We all know it. Most of us love it. It’s both a right of passage and a form of socialization in our culture.
A lot of us have a love/hate relationship with alcohol. On the one hand, we love the perks.
We love the lowering of inhibitions.
We love the fact that it can relieve stress.
And we love the bonding experience that getting drunk together can bring.
On the other hand, there’s the hangovers.
There’s the stupid shit you say that you only remember the next day.
There’s the utterly humiliating night spent passed out on the platform of a train station…maybe that’s just me ;).
AND, if you work out, there’s the adverse affect that it has on your physique.
Most of us who’ve been in the gym game a while at least have the sneaking suspicion that all that drinking is working against us in the great struggle to get lean.
So what’s the deal here? Does booze hinder us in our quest to burn fat? And is there a way we can drink and still get shredded?
Does Drinking Prevent Fat Loss?
The effects of drinking on your ability to lose body fat are somewhat up for debate, but the general consensus is that, in excess, it does more harm than good.
A couple facts about alcohol and fat loss you might want to consider:
It’s calorie dense: There are 200 calories in one pint of beer. A rum and coke has 150 calories. While one or two won’t kill you, if you’re drinking hard and you put away 8 or 9, that’s a serious caloric overload.
It lowers testosterone: The effects of testosterone on muscle growth have been discussed and debated ad-naseum, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that it possibly makes an even bigger difference when it comes to losing fat, with one study finding a compelling link between obesity and testosterone levels.
- In large quantities, it can dramatically speed up the aging process and make you look older (a topic for another article, but certainly a relevant consideration).
- It’s responsible for an increase in appetite. Which brings me to my next point…
The Indirect Effects
Those are the direct effects that drinking has on you and your ability your ability to lose fat. But there’s also the indirect effect that it has on you, which in my opinion is more damaging.
Part of the problem with booze is that it lowers both your impulse control and your future time perspective (i.e. you stop caring about consequences). This is why it’s so damn hard to say no to pizza (or anything greasy) when you’re wasted.
Then there’s the hangover factor. Think about the last time you went drinking hard. Did you wake up the next day and think to yourself “shit, you know what would be good right now? Eggs and fruit.”
Unlikely. Chances are you went straight for the go to hangover choices. Denny’s. McDonald’s breakfast (my personal favourite). A nice greasy burger. The usual suspects.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. For those of you reading this who are in your early 20’s, I have some bad news for you- those hangovers you get that ruin your morning? Well, once you start to hit your late 20’s, those become an all day thing. And your shitty breakfast can very easily turn into your diet for the rest of the day.
This first started becoming an issue for me when I was living in Japan. We would go out on Saturday nights, and because the bars and clubs in Japan don’t close until morning, that left us plenty of time to get hammered.
One of our routines is that at some point we’d stumble out of whatever bar we were in and go for ramen, which is essentially a (delicious) large bowl of carbs, fat and salt.
Typically I’d get back to my apartment just before sunrise, fall asleep, and wake up around noon feeling like absolute dog shit. I’d hit up McDonald’s as soon as I dragged my ass out of bed, down an entire carton of orange juice, and spend the rest of the day lounging around and eating anything greasy or sugary I could get my hands on.
And I’m sure it goes without saying that the gym was out of the question.
When you add up the damage, it’s pretty shocking. On a real bad hangover day, I could eat anywhere from 4000-5000 calories! That can be enough to almost undo an entire weeks worth of progress.
Fortunately after a while I smartened up and realized that I couldn’t do that every weekend. But I was still doing it often enough. It didn’t stop my progress, but it sure as hell slowed it down.
How I Got It Right
Starting at the beginning of 2016, I began making some serious changes to my drinking habits. I didn’t quit drinking all together. Instead, I scaled it way back.
I decided that when I went out, I was going to start off with two drinks, but then limit myself to one drink per hour MAXIMUM. And if I knew I was going to to be out all night, it would be more like one drink for every two hours.
For those of you who have never been, Japan has quite an established drinking culture. It’s not at all uncommon at night to see people of all ages passed out in public. A lot of bars and restaurants offer what’s called “nomihoudai” (all you can drink) specials.
So for me, having the ability to go out and have a drink in my hand allowed me to be social and participate, but the constraint I placed on myself meant that I could wake up the next morning and not want to jump off my balcony.
Most importantly, it meant that I could keep my diet on track for the weekend.
It also had a multitude of unintended benefits as well. My face started looking leaner. I had more energy throughout the week.
Contrary to what you’d think would happen, my social life actually improved. I found myself going out to more events and meeting more people instead of getting wasted with the same crew in the same bars week after week.
My dating life also got a surprising boost. I know it’s hard to believe when you’re 20 and in college, but contrary to popular belief, you’re actually not more charming nine drinks deep.
Why It Might Not Matter For YOU (A Case Study)
Now that I’ve extolled the virtues of alcohol temperance, let me flip things a little bit.
Back in the summer of 2011, I was living just outside of Seoul, South Korea. Not only was it my first time living abroad, but other than a brief 8 month period living with a roommate in college, it was really my first experience living on my own.
I was working as an English teacher, and the fact that I was 25 years, making good money and not having to pay rent (gotta love expat subsidized apartments) plus the fact that I was living in one of the biggest and best cities in the world for night life meant that I basically spent that entire summer perma-drunk
I used to take the train into Seoul EVERY SINGLE Friday and Saturday night. A lot of the times I would get in Friday evening and not even make it back to my apartment until Sunday afternoon. The job I was working didn’t require me to be at work until 10:30am, so the drinking wasn’t just confined to the weekends either.
At minimum I was going out 3 nights a week. And I would get smashed every time I went out.
I had arrived in Korea earlier in the spring. Within 3 months of being in the country, I’d lost quite a bit of weight and was walking around at 165 pounds, the leanest (at that point) I’d ever been.
So you’d think at the end of this booze soaked summer that I’d have packed all the weight back on, right?
Nope. By the time September rolled around, I was still 165 pounds. So what happened? Why was I able to get away with it?
Simple. I was 25.
I was still young enough that my metabolism could handle all that liquor.
I was still young enough that my hangovers were only a morning thing and didn’t derail my diet.
I was still young enough that I could drink till 5:00am, go to the gym the next day, and hit a PR.
I’m 30 years old now. I know it doesn’t seem like that big an age gap, but trust me. As you head into your late 20’s, it’s going to get harder and harder.
I remember it hit me like clockwork. That following April, I went out with some friends for my 26th birthday (on a Wednesday no less). I woke up the next morning with one of the worst hangovers I’d ever had.
I figured it would clear up by noon like most of them.
Nope. By 9:00pm I still felt almost as shitty as when I woke up. My days of being a consequence-free drinker had officially come to an end.
So can you get away with heavy drinking and maintain or lose weight? Yeah. If you’re 21 and in college. But for those of you who aren’t you need to take a different approach.
How To Do It Right
If you’re passed your college days, and you clicked on this article hoping I was going to tell you that can drink like it’s spring break and still get shredded, I have some bad news for you- you probably can’t.
One of the big revelations for me when it came to dieting was the idea of being flexible. The idea that I didn’t need to give up my favourite foods- I just needed to control the amount I was taking in.
Booze is no different. You don’t have to give it up. You don’t have to be that guy that doesn’t go out because “I’m cutting bro”. You just need to come at it from a different angle.
Here’s some tips that I’ve personally adopted that will really help keep you on track.
1. Only Drink Socially
We’ve all heard that 1 drink a day is good for your health. Well, maybe, but the benefits are small, and if you’re trying to lose weight, booze is really just liquid calories.
My take- go without it during the week if you can. If you’re really attached to having a glass of wine or a beer in the evening, fine. But if you’re able to cut it out and not feel deprived, then cut it out. Save it for social events.
2. Set A Drink Limit On Yourself
The one drink per hour rule is generally a good rule of thumb unless you’re out REALLY late. You’re also going to want to drink water as well. Remember, alcohol is a diuretic and dehydrates you. This is a big part of what why you feel like shit after your drink. Keep yourself hydrated.
This requires a bit of a mindset shift. You’re no longer going out to get drunk. You’re going out to keep and maintain a buzz.
While it’s gonna suck and take some self control at first (especially when everyone else is hurricane drunk), this really is the way to go, and once you get used to it, you’ll come to enjoy it more than getting smashed.
3. Avoid People Who Are “Competitive Drinkers”
Most people like to just go out, have some drinks, and enjoy themselves. But as I’m sure you’ve noticed, there are always a few people who are incapable of drinking without EVERYONE ELSE getting as drunk as they are.
These are the ones who go around quizzing everyone about how many drinks they’ve had to make sure they’re on par. Or the one’s who keep ordering rounds of shots and insisting that everyone around them partake.
In a large enough gathering, everyone kinda breaks off into their own little groups anyway, so find some people that aren’t in the process of getting loser pissed.
If it’s your regular group of friend that are doing this though, then unfortunately your going to have to take a stand. They’ll probably give you some good natured shit for it, but you’re a big boy. You can handle it.
And if they’ve got a problem and truly are adamant that you get annihilated with them every weekend…well, sorry to tell you this man, but you need some new friends.
4. Eat A High Quality Meal Right Before You Go Out
I’m assuming everyone reading this is old enough to know that drinking is 100 times worse on an empty stomach.
Even if you’re taking my advice and not getting to the point where you’re truly drunk when you go out, you’re still going to want to eat a quality meal before hand. It will lessen the effects, and more importantly, it will keep you full so that you’re not tempted to hit Micky D’s halfway through the night.
Another pro tip- if you’re having a really late night, make sure you have food pre-made in the fridge ready when you get home. Remember, booze=bad decisions, so ANY little thing you can do to prevent you from hitting the drive through on your way home will help.
5. If You’re Going To Drink Hard, Plan In Advance
If it’s an event like your birthday or halloween, and you just know it’s gonna be a heavy night, plan for it and budget the calories. I like to do intermittent fasting leading up to the night, have a regular meal, then go out. I also eat slightly less during the week.
Oh yeah, water. When you get home, down as much of it as you can before your fall asleep. But I’m sure you already knew that.
So, in conclusion. Booze. BOOZE. Drink it. Enjoy it. But just like your diet, plan for it, be strategic about it, and keep it under control.