The below assumes the following model
1) Calories are the prime overarching determinant of absolute body weight and rate of change
2) Within the calorie composition, protein should be prioritised followed by fats and then carbs
3) Adherence and tracking over the long term to a sensible framework are the most reliable determinants of success
4) Weight training via a progressive overload of tonnage over time will be the key factor in muscle gain and preservation.
5) 100% adherence to a plan that is 80% optimal is better than 50% adherence to a plan that is 100% optimal.
6) A plan should only be implemented if it matches your tastes, preferences and lifestyle choices.
7) Establishing the habits of consistently getting 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, getting enough water and covering micro-nutrition requirements is key to priming the environment for success and progression
In the below suggestions, I will discuss strategies surrounding alcohol that promote preservation of this model and also discusses common errors made when drinking that lead to a violation of the above.
With that said, here we go…
Most articles on the subject follow a very predictable pro-forma….
– Alcohol contains x calories per gram.
– It has the following effects on hormones and fat storage
– It’s “Empty calories”
– Aim for no more than Xg/kg otherwise you’ll wreck your gains brah.
I posit that, while potentially accurate, these statements are irrelevant.
Let me ask you 2 questions:
1) Do you think alcohol is part of a 100% optimal plan and does it have a net positive effect on progress?
2) Do you consider going tee-total a real option?
For most, the honest answers are “No and No”.
If it’s anything other than this, you’re unlikely to have started reading this article – you’re here because you want to drink, not because you’ve already decided you won’t.
In other words – you ALREADY KNOW that drinking isn’t really the BEST thing you could do but you’re likely to still do it anyway. Why? It’s fun, socially lubricating and part of most cultures in the modern world.
Tee-totalism, while an admirable display of self control and willpower, is often shunned by social circles and so it is merely irresponsible and naive to solicit advice which centres around abstinence of one of the most commonly consumed drugs in the world.
Equally, Writing an article covering the endocrinological and metabolic concerns and complications would likely either make you think “What an arsehole” or, you’d simply ignore the advice.
Our core principle is that you should marry your training and diet to your lifestyle and minimise the frictions between your plan and your reality, assuming progress is maintained.
Get the 80% out of the 20% and enjoy life while you’re at it.
Unless you’re prepping for Mr Olympia this year (in which case, guys, we still have some coaching spots available…..) you can include some alcohol in your diet – don’t kid yourself that your mad gainz will be ruined by the odd drink with friends.
You’re not dedicated, you’re deluded – there’s a big difference.
Without going deeper: Alcohol isn’t optimal but it’s also not so pervasively bad that we can’t include it.
So, the real question is not “can I drink on a diet?” because really, it doesn’t matter.
It’s not optimal and we know that but most social scenes involve drinking, some involve heavy drinking, and what is the point of getting jacked&tanned if your only interaction is with a protein shaker?
Socialising should be a priority so we should have tools to allow us to socialise in any context. Also, a lot of people (myself included) enjoy drinking – it’s fun and often enhances a night out or a meal with friends.
So, the real question is
“How do we sensibly include and account for it?”
Let’s look at the variables
Alcohol contains calories, 7kcal/gram. These calories have no real function as far as body composition or performance is concerned and we certainly do not have any physiological need for alcohol.
Let’s just say, there isn’t an RDA……..at least, not officially!
Now, we already know that calories are the prime determinant. So we shouldn’t include alcohol at the detriment of this rule. I.e consuming alcohol and thus exceeding your calorie intake is a Type 1 error in the model and a red card.
So, rule number 1, don’t drink so that you exceed your calorie goal.
Next, because alcohol plays an unimportant role metabolically, it should not impinge on the minimum requirements of the other macros. In other words, if by drinking you consume most of your calories from alcohol and get insufficient nutrients to function this is also an error.
In order of priority:
1) Ensure your protein intake is a minimum of 2g/kg on days you drink.
2) Try to keep fats no lower than 15-20% of your usual calorie intake.
Myself as an example:
My daily calorie goal is 3,450kcal
Protein: 225g – 235g
Carbs: 420g – 430g
On a day I drink, I could change this to:
Protein: 175g – 185g
Calories ring-fenced = 1,400
So, in theory, 2000kcal could come from alcohol
Now, my calorie intake is higher than most so a lot of people will have a lower margin of calories remaining but the nice thing about these limits is that they are auto-regulated with bodyweight and, usually, the amount of alcohol you can safely consume also linearly adjusts with bodyweight.
So far, we’ve said that you should
1) not exceed your calorie goal due because of calorie intake
2) ensure you get enough protein and fat for function and repair.
But there are some other considerations here
1) The more you drink, the more likely you are to over-eat after/during the event. I’ll not spin the line that alcohol causes preferential storage of other nutrients but, remember, drinking and exceeding your calories as a result – type 1 error.
2) The more you drink, the more likely you are to feel more hungry (hence lower adherence) the next day. Adherence to your protein and calorie goal over a long period is key. If drinking violates that. Another Type 1 error.
3) The more likely you are to skip a training session. Again, a detriment to the plan and progress. So, if as a direct result of a night of drinking, you don’t get in all your training for the week, that’s a decision which is no longer goal-congruent.
4) You’re unlikely to get a solid 7 hours of rest. Usually, alcohol and late nights go hand in hand and even then, what little sleep you do get will likely be of poor quality. Now, for most people, ensuring 7 hours or more every night is unrealistic at the best of times, so I won’t suggest that you can’t go out drinking if it means that you don’t get a perfect night of deep sleep.
So, what do I need to do?
1) On a day you plan to drink in the evening, make sure you enter the evening having hit your protein goal and your minimum fat intake. Leave some calories for alcohol
2) Opt for drinks that are lower in calories, you’re less likely to exceed your calorie total if you opt for wine instead of beer for example. Track the drinks using my fitnesspal, don’t worry about macros, track the calories.
3) Don’t track obsessively or track your drinks on your night out, just retrospectively track what you drank the morning after. If you went over your calorie intake, drop the excess from the calorie target for the following day
4) You’ll eventually hone in on a calorie amount / drinks combination that allows you to drink without spending the next day hungover and stay within the model. Once you’ve done this, its easy to ring fence a certain amount of calories for alcohol but this may take some practice. Remember, this is to facilitate you to relax and have a few drinks, don’t get too neurotic about your calorie intake.
1) ASSUME that the gym is off the cards the next day. So, if you’re drinking on a Friday night and would normally train on the Saturday, compress the volume across earlier in the week so that you don’t miss a training session
2) If you do have to train the day following a night of drinking, spend the time prior hydrating and then (if possible) focus on non-complex movements and use a thorough warm up routine. Not the time to max out on a squat for example!
1) Download sleep cycle app, use it on a daily basis. A pen and paper will also work, you want to note down the time you go to bed, the time you wake up and your perceived sleep quality.
2) We think you should be tracking your calories, macros and weigh ins on a spreadsheet anyway. If not, good time to start! Add a column to track your hours of sleep each night and therefore determine your weekly average.
3) If you know you’re going to be out late on the Saturday night, aim to smooth over the deficit by still averaging 7 hours over the week. You can add naps to this total too, any time spent asleep. If you’re average reads 7-8 hours and your % sleep quality is in line with a solid week of quality sleep – you’re not violating the model.
1. Drinking alcohol probably isn’t optimal but we don’t believe it should be excluded, just accounted for sensibly
2. Retain the “big stones” of calorie balance, total weekly training volume and total weekly sleep duration. Don’t drink/party such that these are impinged – this WILL mean that drinking and its associated activities impair or prevent progress
3. Account for the alcohol you drink calorically through myfitnesspal, if you exceed your calorie target, adjust your target for the following day. Make sure you still hit your protein target and some fat.
4. Ensure you get all the planned training done for the week by compressing the volume of the week in the preceding days. If you do have to train the day after training, keep it to light non-complex movements
5. If you anticipate a night of not much sleep, overcompensate earlier in the week by getting in a few extra hours or sneak in a nap or two on the weekend. Develop a habit of tracking your sleep so you know where you are.