Is alcohol sugar? Does it have calories? Can I drink wine or beer? Keep reading for all of this and more, as we dive into how to strategically incorporate ‘drinking’ into your weight loss journey.
Alcohol as a Macro-Nutrient
Fun fact!! Alcohol is actually not a carb (or sugar), a fat, or a protein. Alcohol is the “4th macronutrient”!! That said, it still has calories. And, good news, they’re generally easy to calculate.
If we’re talking about just the “base liquors” (Vodka, Gin, Rum. Tequila, Whiskey, and Brandy), they all have about 100 calories per 1.5oz, which is the size of a typical “shot”. (Though it’s important to understand there is NO standard for a shot size, so accurate counting in a bar can be almost impossible.)
In other words, measure and pour your own!
So I can drink while trying to lose weight?
Yes and no.
From a calorie standpoint, the issue is when it’s more than a drink or two. 4 or 5 shots of liquor, and suddenly we’re nearing 500 calories. That’s an entire meal, and most people can easily blow through that amount in a few hours.
But the math gets even worse when we’re talking about mixed drinks. To hide the unpleasant taste, base liquors are almost always served with sugary mixers. The problem is the amount of sugar it takes to cover the flavor is usually enormous. A single mixed drink is rarely less than 400 calories. That means a night of light drinking could easily add up to more calories than you would eat in an entire day, or weekend! There are way worse drinks, too. A frozen pina colada, for example, could easily be 800+ calories. (It’s no wonder people gain so much weight when they’re on vacation!)
Another problem is that alcohol slows your metabolism, and slows fat burn. Certainly not significantly, but enough to make a small difference. This is why you’d want to limit it to just once or twice a week at most.
The last thing to keep in mind is that alcohol lowers inhibitions. Very few people can resist eating junk-food after a certain level of intoxication. “Drunk eating” is a real thing, and combining the calories of the alcohol with “bar food” is a quick way to pack on the pounds.
Why are there no nutrition labels on alcoholic drinks?
In the United States, the FDA regulates and requires food labels. Alcoholic beverages, however, are under the authority of the ATF, which has no nutritional regulations whatsoever. There is absolutely no way to know what’s in an alcohol beverage purchased at a store or in a restaurant.
That’s a huge problem, if you’re trying to adhere to a diet.
What about beer or wine?
Both are typically very high in carbs. Wine especially has a lot of sugar, and beer is also usually very high in calories/carbs. There are exceptions, of course. But without proper labeling, they can be difficult to find.
Bottom line: How to mix weight loss and drinking
- Plan for the extra calories, and count them carefully
- Limit your alcohol intake to 1-2 drinks, 1-2 nights a week at most.
- Avoid mixed drinks, and most beer and wine. Stick to only the “base liquors”. (Vodka, Gin, Rum. Tequila, Whiskey, and Brandy)
- Avoid “drunk eating”. You still have to stick to your plan.
One trick a lot of people like: Use carbonated water (soda water, not tonic water), measure out your favorite liquor from above, then add a few drops of “Mio” (those sugar-free artificially sweetened drops that people like to use to flavor their bottles of water). Now you have a delicious beverage that tastes like a “mixed drink” that has no extra calories, other than the base liquor itself!
Bonus: What causes hangovers, and how you can avoid them
It’s no coincidence that the symptoms of a hangover are identical to the symptoms of dehydration because — surprise — hangovers ARE dehydration! Remember, alcohol will dry you up. It will pull water from your cells, and from the rest of your body, as it moves through your system. The more you drink, the more electrolytes are removed from the body, through urine, sweat, and CO2, while you exhale.
This is also why sugar-drinks tend to make hangovers worse. If you’ve read the other articles in this blog, or listened to the podcasts related to sugar, one of the things you know is that carbs cause the water to retain water — and a few mixed drinks can have more sugar than a handful of candy bars. The cells in your body will pull any and all available water/electrolytes inward when you consume sugar, which leaves the rest of your body, especially your brain, without enough to properly function. Put another way, the water in your body is moved from areas where it’s needed and injected elsewhere. You will be bloated, but the dehydration will be far worse, than if you’d stuck to just base liquors.
The solution? Hydration AND electrolytes!! A LOT of both, and not just one or the other. (Electrolytes are sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium). Use a hydration formula like this one, from Amazon, and drink lots of water along with it. Take maybe one of those capsules for every 2-3 drinks, plus a big glass of water, and you’ll never have another hangover, no matter how much you drink!
(Side-note: You know those “IVs” people pay big bucks for to cure hangovers? They work great, because they’re basically injecting electrolytes and water directly into your bloodstream.)