I want to have a little laugh when people ask me if I drink – not because it’s a silly question but because I LOVE my wine and cocktails — the more ridiculous flavours, the better.
I understand why they’re asking. They want to know how I feel about drinking as a fitness professional. It’s a fair question because there is so much mixed information out there when it comes to fitness and alcohol. You have people shouting from both sides at you. There are those trainers who encourage hard workouts to make up for hard drinking (the “earn it to burn it” mentality) and those that don’t drink at all and encourage you to go permanently sober as well. So who is right?
Neither and both. Let me explain…
Your body & alcohol
Your body is smart when it comes to burning energy (aka calories.) Its first fuel choice, most of the time is carbs, followed by fat and, lastly, protein. The digestive process is more complicated than this but it’s easiest to think of it in this way. Now, here is where alcohol comes in….
Your body will default to burning alcoholic calories first, every time, as a way to remove toxins from the body. That basically means that all the other stuff gets stored for later. That can be an issue if you’re eating a surplus of fat while also drinking. This is why big drinkers carry excess weight (particularly in the abdomen.)
This is also why HOW MUCH you drink DOES matter and it DOES impact your fitness level.
Does what you drink matter?
Many trainers will tell you to not drink alcohol at all. I’m not one of them. I believe in cutting out/down alcohol when you are doing a specific program as a reset but then finding a BALANCED approach to it afterward.
A balanced approach means allowing yourself to drink occasionally because you enjoy it (not because you need it.) Part of enjoying a drink means you have to actually like the taste of it right?
This is why I will always advocate drinking what you want not just what you think you should have. If you hate vodka soda, then don’t drink it. A shot of vodka has 35% less calories than a small glass of wine on average. So, yes, with each glass of wine you drink, the calorie difference grows but if you’re only having a glass or two does it really matter? Especially if you’re going to have 4 or 5 vodka sodas anyway? Wouldn’t it be better to really savour the drink you like and not worry about it?
This is why what you drink DOESN’T matter if you practice balance and moderation.
How to manage drinking
Hard rules always get broken when it comes to dieting and fitness because eventually we rebel. You can’t be perfect 100% of the time. That’s why you don’t want to put rules on what you can/can’t have BUT it is helpful to give yourself guidelines.
Guidelines are not another name for rules. Guidelines are intentions that are REALISTIC. They keep you on track but they also don’t make you depressed, guilty or upset if you mess up. There’s no failing with guidelines like there is with rules. You just follow them most the time.
If you haven’t already, establish guidelines for how you would like to manage drinking. Do you want to keep it mostly for the weekend? Do you want to have on average 2 or 3 drinks a week? Think about what is realistic for you and then be easy-going about certain things that come up like weddings, birthdays, etc. Pick which occasions matter for you to drink and which really don’t.
And above all – make sure your enjoyment is a big factor here!