Can you drink alcohol and still stay lean?

alcohol drink7 Tips to Still Enjoy Social Drinking and Stay Lean at the Same Time

by Mike Geary , Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Nutrition Specialist
Author of best-sellers:   The Fat Burning Kitchen & The Top 101 Foods that FIGHT Aging

This topic seems to be a common struggle I hear from a lot of people... They want to get lean, but they don't want to give up drinking alcohol.

Now, I'm not talking about alcoholic type of drinking (THAT is obviously a problem)... we're just talking moderate social drinking here.

First, although some people may willingly choose to give up alcohol entirely, I still think most of us can drink in moderation, and still stay perfectly healthy and lean.  But there are a few tricks that can help you to not pack on the pounds... and I'll mention those in a little bit.

As for myself, it comes down to choosing what I'm going to be strict about to maintain my fitness lifestyle and what I'm not going to be strict about.

For example, I'm pretty strict about never eating anything deep fried or made with trans fats, never eating white bread, and never drinking sodas or sweetened soft drinks of any kind... but I'll admit that one thing I've chosen to not be strict about is drinking alcohol .  What... a fitness professional admits that he drinks and is not a fitness "robot" 24/7... No way!

Well yes, it's true... I'm 40 now and I certainly don't drink as frequently as I did back in my crazy college days (man those college days were fun!), but I'll certainly enjoy some cold ones when hanging out with friends, going to a barbeque or dinner party, or meeting a friend at a bar for a drink.  And I love having a glass or two of red wine along with a nice dinner!

It's all about balance in your life, and not every aspect has to be "perfect" in order for you to still get the body and health that you want. You'll drive yourself crazy if you're trying to be perfect.

Of course, if you have no problem abstaining from alcohol and willingly make that decision, then that can certainly be best for some people that are the type that have a hard time controlling portions.

However, for the rest of us, that actually do like to partake in some social drinking , here are a few tips that have helped me to stay lean, while still drinking alcohol a few times a week .

TIP 1. Obviously alcohol gives you extra calories on the days that you choose to drink. Alcohol has 7 calories per gram, compared to 4 calories per gram for carbs and protein, and 9 calories per gram for fats. 

However unlike ingesting carbs, protein, or healthy fats from a healthy food source, drinking alcohol gives you LOTS of calories with very little micronutrients (the exception to this is red wine and dark beers, both of which do have reasonable levels of micronutrients and antioxidants).

On nights that I know are going to involve some drinking, it helps to make sure that dinner is based only around protein and vegetables. You're going to take in a lot of empty calories with the alcohol, so eating a good portion of appetite-satisfying protein along with nutrient-rich vegetables can help to control your appetite and give your body the nutrients it needs.

Plus, most importantly, there's just no room for loads of carbohydrate-rich foods if you're also going to be consuming alcohol. Carbs + alcohol is a perfect recipe for growing a beer belly!   Try to keep that evening meal a fairly low-carb meal to save yourself from extra empty calories.

TIP 2. If you want to save your body from adding layers of ugly fat, by all means stay away from syrupy, fruity drinks that are loaded with sugar... this is a double whammy for your gut as you're not only getting all of the empty alcohol calories, but also loads of empty sugar calories. Big fruity drinks such as a big syrupy margarita, or other tropical fruity drinks can sometimes have as much as 500-600 calories per serving and 70-100 grams of sugar!

Quick tip on margaritas :  I don't know about you, but I LOVE margaritas.  However, most margaritas have loads of sugar from the sour mix. If you want to get a super low sugar and lower calorie margarita, what you need to do is ask the bartender to make your margarita with ONLY tequila and fresh squeezed lime juice, and NO sour mix (which is usually made from corn syrup).  I think it tastes better anyway than a normal sugary margarita.  If you like margaritas and want a healthier way to drink them, check out my healthy Super-Human Margarita recipe !

Next point... and I don't think this even needs to be mentioned, but if you care about your body, any drink that uses soda pop as the mixer is going to be loaded with sugar (usually high fructose corn syrup) and calories.

Instead, your best bet is to stick with a liquor mixed with club soda (NOT tonic) and a squeeze of lime or lemon (hey, at least you get a little vitamin C and antioxidants with the squeeze of lemon and lime!).  Vodka or tequila with club soda and extra lemon and/or lime squeeze is my drink of choice if I'm not drinking red wine.  Red wine is usually my preferred drink though for the most health benefits!

Stay away from tonic water mixers! Some people don't realize this, but tonic water is loaded with almost as much sugar as regular soda pop... on the other hand, club soda has no calories at all. It's clearly the lowest calorie way to drink.

TIP 3. If you're going to drink beer, you're better off choosing just 1 or 2 dark beers rather than 5 or 6 light beers.  Sure, dark beers have more calories than light beers, but dark beers also have more B vitamins and antioxidants than light beers, so you actually get more nutrition from the dark beer.  As long as you keep it to just 1 or 2 dark beers, you may still stay within 150-300 calories.

Generally, it also takes a little longer to drink a good dark beer compared to a watery light beer too.

TIP 4.   Try to get in a high intensity full body workout before your night out of drinking. If you do this, at least you've revved up your metabolism and have your body processing calories a little faster.

Also, trying to get in some sort of exercise the morning after your night out can also help to get your body back to a good state of health. This may not be your best workouts in terms of energy, but it can help to just get your body moving and break a sweat, and get back to a good homeostasis.

TIP 5. Avoid the late-night munchies after a night of drinking! This is where most people do the biggest damage to their waistlines.

Instead, make sure to have some lean protein and vegetables quickly available at home (perhaps a can of wild salmon, grass-fed steaks , soft boiled eggs, or even tuna fish and some veggie sticks) so that you can satisfy your late night post-party appetite with lean protein instead of carbohydrates.  Veggies and protein is the key here.

The worst thing for your body is loading up on pizza, ice cream, and other carb-rich junk after a night out of drinking.

TIP 6. If you drink multiple drinks socially, try to keep drinking alcohol to only a couple days a week maximum if you want to stay lean. On the other hand, if you never drink more than 1-2 drinks per day, I think having 1-2 drinks daily with a meal can still be part of a healthy lifestyle. 

TIP 7. Wine is one of the healthier drink choices... if you must have a drink, you might as well choose wine so you at least get a good dose of antioxidants as well. Red wine is known for it's antioxidant content, however even white wines contain antioxidants as well... white wines just aren't quite as high in antioxidants as red wines. 

Hey, if you can get a little resveratrol while enjoying your drink, why not!

What about hangovers?

Ok, so you went a little overboard and drank too much.  Now you might be facing a hangover the next morning.  Well, I can't personally verify whether this works or not, but I have 2 friends in particular that swear by taking this whole-foods based vitamin, VGF25+  (this stands for 25+ veggies, greens, and fruits) before they go to bed, and they claim that it almost always prevents a hangover the next morning if they remember to take it before going to bed.

And finally, like I mentioned before, drinking alcohol just adds one more dense source of calories to your list that you have to work against if you're trying to lose fat.

Abstaining from alcohol may possibly be the best choice to minimize your calories and lose fat easiest, BUT we also need to be realistic and know that social drinking is not something that most people are willing to give up entirely.

For that reason, this list of tips to help manage social drinking in the healthiest way can really help you to stay leaner and healthier and still balance a little bit of social drinking into your life.

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