Curious about how alcohol impacts your health, performance, body comp, and how you can enjoy a drink or two while crushin’ your goals? I’ve got you covered;)
‘Tis the season of Truly, White Claw, white wine spritzers, and hard cider – I’m not a beer girl, can you tell?!
No matter what your go-to drink happens to be, the sun is coming out consistently (took long enough), and summer sippin’ is here. And, if you’re anything like me this brings a combination of excitement and dread.
I mean… cold cider + paddle board + 75 and sunny day on the lake = close to heaven. But at the same time, I know that alcohol rarely leaves me feeling or performing my best after a fun day and/or night out. So, where is the middle ground? Does it have to be all or nothing?
Like much of nutrition, lifestyle, and performance there is no black and white answer. But, the more information you have about what alcohol is and the different ways it can impact your body the more informed you’ll be. And, the more informed you are, the more CONFIDENT you’ll be in your choice to drink (or not to drink) based on YOUR goals.
So let’s get into it, shall we?
What is Alcohol?
I’ve chatted quite a bit about macronutrients and we’ve also done deeper, individual dives into carbohydrates, fats, and protein. As a quick reminder, there are 4 calories in every gram of carbohydrate and protein. There are 9 calories in every gram of fat.
Although not technically a macronutrient, alcohol does come along with its own caloric value. There are 7 calories in every gram of alcohol.
When you drink, your liver converts alcohol to acetate which your body considers a ‘toxin’. Your body is smart and doesn’t want that acetate in your system for a second longer than necessary. So, your liver does its best to prioritize the breakdown and excretion of acetate before it breaks down other nutrients. This means…
- Your body burns alcohol for fuel instead of carbs, fats, and protein (aka – drinking presses pause on body fat burning and can leave you feeling less than your best when it comes to energy, performance and recovery).
- Any other hormones or toxins that were scheduled for excretion by your liver are going to take second-priority to gettin’ that alcohol out. So, these toxins hang out in your body longer than they should!
Need a quick analogy? Your liver is a highway full of cars (aka hormones and other materials to be burned/excreted) that are constantly moving. Alcohol is like a fire truck that comes screamin’ down the middle of the highway. All that traffic (aka hormones/other substances) is forced to pull over and STOP to let the fire truck through. So, if you have goals of optimizing health, performance, and body composition, bringing intentionality and mindfulness to alcohol choices is HUGELY important.
On that note, let’s talk about some of the specific ways alcohol can impact your body (and your goals).
The Impacts of Alcohol
Headaches, stomach aches, low energy, weird mood (read: literally zero motivation to do anything and feeling stressed “for no reason”?)… Any of these things sound (or feel) familiar? Here’s why you may be feeling a bit funky after some boozin’:
Just because alcohol makes you fall asleep quickly, doesn’t mean you sleep better. Alcohol disrupts your circadian rhythm (aka – that 24-hour internal clock) and makes for restless sleep. Because of its effect on blood sugar levels and your body’s goal to get it out of your system ASAP (remember that highway analogy!), it prevents your body from really getting into those deeper levels of sleep where the majority of recovery and actual restful sleep takes place.
Oh hangxiety… do you ever get those anxious, stressed and slightly emotionally unstable feelz the day (or many days) after drinking?
The neurotransmitter, GABA, helps you feel relaxed and alcohol mimics the effects of this chemical in your brain. This is one of the reasons you may feel less anxious and more care-free while drinking. Then, the next day those effects are REVERSED so you feel more anxious! The same thing happens with your hormone serotonin – the “happy” hormone which can lead to decreased mood the day after drinking.
Because alcohol comes with a pretty high-calorie content, it is easy to rack up the extra calories that your body doesn’t necessarily “need”. And remember, because it presses “pause” on fat burning, making it a regular thing can cause you to maintain body fat or put on body fat more quickly. WE’ll talk a bit more about this in the “considerations” section below.
It is also worth noting that alcohol causes dehydration. This is where many of the physical symptoms associated with a hangover come from (higher heart rate, headache, etc.) and can also cause some funky scale fluctuations for days after clinking your drink. Depending on how much you drink (and how much you appease those drunchy drives) most of this is water-weight related. Check it out…
You may notice a downward trend on the scale the day after drinking due to dehydration. Then, your body overcompensates and holds onto a bit of extra water for a few days before evening back out.
Because of its impact on sleep, mood, and the way your body utilizes the other nutrients you eat, making alcohol a staple in your routine can begin to impact your performance in the gym. When you have less energy, you can’t push as hard through your training sessions and when your body can’t use those healthy proteins, carbs, and fats you’ll notice shifts in your recovery as well.
Thinkin’ Before Clinkin’
Here’s the thing, alcohol can 10/10 be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle. I mean MOST people live happier, healthier lives when they’re having FUN, right? And, sometimes letting loose is PART of that. We come together with people we love, get to know new friends (or more than friends;)!), and connect when the drinks are flowing.
That being said, there are specific times in life when you may want or need to opt for a seltzer – hold the spike. Here are some questions and considerations…
Are You a Competitive Athlete?
This doesn’t need to mean, like, “oh hey I’m an Olympian”. No matter who you are – you can become a professional version of YOURSELF and if you want to optimize your performance in your sport just because you LOVE feeling good, DO IT UP. And, if you have a competition coming up you may wanna hold off on the drink until your celebratory dinner.
Do You Have Specific Body Composition Goals?
If you’re in a fat loss phase, alcohol is generally going to slow that down. If you have a specific time-bound weight loss goal you may decide that this is okay and that some situations are worth it. And, you may also decide that most of the time, skipping the drink is more in line with your current goals. Shake up some low-sugar mocktails and enjoy! You’ve also likely experienced the lack of self-control around snacky foods when you’re drinking. This can lead to even more calorie consumption outside of just alcohol.
If you have goals of putting on muscle, remember that alcohol can decrease your ability to push hard in your workouts and recover well. So, it is tougher to put on muscle if a portion of your calories is regularly coming from alcohol.
If you’re in a maintenance phase (aka – you’re at a body composition that feels solid for you), you may have a bit more wiggle room when it comes to adding in some drinks. Just keep an eye on how you feel and what your limit is when it comes to the number of drinks per week that keep you feeling confident.
Drinking Tips & Tricks
So, you’ve decided that enjoying a drink fits in your goals AND you still want to feel as awesome as possible before, during, and after. Here’s how…
Before You Clink
- Hydrate! Because alcohol is dehydrating, getting a jumpstart on hydration is a good idea. Electrolytes are also really helpful so bonus points if you throw a few Nuun tablets in a water or blender bottle.
- Make a plan. Decide how many drinks you’re going to have before you start drinking. Heading into your day/night with a plan will increase the likelihood that you actually stick to it.
- Enroll an accountability partner. Just letting a friend, significant other, or family member know what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling before heading out can give you a little extra drive to stick to your plan.
- BYO mixers and snacks. Mixers like juice and soda are typically high in carbs and calories. So, bringing your own lower-sugar swaps can be really helpful. Seltzer water, Zevia, or other soda alternatives are my go-to’s. Same goes for snacks – if you’re allocating calories to alcohol, having some healthy snacks in hand (fruits, veggies, beef jerky!) is key.
While You Drink
- Alternate alcoholic with non-alcoholic drinks. Continuing to prioritize hydration is KEY!
- All-seltzer EVERYTHING. Actually though – you can mix it with wine or spiked seltzer to slow yourself down a bit and hydrate at the same time. Noticing a pattern, here?
- Take it slow. Focus on who you’re with and why you’re coming together to celebrate and spend time together. Alcohol can be part of the fun but it doesn’t. have to be the main attraction. This can help you slow down a bit and recognize a good stopping point.
After You’re Done
- Continue to hydrate. Make sure you have some water ready to go next to your bed so you can sip on it if you wake up at night.
- The day after you drink, move your body. Maybe you won’t be up for a high-intensity training session but a long walk for some fresh air will go a long way.
- Get (intentionally) happy! Plan some happy things into your day to help boost your mood.
- Learn from your experience. If you went a bit overboard or don’t love the way you feel, no need to beat yourself up. There is only one place you’re headed – into the future. So, you may as well do so in kindness to yourself and decide if there is anything you’d change next time around.
Knowledge is power and knowledge is what will allow you to decide when and if to clink your drink. There is totally a time and place for a margarita night with friends or a few ciders out on a paddle board.
There is also totally a time to skip it, opt for a seltzer instead, and till enjoy the company you’re with if that is more in line with your current goals. No matter what, I recommend creating a little “alcohol check-list” for yourself that allows you to run through some questions in your head.
Here is mine:
- Am I training tomorrow? – If the answer is yes, I usually skip the drink. I know that even a teeny hangover will limit my ability to perform at my best, push my hardest and recover well the next day.
- Did I plan ahead of time? – I only enjoy a few drinks if I know that I will still end my day feeling balanced and confident.
- Do I have something to sip on between drinks? – I always bring some seltzer, another macro-friendly drink, or grab some water and make sure to space out my drinks.
- Will I be able to say “no”? – I practice definitive language when I am done drinking. “Thank you so much but no. I only have 2 drinks a night!” is a much more powerful statement than, “Um, I think I’m okay for now…Thanks though!” Using a definitive “no” will convince you and your company that you are done!
- Are there tons of tempting treats around? – If I know that I will be surrounded by trigger foods, I’ll usually skip the drink because we all know where that leads;)
Moral of the story: as long as your actions and expectations align, you’re good to go! Luckily, this article will help you make the most well-informed actions possible!
Happy summer sippin’