Can I Drink Alcohol and Make Progress?
So before we dive into this, there's two questions to consider:
1) How much alcohol are we talkin? Is it once in a blue moon or every weekend?
2) What’s the goal? What progress are we looking for? (Performance, weightloss, weight gain, improved cardio fitness, muscle building?)
Let’s look at number 1 first of all. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that there’s a difference between having a glass of wine every now and then vs having a drink 4-5 nights per week (or drinking heavily every weekend.)
Whilst the heavy night out once every couple of months certainly won’t leave you feeling too great and will probably have a knock-on effect for a couple of days afterwards, it only happens infrequently. Drinking every week will have a much bigger impact on your performance and, for those losing weight, will slow the process down quite significantly.
Most alcohol contains 7 calories per gram which, compared with other macronutrients, is pretty high. It is then often made even more calorific with mixers AND it carries zero nutrition, unlike carbs, fat and protein.
So, for someone who is on a fitness journey, it’s not ideal. BUT. It’s fun and enjoyable and something most people like to do.
So can you make it work whilst working towards your goals?
Scenario 1: you're trying to gain weight.
If your goal is to gain some weight, drinking alcohol isn’t going to hurt that too much. So long as you’re getting plenty of sufficient good food into you and the alcohol is just something you have on top of that every now and then, it won’t have a hugely negative impact. There is zero nutrition in alcohol calories so there’s nothing to be gained from it, but there’s equally not much to lose if your current goal involves consuming more calories.
Scenario 2: you're training for performance.
If your goal is to improve performance, you will definitely notice a negative side effect from drinking alcohol. It messes with your sleep and heart rate, which messes with your recovery, which messes with your performance. This will take affect even after just one drink, and you might still notice the side effects for 2-3+ days afterwards. So yes you can still drink, but you must be willing to accept the consequences and what that means for your training that week.
Scenario 3: you're trying to lose weight.
If your goal is to lose weight, this is where it can get a bit tricky. One drink can easily set you back at least 200-300 calories. For someone who is in a calorie deficit and trying to lose weight, that’s a LOT. If you use up say 600 of your daily calories on a couple of drinks, that’s a whole load of wasted calories where you could have had protein, carbs and good veggies/fruit. You’ll now be hungrier, poorly fuelled and you won’t be supporting your weight loss in the healthiest way.
It’s also important to note that it’s not usually just the 600 calories. Because what happens when you get home? You get a big bag of chips. You wake up the next day and feel horrendous, so you have a big breakfast, lots of sugary juice and probably a takeaway. Those 600 calories can soon spiral into 1-2 days of eating high calorie foods.
When we are losing weight, we want to be sure that our bodies are still getting everything they need: protein, carbs, good fats, lots of fruit and veg. If you’re using up hundreds of calories every weekend with alcohol, that limits the amount of space we have left for the good stuff. Sure you might still lose weight if you drink alcohol but stick to the calorie deficit, but you won’t feel great, your performance will be impacted and so will your recovery and sleep.
The bottom line?
Everything in moderation.
Yes you can have a glass of wine or two. Yes you can have the odd night out on the town. And if having those few occasions makes you feel less restricted and therefore more likely to adhere to your diet, then gung ho. But it will get to a point where alcohol interferes heavily with your training and progress, and you will need to make a decision as to what you value more.
Stay safe. Drink responsibly xoxo