Its the freaking weekend!  Time to party or sit on your couch and have a beer – who knows?

A common question I always get is “exactly how bad is alcohol for you?”  I understand the questions, we all want to know – if I have a few drinks exactly how bad is it for me?  Is it the equivalent of eating a twinkie? At what point does alcohol hurt my progress – 1 drink, 3 drinks, 5 drinks?  Let’s talk about alcohol first and then come up with some plans if you are going out to drink.

First, alcohol is considered empty calories.  Empty calories means that there is no nutrient value in the beer and you simply digest the beer as calories for energy.  It also means that if you are counting macros, you can’t just go off the carb count on the back because the calories don’t all show up under carbs, fat, and protein like a typical piece of food would.  The other point to remember is that your body sees alcohol as a toxin in your body and actually prioritizes getting rid of it over everything else.  So for the question “exactly how bad is alcohol for you?” my answer is always that it is definitely not good for you!  It is a toxin that doesn’t have a positive health effect.  It’s positive affects center around how it makes you feel and the social aspect which some people value highly and others don’t think how you feel when drinking is worth the trade off for how you feel in the morning.

Now that I have nicely established alcohol as poison, I want to share the plan I use for drinking.  Feel free to tweak it for you.  It’s a really basic system that I do subconsciously at this point where I file away an event as 1 of 2 things to me and set up my drinking expectations based on what I file the event as in my head.

A casual night out – this is usually when I am just meeting up with friends or going to a party where I don’t know everyone.  On these nights I will usually plan to have 1 good beer or a liquor on the rocks (I prefer whisky) and enjoy it.  Once it’s gone I will just hang out and have a good time.  You can also vary what you do on these nights based on your goals – if you are training for a big event coming up or in the middle of really eating well then just drink water and hang out or have the bartender whip you up a seltzer with a lime in it and pretend you’re drinking.  The bartender won’t mind keeping it going as long as you tip them!  The important part is that these nights should make up 80-90% of your nights outs.  Also, I know a lot of people are going to say only 1 drink!  But I think its important to take a look at why you are drinking sometimes and for me I realized that a lot of times I was just doing it because everyone else was and that the extra beer or two didn’t really do much for me or make the night more fun.

One tip for the casual night out:  I like to try beers so I usually gravitate to flights.  I know the total alcohol gets closer to 1.5-2 beers but I find it allows me to try more beers without drinking 4-5 full glasses.

The big event – this is usually something that has been planned for awhile – a wedding, a milestone birthday for your or a really close friends, a vacation.  My advice for these events is to do whatever you want!  If you want to go out and have a few beers, just do it.  If you want to get into beer drinking games and shenanigans – go for it.  The key to the big event is two things.  First, you let go of your concerns about sticking to anything for ONE night and enjoy it.  This will allow you to truly enjoy the night  and you will quickly learn that while one night of drinking and eating crap will make you feel terrible in the morning.  If you wake up and get back to eating good and working out, it will have a minimal affect on your progress.  The second key is that these events aren’t all the time!  Big events should be spaced out (maybe 1 every 2-3 months) because then these events become a treat and not a new habit where you drink a lot and eat crap food on a regular basis.

One tip for the big event – all choices are not equal.  The better lower calorie options for drinking are seltzer+vodka, keeping your drink on the rocks, and staying away from juices, sweeteners, and most beers.  If you do want to drink beer a light beer (Michelob Ultra) is your best choice as far as calories are concerned.  Honestly if you have 2 big events planned for this year – just go have some fun and drink whatever.  However, if its the summer of weddings and you have 8+ big events planned, I would pick 2 to go let my hair down and have a plan for the other 6 where I still have a handful of drinks but I am more aware of my drink and food choices.

That’s it.  80-90% of the events I go to, I am just going to have a beer and hang out.  While 10-20% of the big events throughout the year I am going to let my hair down and enjoy.  Now obviously there is a ton of gray area in this system – what if you want to go out and have 2 or 3 beers?  I would look at my goals – if I am training and eating strict for a goal – I am probably going to keep it to 1 beer.  If I don’t have a specific  goal I am training for and I don’t have any big events coming up, I may have a second beer.

Now this system works for me, but it might not work for you.  I like to have an idea beforehand of what my expectations are for the nights.  I am not going to act like I have never had a casual night out where I go off the deep end, but then I just file it away as a big event and move on.  The key is to be aware of your frequency of drinking and how it aligns with your goals (cause it’s not going to help you get to them).  For example, if your casual night out is having a glass of wine, but you do it 6 days a week – its probably going to hurt your progress.

My goal is for everyone to remember 2 things.  Alcohol is poison and if you do decide to drink for one night – enjoy the night and get back to working out and eating the next day.  Your progress doesn’t get derailed by one bad meal or a few drinks.  Your progress gets derailed when that one meal turns into a week of bad eating.