit made up for with alcohol could lead you to having the skinny fat appearance, and nobody wants that.

CONCLUSION

Giving up alcohol entirely would obviously be the best for your overall health, but that is not something many of us are able/willing to do. Instead, knowing how to drink and keep the calories lower can be what we need to have a balance. Many people are already catching on to this, as low calorie drinks, such as white claws and light beers have become increasingly popular. Furthermore, liquor, being mostly alcohol and water, is a great way to keep the calories lower, as long as it is consumed straight or with mixers that contain no calories. Check out the list at the end of this article.

This all falls apart when you lose control of how many drinks you have in a night. It becomes increasingly difficult to keep the calories in control when you are consistently having multiple drinks on multiple nights of drinking a week. If sticking to your diet is important to you, moderation is key when drinking.

This is not to say that one night of excessive drinking will ruin a diet.  We all have those occasions, like a reunion with college friends or a birthday party, where our drinking can get out of control. Just like you cannot get skinny in one day, you cannot get fat in one day (even if you blackout, eat a whole pizza, and then cry in the club). I am all for enjoying special occasions in our life because in the end, we all die anyway, so why not enjoy special moments. But if getting/staying fit is important to you, these wild nights of drinking have to be reserved for those special occasions. Losing weight will be extremely difficult if you spend every weekend drinking like you are in college. 

Thanks for sticking it out through this buzzkill of an article, especially since I have overused the buzzkill wordplay by now. As a special treat, you get a sweet list of calories in different popular drinks, as well as some tried and true mixer swaps to make sure you are an informed drinker. Plus, you are also eligible for one shot on me, ** only redeemable in person 😉 **

CALORIES IN POPULAR DRINKS

Beer (12 oz.)Calories% ABV
Bud Light1104.2
Budweiser1505
Bud Light Platinum1406
Miller Lite964.2
PBR1454.7
Natural Light954.2
Corona Extra1504.6
Corona Light993.2
Heineken1485
Guinness Draught1264
Guinness Extra Stout1766
Coors Light1024.2
Busch Light954.1
Michelob Ultra954.2
Sam Adams Boston Lager1804.9
Rolling Rock1324.5
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale1765.6
Founder’s All Day IPA1404.7
Allagash White1505.2
New Belgium Fat Tire1605.2
Blue Moon Belgian White1705.4
Shock Top Belgian White1705.2
Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA1906
Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA2949
Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA45015-18
Voodoo Ranger Imperial IPA2509
Victory Golden Monkey2609.5
Redd’s Apple Ale1705
Red’s Wicked Apple Ale2708
Best Damn Root Beer2405.5
Mike’s Hard Lemonade2205
Wine & LiquorCalories% ABV
Gin, Rum, Vodka, Whiskey, Tequila (1.5 oz.)~10040
Whiskey (100 proof)12250
Malibu11221
Bailey’s Irish Cream6417
White Wine (5oz)~12012%
Red Wine~12012%
The calories are all assuming the % ABV is equivalent to what you are drinking. Be aware that if you drink a higher ABV liquor or wine, the calories will be higher than what is listed.

Low Calorie Mixer Ideas

  • Mio/Crystal Light/ Other no calorie mix
  • Diet Soda
  • Lime/Lemon Juice (make sure it is no or very little sugar added)
  • Water
  • Seltzer Water
  • Flavored Seltzer Waters
  • Sub sugar for a No Calorie Sweetener (such as stevia)

Disclaimer: the links for products on amazon are affiliate links and I will get a few shiny pennies and nickels if you buy from these links. These are all products I fully endorse and use myself, the links are meant to show you what they look like. If you do want to buy from amazon and throw me some shiny pennies, I won’t be mad though 

[1] Alcohol and Sleep. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/nutrition/alcohol-and-sleep

[2] Moderate alcohol consumption and its relation to visceral fat and plasma androgens in healthy women. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8653140/