Stop drinking from getting in the way of your fitness this Christmas.
It’s that time of year when everyone has work break-ups, family occasions and Christmas get-togethers. And that’s without even mentioning that New Year is just around the corner.
For a lot of people, this means being around alcohol — and possibly overdoing it.
So, how do you enjoy yourself this festive season without harming your fitness too much?
As you might know, alcohol is considered its own macronutrient. What does this mean? Basically, it means it doesn’t fit into being a protein, fat or carb. Alcohol contains calories without doing anything useful for your body.
What’s more, your body prioritises getting rid of alcohol above anything else, so when you’re eating and drinking at the same time, you’re not working off those extra Christmas calories.
Plus, consuming alcohol is also likely to make you eat more. A 2010 study found that people consumed more calories after drinking, especially if they had drunk a sugary mixed drink.
Alcohol doesn’t directly convert to fat but it does signal to your body that it doesn’t need to burn any sugar of fat off — it’s a ‘fat burning suppressor’. This effect is especially true for impulsive people or those who have trouble controlling themselves around food even when not drinking.
So, if we’re going to drink, we have to be very careful about how much we drink, when we drink and what we can do to mitigate alcohol’s effects.
5 top tips for surviving the festive season with your fitness intact
1. Choose your alcohol carefully
The effects of alcohol can differ depending on what you drink. Some drinks can actually make you eat more, due to an appetite stimulant effect, whereas others suppress appetite in the short-term. Beer and white wine tend to suppress appetite; red wine and mixed drinks can spirits stimulate appetite. (However, in the long-term any alcohol will increase appetite, so be mindful.)
White wine also tends to have fewer carbs than red, while spirits usually have fewer calories than beer or wine — but this doesn’t matter if you’re mixing your spirits with sugary soft drinks. (The same goes for cider, usually made from fruit that’s full of sugar.)
2. Avoid mixed drinks
Drinking alcohol with a mixer increases the calories you’re ingesting, especially if it’s a soft drink or juice mix, which contain loads of sugar. Alcohol plus sugar also means your body’s more likely to store that sugar — and potentially make you drink more.
Straight shots of spirits — drinking something ‘neat’or mixing with soda water or diet soda — is best for your waistline, as long as you’re not skolling them one after the other.
If you have to mix, stick to drinks with only one mixer and one shot of alcohol — no cocktails or double shots.
3. Don’t drink soon after a workout
It should go without saying that you shouldn’t drink right before a workout. However, it’s also the case that you shouldn’t drink soon after a workout either. A 2016 study found that men who drank after resistance exercise interrupted the muscular adaptations that help build muscle and strength. Drinking after cardio is also not a great idea.
For best performance, try to wait a couple of days after drinking before resuming intense exercise or sport. A 2015 study found that a rugby team recovered from a heavy drinking season after two full days.
If you are going to drink after a workout session, try to keep the drinking to a moderate level, around 0.5g–1g per kilo of body weight.
4. Drink in moderation.
This should be rule number one. Drinking in moderation is always the best plan. Fewer than three drinks is considered light consumption and your body will be much better able to repair and recover from it. You can still have fun without going overboard.
5. Consider not drinking
If your fitness goals are important to you, there’s nothing really stopping you from just saying no to a drink. This time of year is about family, friends and being together. Alcohol need not enter into it. Plus you can be up bright and early for a session at Hammers Gym while everyone is still hungover. Winning!