Can I drink alcohol and still lose fat?

A client had come to me once, completely frustrated with their weigh-in results, and rightfully so.

They were coming into the gym 5-6 times a week and busting their butt while they were there. My first inclination was to ask them about their nutrition, and it all sounded pretty compliant. 

However, I still asked them to keep a food log of what they were eating so we could review it together at the end of the next week. 

They arrived at the gym the following week and slapped it on my desk, so proud of all their hard work. They documented every protein, carbohydrate and fat. “See I told you, this is exactly what I eat every week.”  I’d been through this before with other clients, so I responded, “This all looks great, but the glass of wine you posted to Instagram last night– did you just forget to write that down?”

They replied, “That’s not FOOD, you said to write down what you eat.” 

I’ll save you the long conversation that came after that.

Long story short, they were drinking 1-2 glasses of wine each night and sometimes more than that on the weekends. Over 14 drinks for men and over 7 drinks for women per week is defined as “heavy drinking.” 

This client wasn’t an alcoholic by any means, but had developed a habit of having wine each evening with their spouse. 

Needless to say, we identified the problem

After this conversation, we made a plan to track the amount of drinks they were having per week and simply reduced it by 1 each week. Eventually 1-2 glasses per night became 2-3 glasses TOTAL per week.  They became less bloated, they began absorbing nutrients more efficiently, and they slept better. All these things in conjunction with the drop in extra calories was the ONLY change this client needed to move in the right direction.


So what’s the deal with alcohol?

You’re an adult. I’m not here to lecture you about the “dangers” of alcohol and how it’s a poison or any of that nonsense. Most likely, some of your best memories are created with a great drink, great friends, and great stories.

What I AM here to do is to teach you how to fit alcohol into your lifestyle while still progressing towards your goals. 

To lose body fat, you need to be in a calorie deficit – plain and simple. Simultaneously, to make sure you are taking care of your muscles, you need enough protein. Beyond that, if you want to budget a few extra calories for a drink now and then, it’s totally doable.


How do I track my alcohol intake?

If you are using an app like Cronometer or MyFitnessPal, go ahead and input the drink(s) you’ve consumed . What you’ll notice is that it’s going to subtract from your allotted calories and carbs for the day. 

This is because every gram of carbohydrate has (4) FOUR calories, while every gram of alcohol has (7) SEVEN calories. This explains why drinks that might only have 1g of carbohydrates can still be 100 calories.   

So, when you’re tracking your nutrition, your goal should always be first to hit your calories without going over, and secondly to get enough protein in. If you can properly do those things and want to borrow a few calories from your carbs and fat for a drink that is totally fine. Don’t get caught up on where you take it from as long as it is accounted for.


How about if I don’t want to track it?

If you aren’t into tracking food, that’s totally fine.

Below are two guidelines I’ve found work well:

Men, you can have 6 drinks a week and still make progress! If you are the type that enjoys an IPA with dinner, that’s cool. Go ahead and count that as a carb during that meal and move on. If you’re a weekend warrior who prefers a few beers while watching football on Sunday, you can save them all for that!    

PLEASE NOTE: This assumes that all of your other nutrition is locked in.

Many don’t have a problem with alcohol as much as they have a problem with mindless eating after having a few drinks. If you are prioritizing health and fitness and two drinks leads you to eat an entire bag of pretzels, it might be wise to reconsider your relationship with alcohol.

For the ladies, I recommend all of the same guidelines I discussed above, however I suggest limiting your drinks to 3 per week. While that’s less than the recommendation for men, women are typically smaller, therefore alcohol has a significant effect on your body because of that, AND it takes up a larger percentage of your daily calories.  

So it’s your choice. Save up 3 drinks for a night out, OR pick 3 nights a week to have a glass of wine or cocktail to unwind.


Are any types of alcohol better for me than others?

Let me keep this simple… no.  Tequila, bourbon, vodka – it won’t matter. Of course if you are going to have 6 beers, choosing a “lite” option would amount to less calories than regular beer, but research has shown that you’ll just end up drinking more of it anyway.

The only absolute would be to try and avoid the sugary mixers and cocktails, as they will add unnecessary extra calories to an already high caloric drink.

I tell all my nutrition clients one thing:  “You can have anything you want, but you just can’t have EVERYTHING you want.”  

Making progress, whether it’s fat loss or simply improving your overall health, comes with sacrifice. But if you approach it with a better understanding and a sound plan, it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach that is bound to fail.

If you have more questions on this topic or anything else you’d like to hear discussed, reach out and let us know! we’d love to hear from you!

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