When a client signs on to start their one on one individualized nutrition coaching, they are required to fill out an intake form. In the intake form, they fill out all the basic info I need such as their age, weight, and height plus as answer some questions about their lifestyle such as stress, mood, energy, schedule, goals, etc. so I can come up with the best plan suited for their lifestyle.
In this intake form, I also ask what their non-negotiables are...basically what is it that they need in their diets to stay successful? Any diet that restricts foods they love is not the diet for them. I get a wide range of answers from date nights to ice cream to nachos and tacos.
The most common answer, however, is alcohol. Whether it is simply a glass of wine or a beer once a week or a bit more every once in a while to let loose with some friends, alcohol is somehow in the picture.
Now I could require that my clients remove alcohol when working for me.
Would that be a healthier option? Sure.
Will it help them lose weight? Absolutely.
Will it help muscle growth? Fo sho
Will it work? Maybe for a few months.
Will it last? Nope.
I can’t just have them remove it. IF they removed it just while working with me, they’d see immediate results...but the results wouldn’t last and 1. they'd hate me (rightfully so) or 2. they'd be completely dependent on me as a coach because my removal of alcohol was the root cause for their success.
Yes, it is healthier and better overall to remove alcohol completely, but that can’t be the only answer because it isn’t sustainable.
One of my top priorities and values as a coach is finding the perfect diet that you can adhere to a year from now...2 years from now...20 years from now and that means including alcohol.
To help them find their perfect, sustainable nutrition plan, I have the responsibility of meeting them halfway and figuring out how to include alcohol in their diets all while staying successful and seeing results.
There are a couple scenarios on how to include alcohol into your macros and/or nutrition plan.
They are going to depend on a couple of factors...
What your goal is
Where you’re at
How you respond to these couple of factors will determine the scenario you will fall under. As always, there is some individualization to this so the scenario that works for you may not work for your best friend/sister/significant other and that’s okay. The scenario that works for you also could change! This is the case with me. I am in a pretty serious and aggressive cut in preparation for my Ironman I’ll be completing in June. Training is going to start ramping up in December which means any cut or aesthetics-based goal needs to be completed before then! (performance and aesthetics don’t always go together...most often they don’t!) Because I’m in a pretty aggressive cut, things need to be close to perfect...so I’m drinking very little if at all simply because I’m pretty hungry and don’t feel like wasting calories on alcohol and would rather them come from food. However, I just spent 4 months in a maintenance period enjoying my summer with my friends, where I drank nearly every weekend. I was way more fluid and in a much less strict scenario (scenario #1) for the past four months whereas now I’m more along the lines of scenario #4. (This is why periodizing your nutrition is SO crucial!!!!)
Below are each of the scenarios to implement when approaching alcohol and nutrition. Each scenario adds a level of complexity and adherence, so scenario #1 has the most freedom and least amount of restriction and scenario #4 has the least freedom and most amount of restriction.
Read through each of these scenarios first and think about which one is best suited for you now.
Even give each of them a practice run in the near future...yes your nutrition coach is telling you...even encouraging you...to drink alcohol 😉
Scenario #1. No tracking
This scenario is the simplest and my most common approach with almost all of my clients. This is for people whose goal is simply to just live a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. Most often, they’re maintaining and maybe gaining. The only situation I wouldn’t recommend this scenario is in the case of cutting and actively losing weight. The reason I have most of my clients practicing this approach is because it’s the most sustainable and realistic. Tracking alcohol isn’t easy (see #4) and honestly isn’t necessary. If you’re drinking alcohol 1, maybe 2 days, in a week, then you can afford a “day off.” Now this doesn’t mean that you get to go balls to the wall, just that you don’t have to sit there staring at your phone playing the MFP tetris game at the bar with the bartender staring at you.
In this scenario, you don’t track your calories or macros at all. What you’re going to do “carb/fat/calorie backload” meaning you’re going to save most of your carbs and fats and as a results a good bit of calories for the later portion in the day, buying yourself a ton of wiggle room in the evening with the drinks come out.
The first step is to reduce the number of meals. If you’re eating between 4-6 meals, we’re now aiming for 3 (2 if you want, but I don’t recommend this unless you sleep until 12-1 which I’ve never done). The first two meals are going to be comprised of mostly protein and veggies, mainly to ensure you’re getting protein and the essential vitamins and minerals. Breakfast could be a hearty egg scramble or omelet (fill with some egg whites for added protein without the fats) or even a smoothie (but keep fairly low carb). Lunch could be a giant salad or bowl. Some carbs and fats are fine and honestly unavoidable (between 10-30g carbs and 5-10g fats each meal) but don’t go overboard by throwing in a cup of rice or potatoes. If you get hungry in between meals, supplement with a protein shake because this is often the macro we tend to neglect when it comes to alcohol and is going to ensure we’re managing hunger and cravings. By “meal 3”, you’re at your dinner where you have a ton of room to have some fun. If you follow these guidelines for meals 1 and 2, you’ve likely only eaten 700-1000. If you’ve been following me for a while, hopefully you’ve listened to me repeatedly telling you to eat more food (here is why). IF you’ve followed my advice, you’re eating anywhere between 2000 and 2500 for most females and 2300-2800 for most males (on average) meaning that you have over 1000 calories to spare that can be used on alcohol and any alcohol snackies.
Also, make sure on these alcohol days that you’re exercising and getting the blood flowing somehow, even if it’s just a walk or attending a yoga class. Some form of movement is going to make you feel better while also increasing daily expenditure.
This scenario is more for special occurrences and occasions (1-2 nights/week at most). If you drink every day, keep reading.
Scenario #2. Tracking protein only
Not everyone is comfortable with just being free from tracking (although I do recommend it). Sometimes, it leads to a lot of anxiety and would rather have some means of tracking and accountability as to not go overboard. Additionally, we all need breaks from tracking but don’t want to lose progress. Having at least one metric to track keeps you accountable and keeps decision making slightly better. This is also the scenario for diet breaks (during maintenance phases and reverse diets).
Also for many, until they’ve mastered “intuitive eating”, often may find themselves enjoying a bit too much freedom and may see a delay or lag in progress.
This scenario helps with that.
You’re going to follow the general guidelines:
Reduce number of meals
Keep meals #1 and #2 reserved for protein and veggies
Supplementing with protein shakes
Enjoy “meal #3” with treats and alcohol
But now the only thing you’re logging is protein, ensuring you’re reaching your protein goal. These guidelines should get you close, but with this approach, you will know for sure.
Like I previously mentioned this is often the most neglected macro. Who has a few brewskies and runs for the grilled chicken? Nah. You’re going for the fries, pizza, or ice cream, which are much higher in carbs and fats.
Protein also is the macronutrient responsible for muscle gain. To ensure we’re not messing too much with muscle protein synthesis, we want to make sure you’re getting enough as to not affect the gainz.
Lastly and most importantly, protein increases daily expenditure and reduces hunger, helping you fight cravings. This is key if you’re reducing the number of meals while also increasing your exposure to calorie-dense yummy foods, you’re going to want to avoid as much hunger and cravings as possible.
Again, this approach typically isn’t recommended for the daily drinker.
Scenario #3. Tracking calories and protein
Here we are getting a bit more diligent with tracking. This is the scenario you want to use if you’re in the beginning stages of a cut, with still a decent bit of room to play around with. This is the scenario I will recommend for people who frequently travel, meaning not on a yearly vacation.
This is also the scenario for a diet break during a cut. In a cut, if I see a client’s biofeedback and mental motivation start to lag, I’ll implement a diet break where I’ll bring calories up to maintenance or slightly below maintenance (by only 100-200 calories) and have them still track protein.
What this essentially means is that they are tracking their alcohol, but they don’t have to worry about the ratio or amounts of carbs or fats.
In a diet break during a cut, we want the client to take a break physically and mentally, but we don’t want the client to completely lose their progress and have to spend a month doing damage control. They still do get a bit of freedom, though, in that they don’t have to prioritize carbs or fats.
The same general rules apply, but meal number can potentially be increased because this scenario does imply a bit more planning on your end. If the calories/protein fit in 3 or 4 meals, it doesn’t matter as long as both are met.
This may be a suitable approach for someone who drinks daily and is more general population, although my recommendation for you is a bit further.
Scenario #4. Including alcohol macros
Now the last situation is for those who are competitors, in an aggressive or final weeks of a cut, or in preparation for some final aesthetics-based or performance-based goal.
Take my situation. Currently prepping for an Ironman and cutting roughly 10-15lbs in preparation for it. No, I’m not a competitor, but performance matters so quality of my diet matters. I also have quite the flexible metabolism (I can eat close to 3000 with minimal weight gain and consistently eat 1500 calories with little weight loss), so we have to be a bit more creative with the cut by carb cycling. On training days, I’m eating 1850 calories (150P/200C/45F) and on rest days, I’m eating 1500 calories (150P/75C/70F). This is very aggressive...but also very tough mentally, which means I want to get the cut done as quick and as smooth as possible. This means I need to be more strict with my macros, especially when it comes to alcohol.
How do you factor alcohol into your macros?
Unfortunately tracking apps are all over the place on this. We have a general idea the number of calories a beverage has, even if you have to do a google search, but you do need to log some form of a macro. I find the macro calculations to be fairly off, so you’re going to have to do some math.
To refresh your memory:
You can pick whether you want to log your alcohol as a carb or a fat. What you will do is take the number of calories in the drink you’re planning to have (from the nutrition label, Google, or MFP) and divide that by the cals/g in the chart above. Below are a few examples.
12oz beer as fat = 150 calories/9 = 16g fat
12oz beer as carbs = 150 calories/4 = 37.5g carbs
12oz light beer as fat = 100 calories/9 = 11g fats
12oz light beer as carbs = 100 calories/4 = 25g carbs
5oz glass of red wine as fat = 125 calories/9 = 14g fats
5oz glass of red wine as carbs = 125 calories/4 = 30g carbs
1.5 fl oz hard liquor as fats = 100 calories/9 = 11g fats
1.5 fl oz hard liquor as carbs = 100 calories/4 = 25g carbs
I recommend taking the calories from fats, as long as your fat prescription already isn’t too low. This is mainly due to how alcohol is metabolized in the body in addition to the fact that if you don’t eat carbs, you’re likely going to get a bit too drunk too fast and we don’t want that. Fats are more likely to get stored as bodyfat, so if you go into a surplus for the day due to drinking and eating, that’s more likely to be stored as bodyfat whereas carbs are harder to convert into lipids to be stored as fat. However, like with anything, it does come down to your adherence. If you’re going to adhere better by removing 25g of carbs instead of 10g fats, by all means do it.
Now what if you drink every day?
My first suggestion is to reduce the number of days you’re drinking. Alcohol does have some negative side effects. It slows and worsens gut function and motility (known as the anti-fiber). It affects your liver. It worsens sleep. It reduces muscle protein synthesis. It affects your weight by dropping your weight the first day (due to dehydration) followed by a 2-3 day increase in weight (due to inflammation). If you’re goal is weight loss, it’s hard to get a realistic picture of your progress if you’re consuming alcohol daily.
If you can even just cut the daily drinking to half, you’re 10x better off.
However, if not, none of these scenarios realistically work for you. What you want to do is subtract the calories you consume or want to consume from alcohol from your total daily calories. This will be the calories you consume from food and the calorie number you will work off of to set your macros.
Hopefully by now, you can see that you can still drink alcohol and still lose weight. How you do it is completely up to you.
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