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Understanding Alcohol

By Virginia Clough, RD with input from Kaori Kay Cheslock, RHNC

Understanding Alcohol: With so much of life as we know it returning to a more normal state – especially being able to visit with family and friends we haven’t seen in a long time – we’ve heard the buzz that many are worried about their diet and lifestyle habits with this routine change…

but don’t think that living a goal oriented lifestyle means that you have to sacrifice your social life!

For many of you out there, we have some great news today… with a healthy life balance in mind, consuming alcohol in moderation (this means different things for different people, we’ll elaborate on this in a bit) is perfectly okay! Now it is true that alcohol consumption while working to achieve a goal does require a slight trade-off of body composition/ performance for lifestyle enjoyment; but the degree of trade off is majorly dose dependent. Because the more you drink the more you will experience negative impacts, for many (depending on your specific goals) drinking in moderation is not at all detrimental. If it helps you feel satisfied like your taking advantage of opportunities available to you, enjoying a drink or two can actually be viewed as a positive decision.

Curious about key alcohol facts? Here they are.

Alcohol is technically a “4th macro,” as it provides your body with 7 calories per gram. It’s important to keep in mind that alcohol has value as energy, but no nutritional value (think vitamins, minerals, fibre). As such, drinking is similar to consuming “empty calories” much like gas station candy or table sugar.

So how does one go about fitting alcohol into your macros? In this blog we will show you how to fit it in to stay on track with your physical and health progress.

Understanding Alcohol

Now it is important to remember that alcohol is part of your 20% indulgences (Remember the 80/20 rule – where 80% of your macros are coming from food that has higher nutritional value and the other 20% can be less nutritious/ “fun” foods? Alcohol is firmly placed with the 20%).

As far as intake tracking specifics (if you are into this routine) you can either count your alcohol as a substitute for carbs, fat, or a mix of both depending on what your macro plan for the day is. For example, you could replace your favourite treat (eg. a fresh chocolate muffin) that you enjoy once a week with one or two drinks and still remain in line with your caloric needs.

In other words, we do not mean that you should actually log the alcohol you consume as fat (it has none!) or carbs (unless it has them, of course), but to take calories away from carbs and fat to make room for alcohol. Bottom Line: Do not lower your daily protein intake to make room for alcoholic drinks. Doing this will hurt physical and health goal progress.

Now – as you surely understand – it’s not a good idea to have a great deal of your daily energy coming from booze as this could lead to a wide array of issues that extend beyond body composition; but if you enjoy your drinks, it is possible to fit it into your macro targets and keep your progress going. A few important notes:

  • Avoid alcohol consumption altogether if you are a pregnant woman or someone with a medical condition that is instructed not to consume alcohol by a doctor.
  • If you do drink, plan ahead and designate a driver.
  • Drink LOTS of water – before, during, and (especially) after drinking.

  • Not feeling so hot the day after drinking?
    • Whip up a fruit and/or veggie filled protein smoothie for breakfast; the potassium in fruit like banana and common ingredients like milk, and the vitamin C in produce will help to rebalance your electrolytes and naturally detoxify your system.
    • Get out for a walk or bring yourself to the gym. Although you might not feel like getting off the couch, even a short brisk walk will have you feeling much better, and ready to take on the rest of your day.

Because knowing major alcohol beverage serving sizes and calorie profiles will help you make smart decisions when socializing with people or going out, here are some important details to know (these stats are approximate for some beverages – eg. all red wine isn’t exactly the same):

Calories in Alcohol:

Gin (1 oz) – 65 calories

Rum (1 oz) – 64 calories

Vodka (1 oz) – 64 calories

Whiskey (1 oz) – 70 calories

Sparkling Wine (5 oz) – 119 calories

Red Wine (5 oz) – 125 calories

White Wine (5 oz) – 128 calories

Light beer (12 oz or 355 mL) – 90 calories

Regular beer (12 oz or 355 mL) – 150 calories

Greater alcohol content craft beers (12 oz or 355 mL) – 160~350 calories

Don’t forget the calories in your mixes:

Egg Nog (250 mL) – 343 calories

Coke / Coca Cola (355 mL) – 140 calories

Tonic Water (355 mL) – 124 calories

Regular Ginger Ale (355 mL) – 120 calories

Diet Coke – 0 calories

Diet Ginger Ale – 0 calories

Club Soda / Sparkling Water – 0 calories

The United States Departments of Health and Agriculture define one alcoholic drink as 12 fluid oz of ~5% alcohol beer, 5 fluid ounces of ~12% alcohol wine, or 1.5 fluid ounces of ~40% (80 proof) distilled liquor. Now technically it is known that ~2 drinks per day for women (~3 for men) should be the limit. But this varies quite a bit with body size and individual tolerance levels.

There are always ways to enjoy the food/drink while meeting your health/physical goals, as long as you are aware of portion sizes and your tolerance. It is generally best to take drinking slow(ish) to be safe – and ensure your personal limit isn’t suddenly exceeded.

For example, if you are hosting a party, you could be “the bartender” for the day and make lower sugar/macro friendly cocktails, or if you are going out and ordering drinks, you could make wise decisions considering the individual alcohol caloric profile above. A few specific ideas to consider if  mixing your own drinks:

Pitcher of Citrus Fruit Drink
  • Diet Cranberry Juice (like Ocean Spray), soda water, lime, as little or as much vodka as you like
  • Sparkling water, splash of your favourite fruit juice, gin
  • Reduced sugar orange juice, frozen cranberries as ice cubes, gin
  • Diet ginger ale, spiced rum or whiskey
  • Diet coke, lime, rum
  • Diet sprite, wine (conscious drinkers champagne™) with frozen fruit as ice cubes (conscious drinkers sangria™)

Overall, stay focused on keeping 80% of the food/ drinks you have be nutrient dense and highly beneficial for your body, and save some room to indulge yourself with those eats and sips that are good for your soul for the remaining 20%. The goal is for health promoting dietary habits to largely make up your lifestyle.

We hope all of you enjoy the beautiful sun this summer with so many fun activities open to take advantage of!