How To Track Alcohol Into Your Macros

 

It’s ‘Thirsty Thursday’ (not in my world…but, somewhere), so let’s talk alcohol!

Whenever I am talking with someone about tracking macros, without fail, they eventually ask, “But, can I drink alcohol…?” And rightfully so! Most people enjoy a drink after a long day at work or a night out with friends, so any nutritional protocol that says ‘NO!’ to booze, probably isn’t going to be the most successful.

So, let’s figure this out – can you track your macros and drink alcohol?

 

Education: Alcohol & Your Body

 

When it comes to the energy value (calories) of each macro, protein and carbohydrates both contain 4kcal/gram, while fat contains 9kcal/gram. Alcohol, which some consider to be the ‘Fourth Macro’ (don’t listen to these people…), contains 7kcal/gram.

This is really where the problems start with alcohol and the body. Think of the body as being bilingual – it speaks in 4’s (carbs & protein) and 9’s (fat). When you consume alcohol and throw a 7 in the mix, it might as well be Swahili! The body detects something that shouldn’t be there and instantly diverts all energy and resources to processing and excreting it from the body.

Muscle building? Nope! No time for that – have to get rid of the booze!

Fat metabolism? Sorry, preoccupied with getting rid of this ‘7’!

Producing sex hormones? Ha! You think I care if you can reproduce?! Your body is under attack by this poison!

With regards to recovery from training, specifically, “Alcohol (EtOH) decreases protein synthesis and blunts the anabolic response to growth factors in skeletal muscle” (Steiner). These two factors greatly diminish both performance and recovery, which could be a deal breaker for you depending on your goals and level of athletics.

We’ve all heard the adage, “If some is good, more is better.” Well, with regards to alcohol and its catabolic nature, more days of drinking certainly is worse! So much so that when I am working with a client who lists alcohol as a non-negotiable (something they refuse to give up and has to be included in any nutritional plan for them to stick with it), I tell them that I’d much rather have them drink one night per week, and get pretty drunk if that’s what they want to do, than to have 1-2 drinks per night, most nights of the week.

What?! Did you just read that correctly?! I’d rather have my clients get drunk once a week, than have a drink or two with dinner during the week?! You read it correctly and here’s why:

 

1. I just went over how alcohol essentially shuts down muscle building, hampering growth and recovery. If that temporarily happens whenever we consume alcohol, your damn right I’d rather that happen to my clients once per week, versus every night of the week.

2. Alcohol will cause weight fluctuations, which is going to mess with peoples’ already fragile, and fearful, relationship with the scale. For example, let’s say you weigh 175lbs, normally, and you go out for drinks with friends on Friday night…

Saturday (1 day after): 173lbs – Expect to wake up lighter, not due to body fat loss, but due to a certain level of dehydration

Sunday (2 days after): 175lbs – Expect to wake up HEAVIER than you did on Saturday, but near your normal weight from Friday

Monday (3 days after): 177lbs – Expect to wake up HEAVIER than you did on Friday, Saturday, AND Sunday

Tuesday (4 days after): 175lbs – Expect to return back to normal body weight from Friday

As you can see, it takes FOUR days to get back to ‘normal’ and a true representation of your body weight. And that’s if you drink ONE night! Let’s say you drank Friday night…and then again on Sunday night at dinner…and then again on Monday, because you were stressed at work…and then again on Wednesday, because you went out for wings with the boys…you see what I’m getting at. Your weight would constantly be jumping up and down, and you, and your coach, would never be able to know if your nutritional plan was leading to any real success.

 

Action: How To Track Alcohol

 

“Yeah, Kevin, I get it. I shouldn’t drink alcohol, but here’s the thing – I’m going to. So, how the hell do I track it and make sure it’s not putting me way over my calories?”

Okay, okay – let’s get into it. You have a few options:

 

Option #1

Convert Alcohol Calories to CARBOHYDRATES

 

Step 1: Do an internet search for the alcohol you are drinking and calories

Ex. “Vodka Calories”

Step 2: Convert those calories to carbohydrates by dividing by 4

Ex. 64 calories (per oz) / 4 = 16g carbs

Step 3: Create a manual listing for Vodka in MyFitnessPal (or other tracking app)

Ex. Vodka (Carbs): 64 calories, 16g carbs

Option #2

Convert Alcohol Calories to FAT

 

Step 1: Do an internet search for the alcohol you are drinking and calories

Ex. “Vodka Calories”

Step 2: Convert those calories to fat by dividing by 9

Ex. 64 calories (per oz) / 9 = 7.1g fat

Step 3: Create a manual listing for Vodka in MyFitnessPal (or other tracking app)

Ex. Vodka (Fat): 64 calories, 7.1g fat

Option #3

Convert Alcohol Calories to FAT and CARBOHYDRATES

 

Step 1: Do an internet search for the alcohol you are drinking and calories

Ex. “Vodka Calories”

Step 2: Convert a portion of the calories of the calories to carbohydrates and the rest to fat (50/50)

Ex. 32 calories (per oz) / 4 = 8g carbs & 32 calories (per oz) / 9 = 3.5g fat

Step 3: Create a manual listing for Vodka in MyFitnessPal (or other tracking app)

Ex. Vodka (Carbs & Fat): 64 calories, 8g carbs & 3.5g fat

 

Regardless of the method you choose, above, the two things you want to make sure to keep in mind when you’re drinking and tracking alcohol:

1. It doesn’t take away from hitting your normal daily protein intake goal

2. It doesn’t cause you to exceed your daily caloric intake goal

 

Here are some parting tips on how to better work alcohol into your macro tracking plan and as always, please drink responsibly!

  • Limit alcohol frequency. Save your drinks for one night vs. spreading them throughout the week
  • Get a lot of protein/veggies/fiber before drinking. Avoid fats
  • Digest your food before you start drinking – you’re body isn’t going to do it while you’re drinking, so that food is more likely to be stored as fat
  • Get a healthy meal in first thing the next morning (no greasy breakfast and no hair of the dog) and get right back on track with your normal macros
  • Stick to clear liquor with calorie-free mixers (soda water, diet soda, water) – don’t waste those carbs!
  • Workout in the morning if you are planning to drink that day. Avoid tough afternoon workouts right before drinking

 

References

Steiner, Jennifer L., and Charles H. Lang. “Alcohol Impairs Skeletal Muscle Protein Synthesis And Motor Signaling In A Time-Dependent Manner Following Electrically Stimulated Muscle Contraction.” Journal Of Applied Physiology 117.10 (2014): 1170-1179. SPORTDiscus. Web. 1 Feb. 2016.

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