“Why can’t I just replace my carbs with alcohol?”
With very social clients in Los Angeles, Miami, and New York City, alcohol is often a topic of conversation. Common questions I get are:
- What is the best drink to have if I’m going out?
- Can’t I just replace my carb calories with alcohol?
Well, I’m here to answer.
What is the best drink to have if I’m going out?
Don’t be mad, but I’m answering this question with a question: “What drink will you enjoy (otherwise why are you drinking it), annnnnd (important follow-up question) not overdrink?” I have some clients who will easily drink an entire bottle of wine, but will sip a whiskey on the rocks over the course of the night. I also have clients who will down vodka-sodas, but sip on a glass of wine. So, YOU (because nutrition should be personalized!!) should drink what you enjoy and what you also won’t drink too much of.
Everyone though should drink as few cocktails as possible. And it is not just the obvious ones that you know have a lot of sugar in them: margaritas, mai tais, and those craft cocktails with all sorts of juices and sweeteners in them. You also want to watch out for things like some martinis, gin and tonics, and manhattans. The simpler, the healthier.
What’s a good balance if you love a cocktail? Have one. And then if you must have another drink, switch to something neat or on the rocks that you can sip.
Can’t I just replace my carb calories with alcohol calories?
“Calories in, calories out, right?? RIGHT, Erica??” Nope, sorry. Calories is a factor in developing a nutrition plan, but it is not the only thing that matters.
What does your body need? It needs carbs, protein, fat, and the vitamins, minerals, and fiber that are found within them. It does not need alcohol! So what do you think it does with the SEVEN calories per gram of alcohol (as opposed to the 4 calories per gram of carbs and protein or the 9 calories per gram of fat)? It’s going to (a) put your liver to work trying to detoxify it and (b) make some fat. Without getting too science-y, breaking down alcohol leaves you with a lot of NADH which tells your body to make and store fat.
Not to mention, when we drink, our inhibitions decrease and we are more inclined to eat whatever we feel like having. Cookies? Pizza? Fries? What’s your poison?
Lastly, alcohol leads to poor recovery. Anyone who has ever worn a Whoop will tell you how much their Heart Rate Variability drops and their Resting Heart Rate increases the day after even just one drink, let alone a night of drinking. What that means is that even if you go to the gym the next day to try to “work it off,” your performance is going to be poor compared to the day after a sober night.
“OK but… I’m still going to drink.”
I got you. If drinking is going to be part of your lifestyle, then how do you account for it in your calories and macro plan?
- You might want to give yourself some extra calories on the nights you go out, but still track so you don’t go too far over. If you are on a “cut,” give yourself 300-500 calories extra. That day will then just end up being a maintenance day. No problem.
- If you are already on maintenance (or in a gaining period), you can just keep your calories as they are and allot some of your carbs and/or fat for your alcohol calories that night. Keep your protein at the assigned grams. Drop your grams of carbs to equal 80-100% of your bodyweight, and drop your fat to 50-60 grams for the day. Use these cut calories from carbs and fat towards your alcohol for the night, and you should come out as having maintained.
Keep in mind though that alcohol can lead to fat storage regardless of if your calories are on point, so you still want to limit it as much as possible. One or two times per week is fine, but if you’re looking at the bottom of a glass multiple times per week or even just a couple nights of many, many glasses, you will probably not get the results you are looking for in fat loss or athletic performance.
– Erica Giovinazzo, MS, RD, CPT