Drinking. It relaxes us, gives us space and causes us to expand into more amicable, compassionate human beings.
We are friendlier to one another and to all God’s creatures while under its spell. We laugh more and are not so gloomy, nor are we as franticaly alarmed by the pedantries of life. In fact, a person with a drink in them, I am largely convinced, is far cooler, more respectable, and civilized than anybody who is completely sober.
But with the good comes the bad, and drinking in excess returns the opposite result. Too much booze, and you ruin the liver. For this reason, many interested in health and fitness assume that drinking is strictly forbidden.
Rubbish! You can still be lean without giving up all the kinds of things you love to eat and drink and do with your friends. I am proof; I am into fitness, and I am also quite into socializing and keeping a sane head.
I drink beer, and I like wine and whisky too, very much, and sometimes I even eat ice cream. I eat ice cream, and drink beer, and yet I am 8% body fat? What?
What follows is a list of advice, in no particular order, of things to do and things not to do while drinking alcohol, as gathered by too many years experience. What makes this list a little different is that I have compiled it for sociable drinkers who are simply looking to imbibe a glass or two of alcohol without becoming excessive, increasingly fat in the stomach, or otherwise very unhealthy.
Drinking for Health: What To Do…And What Not To Do
1. Do: show a little restraint.
I have found that the most useful thing in keeping lean and healthy and mentally sane is not severe deprivation, but a sensible restraint.
You can, in fact, enjoy a glass or two of alcohol and the occasional indulgence and still reach your fitness goals. I will not go so far as to say that drinking and fitness are mutually compatible, but there are ways—any number of ways, ultimately—you can make them work.
Consumption for health, if we look at the epidemiological evidence, is 5-7 drinks a week. That is fair and probably true, but for weight loss, the numbers go in a different and downward direction: 3-4 drinks restricted to 1-2 nights a week, preferably. Any more than that, and you run the risk of too many calories.
2. Don’t: mix carbs and alcohol.
Alcohol in all its forms inhibits the fat-burning processes, and all incoming carbohydrates, if not summarily burned off, are prone to be stored as fat.
In other words, the best food to eat with your wine is still cheese. Cheese or meat, but not bread.
Fats and proteins do not play upon blood sugar in the same mischievous way that even complex carbohydrates do, so it is better in all matters of sociable drinking to refrain from grains, starchy vegetables, and anything regarded as dessert.
Better still, if you can entertain a carb fast prior to any drinking alcohol, do so. My rule, generally speaking, is no more than 100 grams of carbs a day. On days I am drinking, I drop it to 50.
3. Do: choose the right alcohol.
Red wine is best. After that, tequila and other non-grain-based hard liquors like potato vodka.
After that, sweeter wines, then beer, from dark to light. Dark beer has more calories, I admit, but also more B vitamins and antioxidants. You are better off having one or two beers you can really chew on, than five or six “lite” beers that are essentially pissed.
And finally, mixed drinks.
4. Don’t: remain sedentary.
A short, vigorous workout before any consumption, alcohol or otherwise, is always a legitimate technique.
Calories count, we must remember, and so we need to reconcile that at the end of the day/week/month/year. Therefore, if you drink more often, it would no doubt favor you to increase your movement in direct proportion.
Move more before you drink and move a little after. Even just walking works.
If you’re a health nut, you don’t have to give up drinking alcohol. If you are going to drink, drink, and by all means enjoy yourself and don’t feel guilty about it. The overriding wisdom, here—if I can so boldly presume that I have any wisdom to impart—is that moderation prevails. So limit what you take in, and put no limit on the amount you move.
Pat Flynn is a fitness expert and author of Paleo Workouts for Dummies (Wiley, 2013) and Fast Diets for Dummies (Wiley, 2013). You can follow Pat at ChroniclesOfStrength.com, a blog on fitness minimalism.
Photo by Martin Neuhof