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How to manage your alcohol consumption?

Shashank Mehta
4 min read • 
10 January 2024

Editor’s Note: In the newsletter edition from June 2023, I had linked to this brilliant Slate article that explored the historical roots of divisive alcohol health advice. It traced the shift from the belief that ‘alcohol in moderation is good for you’ to the now common knowledge that ‘no amount of alcohol consumption is okay’. It’s worth a read if you missed it. 

However, if that’s a scientific fact, quitting alcohol completely — however theoretically beneficial — may not be the path you are looking for. So what to do? If you do choose to drink, is there a way to do so in a relatively healthier way? 

The Whole Truth’s founder Shashank Mehta wrote about this in his erstwhile blog, and we are republishing his approach today. 

How to Manage Alcohol Intake?

Many who start on the fitness journey, dread this question.

Will I need to completely give up alcohol?
Does fitness come at the cost of my social life?
What! No Beer? Whaaaaaa!

And it’s a fair question: what with the fitness industry’s relentless anti-alcohol stance? What is it about alcohol consumption that sparks such an extreme reaction amongst fitness enthusiasts? More importantly, is the path to fitness one of complete abstinence? Or can you do something about it? Let’s find out.

The Three Problems with Alcohol

One: Empty calories

Empty calories are calories from foods that have zero nutrition. Foods that are just plain calorie bombs. Foods that are, in effect, just (some form of) refined sugar. Alcohol is the king of that category.

That’s the prime reason why fitness nerds hate alcohol. Because it eats up your calorie quota but gives you nothing in return: no protein to build muscle, no good fats for lubrication and no good carbs for energy.

Just calories that your body has no use for. So it doesn’t really process them—just stores them away. Bad deal.

Two: Diuretic

The second problem with alcohol is that it dehydrates you. And dehydration hinders your body’s ability to synthesise protein. Which leads to muscle loss (or lack of gain after a strenuous workout). Along with all the other dehydration-related issues that you might have heard of. (If not, read this.)

Three: Alcohol begets alcohol

The third, and perhaps the biggest problem with alcohol, is that unlike food, the more you have, the more you want. It’s the reason why restaurants have ‘happy hours’ and ’shots on the house’. Ever seen them be that generous with food? 

 alcohol consumption can be dangerous

Increased alcohol intake tends to heighten the craving for it.

So, what’s the verdict? Should you stop alcohol consumption forever?

Well, I’d say yes if it was possible. 

Clearly, when it comes to fitness, there is no good that alcohol brings (if you ignore the stray ‘wine improves heart health’ sort of articles). 

But equally clearly, stopping drinking isn’t a solution for everyone. But maybe managing it is. 

🍻 Cheers or maybe not?


Here are some pro tips

One: Reduce calories

First up – below is a visual list of calories in different alcoholic beverages.

And here is an alcohol calorie calculator for you. Go on, check how many calories from alcohol alone are you consuming every day/week/month.

From the list, you’d notice that most hard liquor — whiskey, rum, vodka — has a similar number of calories per ml. What makes one alcohol worse than the other, then, are two things:

  1. What do you mix your alcohol with?
  2. How much of it do you tend to have?

As you’d notice, cocktails have about 2-3 times as many calories as neat alcohol. 

Clearly, all that extra sugar is coming from the mixers. The juices and the cokes and the syrups that make your cocktail so yummy. And it’s the yumminess of the drink that makes you have more than you ought to. 

Well…did you know that alcohol is actually a depressant

The reason you feel high and happy while consuming it is because of all this extra, unnecessary sugar that’s entering your system.

So first and foremost, cut the mixers.

Like most people, I started drinking with the ’tasty’ drinks like Screw-Driver and LIIT and Baileys (which is a calorie bomb if there ever was one). But once I learned this truth, I’ve trained myself to love the simplest of drinks: Whiskey + Water.

This is a combination you can find anywhere, that adds no extra calories, and that compensates for the alcohol-caused dehydration right from the start. Which brings me to the second point.

Two: Hydration

We’ve spoken about how important water is in the fitness scheme of things. Well, that importance doubles in the presence of alcohol. 

So either find a drink where water is the mixer or follow this simple thumb rule: Have a glass of water for every glass of alcohol you consume.

This has dual benefits. One, it’ll keep you hydrated, and reduce your ability to overdrink. And two, you’ll have a much, much more pleasant morning the day after.

Three: Over-drinking

Which brings us to the last problem. How to drink but not keep drinking? How to consume in moderation?

This is the Holy Grail, really. A few drinks at a few social gatherings aren’t that big a problem. It’s when few become quite-a-few that things start getting really ugly. And as we know, alcohol has this peculiar way of making you want more. So what can you do to break this trap of alcohol consumption?

There are three tricks that work well for me. Two we’ve discussed: don’t have ‘tasty’ cocktails or mixers that make you want to drink more and drink a lot of water to hydrate and keep yourself full.

The third trick I use is to eat after two drinks. And I eat a full, protein-heavy, low-carb meal. It’s important to note both the meal composition and timing.

I eat after two drinks because overtime I’ve noticed that it’s around the third drink that I begin to lose control over how much I want to drink. That heady feeling settles in and I get into my “oh c’mon I deserve this” mode and put back a few more and then it’s all downhill.

You should notice your inflection point and eat before that. The presence of food in your tummy will get your body back in action (trying to digest the food) and not let the alcohol wreak havoc on your brain. 

consuming alcohol, alcohol consumptionYour inflection will ensure you reach the right path.

Even more importantly though, don’t let that meal be full of carbs. (I know, that’s exactly what you crave when you drink). Carbs are a bit like those sugary mixers when it comes to activating the reward sections in your brain.

Simply put, too much carb will push you further into the ‘happy feeling’ seeking mode, which will, in turn, lead to more alcohol. (At least that’s how it works for me. The minute I have some bread or some dessert with my alcohol, I suddenly am like ‘bring-it-on’.) 

Eat a lot of protein instead, and the body will need to do some hard work breaking it down. Also, the extra protein will help compensate for the protein-synthesis hampering effects of alcohol that we spoke of earlier. A win-win.

Use this article as a perfect excuse to not go out😂

Wine and Beer

These two deserve a special mention. Especially beer. From the calorie list, you’ll see that a glass of beer has more calories than 30ml of any other alcohol. But that’s not the main problem.

The problem is the way we consume these drinks. In pints, by the glass, and maybe thrice a week. That’s the problem.  I just wanted to call them out because they aren’t as innocent as they look. They are more calorie-dense (given the unit of consumption) and more harmful (given the frequency at which we consume them) than regular alcohol. So beware.

There is also something to be said about snacks — alcohol’s evil-genius brother. This master-of-disguise that hides there in plain sight, is as harmful (if not more) as alcohol, and yet acts all innocent.

For now, be happy in the knowledge that you don’t need to abstain to lose weight. But alcohol consumption is quite bad for your diet and hence must be had in moderation, without mixers, and with a lot of water. And remember, eat before you tip over.

Oh, and everything I said assumes that your calorie quota allows for it. Cheers.

alcohol consumption tips

A quick summary

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