Social Drinking on a Fat Loss Diet

Drinking alcohol and the phrase fat loss diet rarely ever go together, especially when discussing the matter with a serious (or rather rigid) bodybuilder or physique-conscious individual.

A common assumption is that while one is on a diet, alcohol is completely off limits.  If you enjoy the occasional drink or like to go out on the weekends and partake with family and friends, it’s just not practical to completely abstain.  More so than being impractical, it creates limitations that will induce frustration and other sour feelings that will only make your diet harder than it needs to be.

Another downfall is our change in behavior when we explicitly restrict certain foods or beverages from our diet when our goal is to lose body fat.  I’ve written about this a few times.  I cover some of my previous issues in my meal frequency article and then later in how I eliminated binge eating.

Complete Restriction Is Bad

When we become restrictive on a diet, bad things usually follow.  If you’ve gotten it into your brain that the occasional slice of pizza or a Big Mac is going to ruin your diet, you will do everything you can to avoid those foods until you break down completely.

You may last 12-16 weeks with no such food but when you finally crack, you won’t eat just one burger.  You’ll likely eat two or three.  Then you’ll drive to Pizza Hut and eat an entire large pizza pie.  For dinner, I bet you’ll go to the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet and end up at Dairy Queen for dessert.

This is where a rigid diet can make you go completely insane.  As you might imagine, I don’t recommend such an approach.

The same goes for alcohol.  However, if one goes on an alcoholic binge, the consequences can be much worse.  I spoke with a friend last weekend who’s been doing very well moderating is alcohol intake but recently found himself waking up on the floor of a friend’s house.  All he can remember from the night before is Red Bull and cheap, Russian vodka.  Bad.

A Healthy Mindset for Drinking on a Diet

Because I like to drink a cold beer or have some Jack with friends every other weekend or so, I like to do it in a strategic way; an approach that is still in line with my physique goals.

First, if I decide to go out and drink, it will be one night only with at least seven days in between.  I have no interest in drinking routinely as I’ve more important things to spend money on.  Also, waking up with a blurry recollection of what happened the night before is never a pleasant experience.  Therefore, I choose to be a moderate consumer and drink oh, so sparingly.

Second, when I do decide to go out, I’ll plan ahead and adjust my diet accordingly.  So let’s say my target intake for the day is 2500 kcals.  I’ll simply focus on protein, fibrous veggies and a few pieces of fruit for the day and nothing else.

This way, I can go out and still have plenty of room to drink a few cold ones, have a shot or 3 and still be in a deficit for the day with no worries.  Fat loss continues and I don’t sacrifice my social life for my narcissistic physique goals.

Thirdly, I also set some rules for myself when going out.  The main rule is that if I’m going to drink fairly liberally, food is off limits.  Now some may see this as being super restrictive and impractical but it’s really not.  It’s simply something I’ve had to do after a few bad experiences.

For most people, after 3-4 drinks, you’re feeling pretty good and indiscretion sets in.  It becomes really easy to order the large batch of nachos or that greasy Reuben sandwich.

Knowing me, I can put down mounds of food in no time.  In fact, in February, a friend was in town for a few days and we went out to Hooters because it’s where we always ate when I lived back in Fayetteville.

Photo Credit: Ophelia219 — Jager is my favorite.

I got the all-you-can-eat wings and stopped at 42 only because they were really busy and each order was taking longer and longer.  Instead of waiting anymore, we went over to a friend’s place, ate fried rice and strawberry pie for dessert.

Now this wasn’t a big deal because I was on a fairly liberal maintenance diet.  I wasn’t too concerned whether or not I was in a deficit or surplus simply because I knew it’d all even out in a few days once the water dropped.

Because of my history, I say NO to eating out when I plan to drink liberally.  It could literally set me back an entire week or two due to my awesome ability to inhale food like oxygen.

A Moderate Approach to Incorporating Alcohol in Your Diet

This is probably the easiest approach to follow and it’s the strategy I use every time I go out or over to a friends to drink.  It never fails me and is awesome for damage control.

Like I said earlier, I set a limit on my food intake to protein, veggies and a few pieces of fruit and save enough room for alcohol later in the day.

To give an example for a male my size (5’8″,180ish pounds), on a diet I like to eat about 200-250g protein per day.  That’s 800-1000 kcals.  Throw a few pieces of fruit into the mix and you got an extra 200-300 kcals.  Totals for the day are anywhere from 1000-1300 kcals with plenty of room for alcohol consumption.

I’ll save most of my intake for the afternoon.  I’ll usually fast up until about noon and break my fast with a piece of fruit (banana or apple) and about 1/2 of my protein intake for the day.

My next meal will consist of the rest of my protein intake for the day – usually some lean chicken, beef or tuna(yack) plus some steamed cabbage, broccoli or green beans.

Then I go out for drinks and have lots of room for plenty of beer and other spirits.  If I’m spending most of my time on my feet, the calorie sink is even bigger.  Wo0t.

A few weeks ago, I did an informal poll on Facebook to see what my friends’ choice drinks were.  I got a really nice list of beverages and I’ll share a few below so you can see which ones might be a better choice and which ones you might limit due to calorie content.

Liquid Bread (Beer)

*all based on 12 ounce servings*
Extra Stout – my favorite 176kcal
Light 95kcal
Equis 145kcal
Adams IPA 175kcal
Adams Triple Bock 340
Trappist Rochefort 8 – yum 250kcal

By The Shot

*One ounce serving*
Daniels 64kcal
Jose Cuervo Tequila
Royal 69kcal
Grey Goose
Jim Beam
, CalorieCount, TheDailyPlate

Mixed Drinks

Now here’s where we can get into problems.  Hardly anyone likes to drink straight shots of tequila; they’d rather have a Margarita or a Daiquiri.  The problem with these drinks is you can never know what the bartender is putting in them in terms of sugar content.  Most of these drinks are real sweet which always equals lots of sugar.  Some of them are HUGE and can end up being 500-600 kcals easily.

So, if you like to drink these, I’d say do it sparingly and limit yourself to just one depending on how much you’ve eaten earlier in the day if your goal is to maintain a deficit.

You could add some Jack Daniels to a Diet Coke or Dr. Pepper or have some Jager in a sugar-free Red Bull for a lower kcal Jager Bomb.

The last thing I want to say is always remember to be safe.  Consuming alcohol can be dangerous at any time but even more so when you’ve been dieting and not had much to eat for the day.  If you’re used to drinking a fair amount, you just might get drunk fairly quickly due to not having much on your stomach when you get started.  I know I’m not your mother, so I’ll stop now.  Just be responsible!

April 4, 2010

  • Toni September 27, 2011

    All I can say in response to this post is that I’ve been living like a damn Yankee the past decade or so! I need to go down south and hook up with a few local southerners and drink me some mint juleps every now and again paired with some black-eyed peas, y’all! ;)

  • Mark Martinez April 25, 2010

    You sure hit on a hot topic. I like Carla’s take on splitting a bear, this brings up something I developed: lets say it’s one of those days where I really, really gott’a eat some chocolate. I mean, when you’re in that mode… plus, you’re at a hypermarket… it’s easy to grab a bunch of your favorite chocolate bars and munch them down in a few minutes. But hey, what else can I do? Well, firstly I avoid going into a hypermarket while I’m hungry (a big No No)… secondly, if I’m home… I’ll grab a choc, break it, throw away (or leave) the bigger peace and zoom out to the car with the small piece. Now I got no option but to eat the small piece. And you know what? On most days that does it. Enough pleasure for the sweet tooth and move on.
    Mark Martinez,

  • matt April 24, 2010

    looks good. so i suppose the only adjustment for a muscle gain diet would be the inclusion of a few more calories early in the day, and still saving some extra calories for the alcohol later on… voila :)

    i’m glad people are starting to see through the fog and that your social life doesn’t have to be destroyed while improving your body composition as part of a balanced longterm lifestyle. thanks JC.

    • JC April 24, 2010

      yea, and that’s what I’m interested in – the long-term lifestyle approach as opposed to messing with my psyche via extreme bulking and cutting over and over and over.

  • Mike @papastarhealth April 24, 2010

    Great article JC! I follow the same approach as you. I learned a long time ago to enjoy my hard liquor straight. Good call on the Guinness, however I prefer the regular rather than the extra stout.

    • JC April 24, 2010

      I enjoy both. I like just about any beer I cannot see through.

  • Alan Aragon April 23, 2010

    Easy there, buddy. You’re talking about moderation here. The very word can raise your blood Shugart to toxic levels.

    • JC April 23, 2010

      I see what you did there…

  • Mondo April 21, 2010

    Sounds fascinating!

  • Dan April 20, 2010


    You hit the nail right on the head with this post. My big problem has always been eating terrible food the day after. I’m good about going home, drinking a glass of water and going to sleep (no food intake that night). For some reason my body craves all the high calorie stuff the day after. Good thing I don’t drink much anymore.


    • JC April 20, 2010

      Hmm, I’ve never heard of such a thing. Are you really dehydrated the next day? I know lots of people say that hunger and thirst are sometimes confused – thus hydrating yourself will usually make the hunger pangs subside.

  • Carla April 19, 2010

    Now that it’s getting warm out, my hubby and I like a cold beer with our dinner from time to time, especially if it’s bbq! So what I’ve been doing is splitting a beer with him. I get to satisfy my beer craving without blowing my nutrition for the day!

    • JC April 19, 2010

      good strategy. beer ALWAYS goes well with BBQ!

  • Eric April 19, 2010

    I did have quite a few drinks this past weekend. My fave Buchanans and Coke. I know it’s the sugary kind and I did do all the bad stuff you mentioned in the article. I ate a ton at the party then still went out to get more food after. BUT I don’t feel the least bit guilty. I eat well most of the time and I rarely drink, maybe once a month. Sure this will slow me down by a week, at the most, but that’s no big deal. A year ago I would have felt all guilty about it but now I’m just going to enjoy it and continue with my current cut.

    • JC April 19, 2010

      and this is a perfect example of when someone’s mindset completely changes for the better.

      I was in the same boat a good while back as well. I remember the monotony of all that dry chicken and green peppers I ate one time preparing for a photo shoot.

      Now, I just take it easy and worry about things that actually matter – like all the beer I’m gonna drink during the JP Fitness Summit. ;)

      • Eric April 19, 2010

        Ahh man, I really wish I could go!!!

        Ugh, I almost puked at the thought of dry chicken. I used to have chicken and rice every day! I remember standing their over my vat of chicken that I would pre cook for the week…so you can imagine how dry it was by Thursday. I wouldn’t even put veggies, didn’t like them. Looking back, I can’t even fathom how the hell I did that for pretty much 2 full years!

        Now I have all sorts of goodies, I’m about to have Mashed sweet potatoes with chipotle and Teriyaki Chicken and some green beans after my workout.

        • JC April 19, 2010

          beware of the food combining, bro!

          edit: for new readers unaware of the comical tone here, I am just kidding about the food combining…

          • Eric April 19, 2010

            I did avoid the food combining. I wouldn’t eat more than 10g of fat in a meal that had carbs. Most of my carbs came around PWO time, I totally followed the 3rd law of of muscle, minus the BCAA’s, before it became an official law. I did the whole fasted cardio every in the morning while cutting.

            I’ve now cut a multiple of ways and I have to say my best cut has been without follow the code of the bro and minus the cardio. I have not seen any advantages in following the way of the bro. As a matter of fact I think I’m making better gains now, following a more relaxed approach, and mentally it’s not as draining.

            I will say that I got in a lot of quality video game time while doing fasted cardio on my recumbent bike.

            Sorry for derailing the subject of the article. Dark beer rules!

            • JC April 19, 2010

              Dark bee does rule. I could drink Guinness Stout by the gallon.

  • Dush April 19, 2010

    I thought the main problem with alcohol was the fact that your liver can’t metabolise fat while it’s getting rid of the alcohol. It’s not the upfront caloric impact of a shot of vodka, say, it’s the fact that your body will stop metabolising fat while it’s processing the alcohol?

    I hope I’m wrong because I love to go out drinking and have recently started a proper cut so have had nothing to drink for 3 weeks. Thankfully I despise the taste of alcohol and only drink to get tipsy.

    • JC April 19, 2010

      regardless of when the fat-burning is taking place, your body is constantly using energy. So, if you end up in a net caloric deficit, it’s the same regardless.

      It’s like when you eat a meal and your insulin is spiked. welp, fat burning is turned off for a while, but in the end, the deficit wins out if other things are taken care of (ensuring you eat less than you’re burning).

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