I am often asked what is the best drink to have if you are on a diet or trying to lose weight. The answer is simple: water, duh! Unfortunately I don’t think that’s the answer most people want to hear when they are inquiring about drinking alcohol. The truth is alcohol doesn’t make you fat—at least not directly. Let me explain… To understand how alcohol affects your weight it’s important to understand alcohol’s effect on your body. Unlike carbohydrates, proteins and fats, your body cannot store alcohol so it has to be metabolized (burned or used for energy) right away. Carb, fat and even protein calories can be stored as fat if you are in a positive caloric balance—you take in more calories than you burn. Because alcohol cannot be stored as fat you could make the argument that it doesn’t make you fat. The problem is, because alcohol takes priority, any excess non-alcoholic calories your body has not metabolized will be stored as fat. Without a regular exercise program and healthy eating habits, your body will continue to convert excess calories to fat regardless of if you’re drinking or not. Drinking just makes it’s easier for your body to squirrel away those extra calories. The best way to avoid growing a beer belly is to know how many calories are in a drink. Below is a general guideline showing how many calories are in some of the more common alcoholic beverages:
Shot of Liquor 50 calories- 0g of carbs
Glass of Champagne 100 calories- 2g of carbs
Glass of Wine 100 calories- 5g of carbs
Light Beer 100 calories- 4g of carbs
Regular Beer 200 calories- 12g of carbs
Mixed Drink 200 calories- 20g of carbs
Frozen/Specialty Drink 300+ calories- 40g+ of carbs
As you can see, 3-4 drinks can easily rack up calories and depending on your drink of choice, that number can reach over 1000! Being conscious of the calories you take in from alcohol can not only help you control your alcohol intake but also help you monitor you calorie intake as well. To manage the number of drinks you have as well as your alcohol calories, I recommend one of four strategies. Pick one that works best for you or try any combination of the four:
If you having alcohol with a meal try cutting out a few calories from your food. For example, get a side salad instead of fries, order a leaner cut of steak or fish, select a smaller entrée, turn away the bread basket or skip the appetizer.
On days that I know I will be going out drinking, I like to do an extra half hour of cardio to balance out the extra calories from alcohol. Depending on how many drinks I end up having I may do an extra half hour the next day as well.
Go with a lower calorie drink or one that has less additional sugar. Drinking a light beer instead of regular beer can cut your calories in half. A mixed drink with soda water (not tonic water!) or a diet mixer cuts out 150 calories and 20 grams of carbs per drink versus juice and other sugary mixers. I have even heard of people bringing Crystal Light and Splenda packs with them when they go out drinking. Be creative!
The best way to keep your alcohol and calorie intake in check is to exercise regularly and eat healthy. This will ensure that your burning enough calories and not taking in excess calories that can lead to weight gain. Besides, allowing yourself to indulge in a drink or few…I mean two…every now and then is supposedly good for you anyways so drink up! In moderation and responsibly of course…