Most of us already know alcohol and weight loss are just two words that never go together.
Even though it’s well known alcohol won’t help with losing weight there are some bad and smart choices you can make.
In fact, alcohol does have some health benefits so you don’t have to totally lose the booze.
As summer arrives I’ll always get questions asking if alcohol will make you gain weight. The answer I always gives them is complicated.
All the outdoor parties, social gatherings, weddings, holidays and pool time just seem to add up. And of course the best way to have fun at these events is to drink some alcohol.
To be honest even though I eat clean most of the time I still do like to enjoy some guilt-free drinking with my friends once in a while.
My goal with this blog post is to inform you on the good and bad side of alcohol along with the best and worst choices you can make for weight loss.
I’ll also be throwing in some awesome tools and resources you can use to easily check whether or not that alcoholic drink you and your friends are going to down will be good or bad.
In my experience, people are either going to drink or not drink. So I don’t think it’s real world practical to tell people whether they should be drinking or not.
The best thing I can do is to inform you on the best and worst drinks when it comes to alcohol and weight loss.
Alcohol Can Be Good For You?
First things first let’s talk about the benefits of drinking alcohol. Believe it or not there have been some scientific studies that have found evidence alcohol can actually be good for you.
For one, moderate alcohol consumption can boost your insulin sensitivity. Think of your insulin as the key that helps to unlock your cells so they can better absorb nutrients.
People who become diabetic have high insulin insensitivity meaning they can’t unlock these cells. This usually happens over time from eating too much sugar and bad carbs.
Another study found your immune system was improved after drinking alcohol. But the researchers did say they thought it was most likely the antioxidants found in the alcohol that improved the immune system and not the alcohol itself.
Alcohol was also found to lower the risk of dementia, but even the researchers weren’t totally convinced that drinking the alcohol was what caused the lowered risk.
Alcohol Benefits Too Good To Be True?
Even those these studies found some benefits of alcohol they didn’t really prove that the alcohol was the direct factor causing it.
Maybe having a drink after a stressful day at work caused the study participants to relax leading to these benefits.
Or maybe the participants had great genes, a lower-stress personality, good social life and living a kick-back lifestyle that lead to these benefits.
So just because these studies found a correlation with those drinking alcohol and the health benefits doesn’t mean it’s what actually caused them.
Even though alcohol could have helped one person with the above benefits doesn’t mean it couldn’t have harmed another person.
For example, maybe you have great genes and don’t stress out very easily but your friend is an insomniac with high blood pressure. Then for them pounding multiple drinks every night would most likely have a negative effect.
Also know these studies follow light to moderate drinkers and not heavy drinkers. So if you’re a big boozer then you can expect more negative effects than benefits.
How Many Drinks A Day Is Ok?
For some only a handful of drinks per week is more than enough, but for some of us we’re just getting started.
The United States Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommends the following:
- For Women: Up to 7 drinks per week, with no more than 3 drinks on any single day.
- For Men: Up to 14 drinks per week, with no more than 4 drinks on any given day.
I don’t know about you but usually when I just go out for a drink with some friends before I know it I’ve lost count of how many I had.
It’s good to know exactly how much you’ve been drinking.
One of my friends only claims to have a couple drinks each night, but he doesn’t mention that each drink has 3 oz. of vodka!
Studies have shown that most people drastically underestimate their alcohol consumption.
Alcohol and Weight Loss (Bad For You?)
Ok now that we got some of the “health benefits” out of the way let’s talk about how alcohol can easily be making you fat.
Number one on the list is alcohol is stopping your fat loss. When you drink alcohol your body has an acute negative response to losing fat.
That fun feeling you get after drinking alcohol is essentially a toxin in your body. So you body has to work overtime to convert it to something it can get out of its system.
The after effects of this processing of alcohol basically cause your body to stop burning fat.
This is bad news because it also means all those calories you’ve been putting into your body will not be burned off. They’ll instead be stored as body fat.
This study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found your fat burning metabolism dropped by 73% for several hours after drinking.
So if you’re really trying to lose weight then maybe drinking alcohol isn’t the best choice right now. But don’t worry too much I’ll soon share with you my best alcoholic choices for losing weight.
Workouts The Next Day Are Rough
If you’ve ever gone out drinking with your friends you’ll know how hard it is to workout the next morning.
But I’ll admit it does feel great after the workout when you sweated out some of that booze from the night before.
Like I just talked about alcohol can screw with your metabolism so your body won’t be able to have as much glucose as it usually has for energy.
This can lead to you feeling extra tired in your workout the next day. It can also take up to 48 hours for your body to get rid of the heavy drinking you put it through.
So if you have less energy you’ll also have less strength, and will for sure fatigue quicker than normal. This will really ensure your workouts will be bad the next day.
Not to mention you’ll most likely be dehydrated from drinking the night before (causing a lot of the hangover symptoms) since alcohol is a diuretic.
There have been numerous studies out there proving even a little bit of dehydration will cause a decrease in athletic performance.
Muscle Building Is Stopped
I know most of you reading this probably aren’t interested in building a lot of muscle. But having some muscle is important to help tone up your body.
I’ve seen too many people who have lost weight and gotten “skinny” but their body is quite squishy and they aren’t strong at all.
So building up some muscle is going to be important.
With heavy drinking your body’s ability to synthesize protein is negatively affected. The protein your body takes in is the primary way it’s able to build muscle in the first place.
Also if you’re a guy reading this alcohol will also decrease your testosterone, which is also responsible for helping to build muscle.
Sleep Quality Is Trash
I know some of us are quick to say alcohol will help them pass out quicker than if they didn’t drink.
And I’m sure we all know someone (not me of course haha) that have passed out after having some drinks.
But studies have found even though you may fall asleep quicker and have a deeper sleep cycle your body will also have higher peaks during the alpha cycles.
When you’re sleeping your body goes back and forth between deep sleep and light sleep. Drinking alcohol can cause your sleep patterns to look like those in studies who have actually had electrical shocks used on them while sleeping.
This is another reason that even though you may have gotten a lot of hours of sleep the night before you’ll still have the daytime drowsiness the next day.
You’ll most likely wake up having that feeling of not being rested along with a headache and irritability. Well, at least more than usual! Haha
Alcohol Makes You Eat More
Trying to make healthy food choices can be more than a little tough. Alcohol and weight loss are just two things that don’t mix when it comes to eating.
Alcohol actually has it’s own category when you look at calories per gram.
- Protein: 4 cal per gram
- Carbohydrates: 4 cal per gram
- Fats: 9 cal per gram
- Alcohol: 7 cal per gram
When you take a look above you’ll see that pound for pound alcohol almost has double the calories per gram than both protein and carbohydrates.
Let’s also talk about how after a few drinks you’re suddenly craving eating a giant pizza by yourself and following it up with a milkshake.
The beer goggles for me always make an appearance after my second drink when I’ll suddenly throw my diet out the window, and order a double bacon cheeseburger with fries. Oh.
Alcohol really cuts out your inhibitions so earlier in the day when you could easily refuse that pizza suddenly becomes a lot more appealing and tempting after drinking.
Everything just seems to taste a whole lot better after drinking alcohol. Combine these massive cheat meals with a halted fat metabolism and your body is primed to gain weight.
It’s Ok To Have Some Fun
Like I was saying earlier I’m more than realistic when it comes to people and alcohol. In the real world we’re all going to have some drinks, but the secret is to be smart about it.
Let’s admit it. Drinking alcohol with your friends is fun.
I’ve known a few people who have actually refused to go out and have fun with their friends because they didn’t want to drink alcohol and ruin their diet.
Of course, this is ok if you’re really trying to make some changes to quit some bad habits. But if you’re locking yourself in your house all summer then what fun is that?
You aren’t going to get a pot belly after going out one night and all your muscles aren’t going to fall of either. I know quite a few boozers who aren’t in that bad of shape!
If you’re eating clean, training hard and sleeping well throughout the week there’s no reason why you can’t have a couple guilt-free drinks with your friends on Saturday.
Life is short so what’s the point if we all have to just drink water for the rest of our lives.
Below I’m going to share with you the best and worst drinks when it comes to alcohol and weight loss.
Best and Worst Drinks For Alcohol and Weight Loss
Mixed Drinks Are The Worst
If I could tell you just one drink to avoid it would be mixed drinks. They’re usually packed with sugar that will cause you to gain weight faster than any other alcoholic drink.
I’m talking about:
- Diet Soda
- Tonic Water
- Cranberry Juice
- Orange Juice
Fruit juice has a lot of sugar in it and if you’re already drinking alcohol then it’s going to be a deadly combination. Below are some of the worst drinks that fit the bill…
Long Island Iced Tea
276 calories, 33g of carbohydrates
Gin & Tonic
255 calories, 32g of carbohydrates
216 calories, 35g of carbohydrates
245 calories, 32g of carbohydrates
White Russian 257 calories, 17g of carbohydrates
Also most dessert drinks and wines are super sugary/high fat and should be avoided as well.
A lot of these alcoholic dessert drinks and cocktails use Bailey’s and Kaluha. Both are too heavy to be putting in your body if you want to keep losing weight.
Energy Drinks and Alcohol
For a while there in my younger days I was all about drinking Red Bull and vodka when I’d go out with my friends.
That crazy feeling of having energy combined with the relaxing feeling of alcohol was a hell of a lot of fun. But looking back now it was also rather risky.
Drinking this “liquid cocaine” will reduce the feeling of being drunk so you just want to keep drinking more and more.
Not to mention your heart will be ready to explode out of your chest after drinking a few.
Even the Four Loko’s drink had to stop being made because people can’t handle it’s craziness.
Best Alcohol For Weight Loss
Keep It Neat & On The Rocks
Stick to just the spirits to minimize the negative weight gaining effects of alcohol.
The alcoholic spirits that make the list include:
- Dry Wines
They all have zero carbs, except the dry wines, which is ideal if you’re going to drink. One of the big reasons people gain weight is because of too much sugar and too many bad carbs.
Here are a few of my favorite alcoholic drinks for weight loss:
66 calories, zero carbohydrates
This is my go-to alcoholic drink because club soda has zero calories. The lime sweetens it cup with a citrus taste.
Paleo expert Robb Wolf created this awesome alcoholic drink that meets Paleo guidelines.
I’m not a big Paleo diet aficionado but they do have a lot of benefits for increasing weight loss.
The good thing about the NorCal Margarita is it’s so strong you really only need one of them to do the job.
Here’s how to make the NorCal Margarita:
- Pour 2 shots (3 oz.) of 100% agave tequila.
- Add juice + pulp from one lime.
- Add ice and shake.
- Fill glass with soda water.
- Garnish with salt, if desired.
120 calories, 15g of carbohydrates
At only 120 calories per serving the Moscow Mule is a good option for those who might need a little something more than just spirits.
Sure they’re not the best choice but it’s a damage control type of option.
They’re not only incredible delicious in the dog days of summer, but ginger is terrific for enhancing the Thermic Effect of Food.
The Thermic Effect of Food (TEC) just means your fat burning metabolism is boosted as your body digests the food so you’ll burn more calories.
Red wine is the hands down the best choice when it comes to wines. The polyphenol power of wine is very powerful, and it does add quite a few benefits to drinking it over other alcoholic drinks.
We’ve all heard about Resveratrol and how it can fight cancer and reduce the signs of aging. The jury is still out if there’s enough actually in that bottle of wine to get the benefits, but there are quite a few studies out there proving its power.
Red wine is high in antioxidants and only comes in with 3-5g of carbs. If drinking a red wine try to find an organic one as they have more antioxidants.
Even though white wines aren’t as good for you as red wines when it comes to losing weight they still have their benefits.
White wines may have 5-10x the polyphenols compared to red wines, but they have zero resveratrol.
If you love drinking white wine then go ahead and drink some.
I’ve found most women prefer white over red wine so if that is what floats your boat then don’t feel too bad about drinking it.
White wines are still lower in carbs than most other alcoholic drinks out there.
Drink the best dry white wines:
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Pinot Blanc
- Pinot Grigio
- Spanish Albariños
But try not to drink the sweet white wines:
- Chenin Blanc
- Muscat Blanc
- Champagne / Sparkling
- Dessert Wines
I know more than a few guys out there who have a 6-pack, not on their abs but in their lap. Haha
I generally don’t recommend drinking beer because it’s usually higher in carbs than the above recommended alcoholic drinks.
The goal with playing it smart with alcohol and weight loss is to eliminate carbohydrate rich drinks. This includes fruit juices, sugar and beer.
But I also know there are a lot of people out there who absolutely love drinking beer. So let’s talk about the best and worst options.
Beer is lower in alcohol by volume than most alcoholic drinks at only 4-5% so it’s easy to start drinking more and more.
Next thing you know you’ve already finished a 6-pack and you’re stumbling down the street to buy a little 24 ouncer at your local liquor store. Haha
The hops in beer are also a phytoestrogen that can lead to hormonal imbalances. This is especially not good news for men.
Yet, some say there’s not enough present in beer to make a difference. If you only have the occasional beer I wouldn’t worry, but if you’re drinking multiple beers everyday than I’d make some changes.
Here are the best beer choices:
- Light Beers
- Dry Ciders
And here are the worst beer choices:
- Regular Beer
- Dark Beer
Diet Tips For Alcohol and Weight Loss
If you know you’re going to drink that day then there is some strategy you can use to minimize the weight gain that usually comes with drinking.
- Try to keep your fat as low as possible
- Eat all the protein you want
- Get your carbs from veggies
Keeping your fat intake as low as possible will mean you will also be keeping your calories low throughout the day.
You’ll most likely be consuming a good amount of calories when you start drinking so it’ll be a good idea to keep them low earlier in the day.
Protein is going to be key to make sure you keep the muscle you have. Alcohol hinders protein absorption so it’s going to be key to stock up on protein while you can.
Some of my favorite protein sources are:
- Low-Fat Cottage Cheese
- Protein Powder
Finally, stay away from starchy and processed carbohydrates earlier in the day. This also means no sugar. Get all your carbs for the day from veggies so you can have some enjoyment at night.
Tools and Resources For Alcohol
If you want to check one particular alcoholic drink versus another then I’d check out these excellent resources.
Even though we all know alcohol and weight loss can be difficult it doesn’t have to be impossible.
Yes, usually drinking alcohol leads to gaining weight, but if you play your cards right then you can minimize the damage.
It’s not realistic for you to never drink alcohol again. Instead play it smart with the above best and worst drinks the next time you go out with your friends.
Try to keep your diet clean during the day, and just try not to binge that night. Get up the next day, hydrate and power through a workout.
It’ll be no fun if you spend the rest of your summer cooped up inside your house because you didn’t want to screw up your perfectly clean diet by drinking.
Sure, if you’re trying to be good for a while then all the power to you. But I’ve found eventually people are going to drink anyway so you might as well do it right.
For more weight loss drinks check out my article with my top 18 most powerful.
There’s nothing wrong with a little light to moderate drinking here and there. If you’re drinking too much though then it’s common sense for you cut back.
With that, I hope you drink responsibly and next time you go out drinking you’ll remember the above choices so maybe alcohol and weight loss can go together.
Josh holds a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology and Nutrition Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) by the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He’s worked as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at the high school and college level. He has over 10 years experience as a personal trainer and nutrition coach. He is also the author of The Flat Belly Formula. He hopes to be able to bring inspiration & results to people all over the world to live a healthier life through diet & exercise.