Alcohol can derail the best of fitness plans.
While some studies show there may be a few health benefits when drinking lightly or moderately, not everyone agrees. The studies are conflicting and confusing.
In fact, one of the most recent studies was by The Global Burden of Diseases, and they found no health benefit for drinking at all. According to this 2018 survey, no amount of alcohol is safe to consume. They analyzed levels of alcohol use and its health effects in 195 countries from 1990 to 2016.
But no matter what the latest study decides, one thing is clear: alcohol consumption can cause problems for people focused on fitness.
How alcohol can harm your fitness goals
Although experts disagree on whether or not there may be some health benefits for light to moderate alcohol consumption, they all seem to agree there are some definite problems for your fitness goals.
Here are a few things that alcohol does:
- Keeps your body from burning fat
When you drink alcohol, it’s broken down into acetate. This is what your body will burn before burning any other calories you’ve consumed or stored, including fat and sugar. So when you drink, you’re more likely to store any fat and sugar that you ate earlier. When alcohol is in your system, it’s harder for your body to burn fat.
- Causes you to lose your motivation
Even the healthiest eaters have trouble fighting the urge to indulge with the wrong foods when they’ve been drinking. Studies show that people eat about 30 percent more food when they consume alcohol. This may be due to alcohol interfering with feelings of fullness, or just because it causes you to have poor judgment about food choices. And one recent study showed that alcohol consumption can actually trigger hunger signals in the brain, leading to an increased urge to eat more food.
- Adds empty calories to your daily intake
Alcoholic drinks add empty calories without much, if any, nutritional value. That 5-ounce glass of wine has about 150 calories, and a shot of vodka has about 100. For every drink you have, you need to either subtract something else from your food intake or log another mile on the treadmill to avoid gaining weight.
- Affects digestion and nutrient absorption
Any amount of alcohol consumption leads to impaired digestion and absorption of nutrients. This can negatively impact your metabolism and weight management.
- Keeps your body from burning fat
Drinks to Avoid
The main drinks to avoid for empty calories and extra sugar are pretty predictable. Anything frozen that’s often served with an umbrella in it (although delicious) is probably one of your worst choices. Try to avoid these drinks:
- Pina coladas
Pina coladas contain lots of saturated fat and can have more calories than a Big Mac!
- Fruity or frozen margaritas
Margarita mixes have high fructose corn syrup and often have more than 500 calories per drink. And if you add the fruity options, it gets worse. As an example, Olive Garden’s Strawberry Mango Margarita contains 52 grams of sugar—more than your daily allowance and equal to a Cinnabon!
It’s called a beer belly for a reason. Most people who choose beer drink more than one at a sitting since the alcohol content is low compared to other drinks. But at an average of 150 calories per beer, those calories add up quickly.
This is another frozen drink to avoid. Because of their sugar-filled mixes, many daiquiris can have 1000 calories—half of the recommended daily calories for an average person.
Best drink choices when you want to indulge
If you’re going to indulge in drinking alcohol, (and most of us do at one time or another) try one of these healthier options. They may not come with an umbrella, but they don’t come with as much regret the next morning, either.
And keep in mind, it’s not only what you drink that matters, but how much!
- Vodka seltzer with lemon or lime wedges / vodka soda with a splash of juice
Try a bit of vodka with seltzer water and a squeeze of either lemon or lime. Or if you prefer, use vodka in soda water with a splash of lime juice or cranberry juice.
- Red wine
Although it has sugar and calories, red wine is one of the few alcoholic drinks which does seem to have some health benefits if you drink it in moderation. But don’t forget, what is considered a glass of wine is only five ounces—not a very big pour!
- Spicy bloody mary
Some dieticians suggest drinking spicy bloody marys because the spiciness slows down your drinking and encourages some water drinking in between sips of the bloody mary. And they often come with healthy garnishes to munch on: celery sticks, olives, cherry tomatoes, etc.
- Whiskey or rum with Diet Coke
Some people enjoy a whiskey or rum with Coke. But if you can substitute the Coke with a Diet Coke then you’re cutting out sugar and extra calories.
- Low-calorie cosmopolitan
A low-calorie version of a cosmopolitan is raspberry-infused vodka, club soda, and a just a splash of lime or cranberry juice. The splash of juice will give you enough flavor without so many calories.
- On the rocks
If you like, you can always just drink your whiskey, scotch, tequila, etc. on ice. This takes out all the added sugar and calories of mixes and helps you to drink slowly.
Bottom Line: Drink Sparingly
Don’t let alcohol mess up your fitness goals. Our best advice is to drink sparingly.
But when you are going to drink, treat it as an indulgence. Drink in moderation and choose your drinks wisely. Done the right way, you can enjoy an occasional drink or two without derailing your fitness goals.