How do you know when you should bulk vs. when you should cut?
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| June 25, 2021
Read time: 4 min.
Something I get asked a lot about is alcohol intake. How much is too much? is alcohol killing your progress? Can you realistically work alcohol in? How often can you work it in?
I will begin by pointing out that no amount of alcohol consumption is healthy. Some people quote a study that showed the positive impact of red wine on cardiovascular health. What they don’t realize is that the study was observing an intake of 3oz of red wine daily. I don’t know a single person that sticks to a 3oz pour.
Our serving sizes are closer to 6-9oz to start, and people often have two or three glasses, not just one. The positive health benefits are derived from a compound found in red grapes that red wine is made from. If you’re truly drinking red wine for its health benefits, why aren’t you just eating a few red grapes? Alcohol has many negative side effects, and is not a health product. Not in any shape or form.
I’m not here to be a killjoy, though. In fact, I enjoy alcohol once every week or two! My issue is hiding behind some shaky health claim. I know alcohol isn’t healthy. So why drink it at all?
That’ll be a personal choice for people. Sometimes the positive experience of sharing a bottle of wine with your partner outweighs the potential negative health consequences. I’m not aiming for perfection, I’m aiming for a life that’s real.
As always, it depends. What are your goals? If I’m working with a client that is getting really lean, no amount of alcohol will be worked in. We will reintroduce it after they reach their goal. If someone is prepping for a bodybuilding show, or a competitive sporting event, again, no amount of alcohol will be consumed. If someone is a ‘lifestyle’ client, where they’re just looking to lose a few pounds, and generally get a little healthier, we can easily work in 1 or 2 servings of alcohol weekly. Again, this is a choice. I’d rather teach someone how to work in alcohol, while still reaching their goal, then have them binge and not tell me about it because I didn't work it into their plan.
First, pick your poison. Generally, mixing a hard alcohol like vodka, tequila, or whiskey with a calorie free mixer is going to be preferred. It’s tough, if not impossible, to safely work in a 500 calorie drink. Hard alcohol will run you anywhere from 70-110 calories per ounce, whereas the mixer you choose can run you 100s of calories, especially the slushy drinks. Alcohol is also devoid of nutrients. So when we’re working in alcohol, we’re doing so with the understanding that it’s putting that person at a disadvantage. We’re taking calories away from a nutrient rich food they could be having instead.
Alcohol is not a protein, fat, or carb. It’s its own macro, with a value of 7 calories per gram.
To work it in you’ll want to pull from carbs or fats, or a combination of the two. If you’re pulling from carbs, take the calorie value of the drink and divide it by 4. That’s the grams of carbs you have to budget for to work in that drink. If you’re pulling from fats, divide it by 9, and that’s the grams of fats you have to budget for. We don’t pull from protein, since that’s the macro that’s keeping you full, and helping you maintain your lean body mass, something that’s very difficult to do when in a dieting phase.
Another important note is that 1 or 2 drinks here and there is not going to kill your progress, but it’s often what happens after a drink or two that does. Once you’re a little more disinhibited, you might be more inclined to say screw the diet, and order take out food you otherwise wouldn’t have ordered. You also might be more likely to skip your workout the next day. Therefore, the side effects of consuming alcohol can definitely hurt your progress. So it’s less that alcohol itself is bad for your progress, and more about what happens after you consume alcohol.
Be aware of these side effects. If you find working alcohol into your macros is killing your progress, pull it out altogether. Alcohol will always be around. Kill your goals first, celebrate later.
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