Whether it’s the few glasses after work, the Friday night pints and curry at the local with the lads or the Saturday night clubbing; it’s hard to deny the mass integration of alcohol into many British social activities. Heck, they even sell lager and wine at the cinema! However you choose to take your poison, the common question that should be present in everyone’s mind is how it affects your progression towards your goals. Unfortunately the understanding for most is minimal. With many of my clients we have brutal sessions with outstanding effort several times throughout the week.
We have a great food diary, motivation is through the roof and it doesn’t even feel like ‘work’ing out but for some and then the weekend is where it all goes wrong and we’re back to square one and wondering what happened. Monday morning hits, having just recovered (or for some not even!) the dreaded hangover, scales are up again and we’re back to Mrs. Muffin Top and Mr. Man Boobs. Today I’m going to focus on one of the least understood factors but one that the majority of us have all struggled with at some point, both trainer and trainee – alcohol. To start with, I’m going to put into put a typical weekend into perspective for you, just to show the extent of all those built up drinks and that greasy kebab can have:
Pre-going out drinks: 2 x large glasses Red Wine + ¼ Sainsbury’s Pepperoni Pizza + 50g Dorito’s (+- ¼ large bag). Total: kCal: 600kCal, Carbs: 78g, Protein: 11g, Fat: 22.6g
Night Out Drinks:
Night-out Grand Total: kCal: 4255kCal, Carbs: 713g, Fat: 141.6g, Protein: 33g
Looking at that list some of you will be laughing at my idea of a ‘night out’ with the modesty of the drinks list (which only totals to 26 units) but I’m certain you weren’t laughing once you got to the bottom of the list with the whopper calorie total. Baring in mind the modesty of drinking volume, using no fatty outlandish cocktails/shots with whipped cream or Bailey’s, a small portion of everyone’s favourite craving satisfier and pretending not to acknowledge the fridge raid that normally ensues upon stumbling through your threshold and into a familiar (or non, for some) kitchen. Add on the food you ate throughout the day earlier on, again being nice let’s go for a minimal 1000kCal – 5255kCal. Oh and we can’t forget the fry up the next morning and carton of orange juice, another 1200kCal (baring in mind I’ve used reduced sugar orange juice along with a healthy version of a full English – 6455kCal. And we all know chocolate and ice cream are great for that pounding headache! Another 1200kCal (baring in mind I’ve used near fat-free frozen yogurt and only 100g Milk Chocolate) – 7655kCal. Dinner? ‘’Don’t be ridiculous I’m far too hungover for that!’’… ‘’Hello, Pizza’’, add another 1160kCal (using a small 11’’ gluten-free veggie pizza – the lowest calorie option available) –8815kCal.
So even when totalling the most conservative of options (come on – who orders a vegetarian pizza?), that mini let-your hair down has totalled roughly 9000 calories, who’d have thought? We all need to relax and have some kind of recharge every so often but when they are done in such a fashion with no fore thought you can see even from a calorie perspective the effects from your typical ‘blow-out’ (which for some is a weekly fate) can be shocking. Here are a few more of the drawbacks when we don’t think about things sensibly, keeping our goals in mind:
1. Impaired Recovery – binge drinking has been shown to drastically reduce ‘protein synthesis’ which is your body’s ability to utilize dietary protein for muscular recovery – a vital process following exercise. This means those 2 hours you hammered in the gym before your big night to have the ‘guns’ pumped or the tummy trim may take a lot longer to recover from or you may even regress as opposed to progress!
2. Cripples Workouts – binge drinking has also shown to reduce t-hormones (vital for muscle growth, strength and recovery) by as much as 23-43% for around 24-36 hours after a big night! Not only this but your cortisol levels will also be significantly raised to similar extremes for an extended time period – cortisol is catabolic (‘eats’ muscle tissue), impairs recovery, encourages fat storage and increases water retention and inflammation (think ‘muffin top’).
3. Fat Burning standstill – alcohol is highly toxic and its by-products need to be removed ASAP. Alcohol is metabolised (processed) in the liver which is also the organ responsible for burning body fat however when alcohol in present, every other process the liver performs is put on a ‘back-burner’ so to speak until the toxic has been removed. Considering alcohol is roughly removed at around 1-2 units an hour, an average 20-25 unit night will take substantial time to process, during which time any chances of burning fat are severely hampered. Add to this all of the comfort food and we have a recipe for disaster.
These are merely the major effects concerning aesthetic/performance orientated goals, there are many more! Now, the purpose of this article certainly was not to scare you into abandoning your social life but more to prompt you to think about the impact ‘letting your hair down’ can have and to have a more proactive approach of making smarter choices. Below I have listed some tips that can drastically reduce the devastation of a ‘mad one’:
1. Drink It Neat – by this I mean opt for spirits as opposed to wine, beer, alcopops, cider, liqueurs and cocktails. Why? Neat spirits such as vodka, gin, tequila, brandy etc. all tend to be virtually carb-free whereas your average bottle of lager/alcopop tends to have 15-30g of sugar in each! By opting for spirits you reduce the carbs and therefore the calories.
2. ‘’I’m On A Diet’’ – furthering the first point opt for sugar-free or ‘’diet’’ options in terms of mixers as these also send the calorie tally soaring. Remember, the 200ml of Cola with your shot of Rum contains around 24g of sugar (carbs) alone! This tip will again, drastically reduce your calorie total.
3. Pace Yourself – an obvious one that all of our parents have no doubt suggested at some stage in our youth. Try drinking a glass of water in between drinks, over time this will reduce the overall alcohol consumption and possible calories, not to mention combat the dehydrative effect of alcohol.
4. Eat Smart – the standard donner kebab, cheesy chips, burger, pizza or fried chicken aren’t the only options where many takeaways now have plenty of healthier choices available. One of my personal favourites is a chicken kebab from my local which uses fat-free pita bread, grilled chicken breast and salad – a huge difference in calories compared to the donner disaster! The best way to approach food after a night out however would be to prepare a large amount of lean meat and vegetables such as a few chicken breasts rubbed with some garlic and smoked paprika, stir-fried low-carb vegetables and some fat-free mayonnaise – it may mean waiting for an extra half an hour between taxi, home and oven but at that point of the night (or morning) I’m sure you won’t be too bothered.
Not all of us want to be Olympic level athletes or professional fitness models and for some of us maintaining a good social life is an important part of our lives. However, there’s no reason why one part of our life should hold back the other when, with a little care and consideration we can have the best of both worlds.