Saturday, June 20, 2015

Alcohol and the Regular Guy

One of the real pleasures in a Regular Guy's life is a cold IPA, a fine Merlot, a smooth bourbon, a dry martini -- you know, a nice drink.

But how does alcohol fit into the Regular Guy ethos? How can we make it part of Keeping Fit and Living Your Life?

My Wife Jackie and I Enjoying a Post-Race Beer

A Few Facts About Alcohol
It is a toxin. There are no two ways around that. We enjoy the taste and the relaxed feeling that comes with a good drink, but you're asking more of your liver than it was designed to do. To metabolize it, your body removes additional oxygen from your bloodstream -- that's what causes you to feel drunk. The average person can metabolize one drink's worth of alcohol per hour, so if you drink more than that, you will be impaired.

It has a lot of calories. Alcohol has 7 calories per gram. So if you drink a 12-ounce beer that's 6 percent ABV, you're getting 140 calories just from the alcohol itself. That doesn't account for the unfermented malt in your beer or fruit sugars in your wine, which also deliver calories. Unfortunately, there's no government regulation requiring calorie counts on booze labels, so it's more or less a guess. You can try Googling it -- I found this beer list, which isn't too bad.

It has a high thermic effect. One minor upside to alcohol consumption is that your body works harder to digest it than it does to digest simple carbs or fat. You'll spend about 13 percent of alcohol's calories digesting it, versus only about 4 percent for carbs. So let's say you drink three 200-calorie beers. You'll use 78 calories burning them off.

Let's Apply That to the Real World
OK, so let's get real. You're a Regular Guy with an actual life. You get invited to parties or nights out with the fellas. You have rough days at the office. You have anniversaries and birthdays and other milestone events. In other words, you're going to have some drinks.

Two Marathon Men Drinking Marathon Man Beer

And why shouldn't you? Life is meant to be enjoyed. You just want to make it work within your fitness lifestyle.

These guys make the good stuff!
Liquor gives you more bang for your buck. For example a 1.5-ounce shot of bourbon has about 100 calories -- almost all of it from the alcohol itself. A 12-ounce beer at 5 percent ABV would have the same amount of alcohol, but there's no beer in the world at that ABV level below 150 calories. If alcohol delivery is a serious goal, the hard stuff is the way to go. But beware of mixers, which can add more calories than you'd get with a beer.

Light beer isn't worth it. Regular Guys don't eat "diet" food like Weight Watchers. Sure, the calorie count is lower, but that's because it isn't satisfying. The same goes for light beer. Now I know some guys actually prefer the taste of a light, low-alcohol lager, particularly on a hot summer
Beer Fridge -- Fully Stocked
day. But if that's you, it's just one style, and you'll have to admit that there's very little hop bitterness or malt backbone. Meanwhile, you're still getting less alcoholic punch per calorie than you would from liquor. So unless you're "sessioning," try different, interesting beers and keep it to two or three.

Account for the calories and adjust. If you've been maintaining a given weight, and your alcohol consumption is relatively steady from week to week, you've already done this without thinking about it. But if you're looking to make a change, factor hooch into your 80/20 Rule. It's a treat just like ice cream or cheesesteaks. My goal is 21,000 calories a week. If roughly 4000 of those calories are treats, subtract 200 for every beer I drink. So what I really do is set a weekly quota, and manage my social schedule so that I can have fun when it's time to have fun.

You're more apt to binge when you drink. This is the biggest challenge I run into when I've had a few pops. All of a sudden, I have a craving, and since my inhibitions are lower, I'm far more likely to give into it. Next thing I know, I've devoured an eight-ounce brick of cheese or half a tub of hummus. There's no easy solution to this one, but one thing I do try: When I'm at a party and there's a variety of food around, gravitate toward the healthier stuff. 
That's a lot of booze!

Three become six in a hurry. I also find that lowered inhibitions lead to drinking binges. When I'm out to dinner with my wife, I have no problem drinking two beers and stopping there. But after number-three, it's very easy for me to start downing drinks quickly. Peer pressure can also be a factor here. If you mean to stop at a certain point, you really have to set your mind to that and not give yourself an out.

You Knew This Part Was Coming
We're all grown-ups, so we all know that alcohol has some serious downsides beyond the calories. I know you don't need a lecture, but it's worth a few reminders:
  • Excessive drinking taxes your liver. Yeah, we all tie one on once in a while. But if you find yourself drinking more than 15 drinks a week, you need to take a look at your behavior patterns. Two drinks a day isn't a big deal, but if all that's concentrated on the weekend, and it's happening every weekend, you're asking for trouble. You're going to start developing fatty buildup around your liver, and eventually, liver disease.
  • Hangovers suck. The older you get, the less stress your body in general can handle -- and that's true for your liver, too. I often find that as few as three drinks in one night can leave me hung over the next day. Which means I severely limit my weeknight drinking.
  • Just don't drive drunk. I do enjoy a nice night out with my wife or a guys' night at the bar. But honestly, I'm much more comfortable drinking at home, or at least at a friend's house where I can hang out for a while to sober up.

What About You?
How do you manage your alcohol consumption? What are the challenges you run into? What are your strategies for handling the food and more-drink cravings? What's your go-to high-quality drink, and can you limit yourself to a few when you take that route?

If you're looking for a deeper dive into the science, this piece at really goes into detail -- I highly recommend it.

Sound off in the comments below, on Facebook or on Twitter.

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