If there’s one thing that science has proven to your worried mothers and stern health teachers, it’s that alcohol is good for you… in moderation.
There’s the reduction of stress, some antioxidants, and most importantly… the social lubrication. You’ll have more fun and social bonding with friends if you’re out drinking and the effect on your physiology is significant.
Moreover, a 2005 article in the Wall Street Journal stated that people who had one or two drinks a day ended up making 10-25% higher income.
Now if you have bodybuilding, fat loss, and fitness goals, it’s a good idea to think about your choice of drinks.
Here are the best and worst alcoholic drinks for your health goals:
1) Hard Liquor
The average shot of vodka has only 97 calories, no fat, and no carbs. A lot of people mistakenly assume that all calories are split into fats, carbohydrates, and protein, but alcohol is actually another category of calories altogether.
The good thing about alcohol calories is that they’re easily digestible so the chances of any of those calories making it to your waistline are fairly negligible.
If you mix vodka, whiskey, or gin with something calorie-free like club soda, then you have your dieting drink of choice.
There are a couple VERY important caveats to this.
For one, you have to be much more careful of your intake. Binging on any alcohol will put a real strain on your system and torpedo you results downwards.
Because of this, you’ll want to avoid taking straight shots. This may be hard sometimes when you’re with your buddies, but taking shots will have you downing way more alcohol than you planned (especially since you’ll likely have another drink in your hand in between shots.) Mix your liquor with club soda or have it poured over ice.
The thing to always keep in mind is that once you’ve crossed the line from “moderation” into “getting drunk,” your drinking is no longer healthy. It might still be fun and we all like to overdo it once in a while. However, if you’re serious about improving your body, you’ll want to keep it to two drinks a night max.
The other caveat is that you want to be careful of what you mix in with your vodka, which we’ll discuss in “Mixed Drinks” below.
A glass of wine has about 120 calories and only 3.5 carbs. Not too bad at all. Plus, since only about 14 of those calories are from carbohydrates, that means the 106 remaining are “alcohol-calories”… meaning it’s pretty much a free ride anyway.
Add to this that there are several powerful antioxidants in red wine that can assist your overall health, such as resveratrol, flavonoids, and procyanidins.
White wine has a little less of these antioxidants, but still enough to be an attractive choice. Also, since white wine contains less fermentation byproducts than red wine, people tend to have fewer hangovers when drinking the white stuff. If a hangover can make you skip your workout, then white wine is definitely a better choice.
The calorie and carb counts for beer are all over the place. Some are under 100 and others are pushing 300. Most of the ones I looked at hovered at around 130 calories with 9 grams carbs.
Not nearly as bad as you’d expect… Provided you keep it to just a couple brewskies instead of doing a kegstand. Still, those 9 carbs per glass are more than your trainer would prefer you take.
Also, because beer is so voluminous, if you just drink casually while at the bar, you’re less likely to need to order many drinks anyway.
Of course “Lite” beers will always beat their regular counterparts on paper, but as long as you are not having especially creamy stouts, the regular stuff should be fine for one or two.
4) Mixed Drinks
Here we hit the big one.
Remember when I said there were a couple caveats to drinking hard alcohol?
Well the problem with mixed drinks is that the sky is the limit in all categories. The alcohol and carb content you get is often based on the bartender’s training, mood, and how consistently you’ve been tipping her.
Some drinks may come out weak and some may come out tasting like there’s at least two shots in there. (Definitely make sure you tip after that one.)
Alcohol aside, the big factor to think about is what you’re mixing the liquor in. If it’s cranberry juice, you are getting about 25 carbs already with a lot of it being sugar.
A White Russian drink can be almost 400 calories.
The key word in there is “can” because you really don’t know what you’re getting because it’s entirely up to the bartender’s discretion.
Some people mix their hard alcohol in diet soda, but I recommend you avoid that if possible.
Looking at the list above, you may be wondering why hard liquor is above wine.
Well, on paper… and with the right discipline, simple hard liquors like vodka, whiskey and gin win because they’re so pure and free of carbs. There are also a 1997 study from the Journal of Psychopharmacology that puts vodka ahead of red wine in terms of relaxation and stress reduction.
However, you’re not going to lose any competitions from having a glass of chardonnay instead of some Jack Daniels on the rocks, so go with wine if it’s something you enjoy. As long as you stay away from sugary mixed drinks and rich thick beers, you’ll do fine.
Also, another question you will have to deal with is how many drinks you should have a week (definitely cap it at two for one day). There is the school of thought that says your muscles will grow faster if you abstain entirely and others that say you are best capping yourself at two drinks a week. The list above tells you the healthiest choice of drinks but not how much to drink. Make sure you talk to your trainer to see what’s best for your program.