When it comes to nightlife, alcohol is the main event because it doesn’t improve parties – it creates them. What about your physique?

Here’s how to have your drink, and hang onto to your gains with Menno Henselmans – published scientific author, a physique competitor and the founder of bayesianbodybuilding.com (where you can find this article in its original format, here)


How to drink, stay shredded and hold on to your muscle mass

When it comes to drinking you could just be reasonable, moderate and yada yada, but this isn’t that kind of article. Screw moderation. You want to get hammered without ruining your hard won physique.

The good news is that you can lose fat while having a heavy night and minimize the damage to your training.

To achieve this, we need to understand alcohol’s hidden pharmacology then take the step of looking at how to fit alcohol into a healthy lifestyle. Here’s how to up the bar on all areas of your performance.


No 1: Low fat eating leads to good drinking

Alcohol’s sordid journey within your body takes it through your liver, breaking it down into acetate on each pass. Acetate is what makes alcohol toxic and your fat burning prowess is inhibited while the body prioritizes breaking it down.

As a result, most of the fat you’ve eaten earlier is stored and this is why alcohol has such high potential to make you wear its effects like a squishy suit of armor. However, alcohol itself has no fats and excruciatingly few carbs.

This means you can avoid fat storage from alcohol by minimizing the amount of fats in circulation on the days you plan to drink. Yep, that includes even the healthy kinds like your beloved avocados. It’s not for forever, just for the celebratory days when you’re drinking.


No 2: Put some space between drinking and training

When drinking alcohol, protein is unlikely to become stored as muscle. What’s more, recent research from a paper in the PLOS One journal shows alcohol directly decreases muscle protein synthesis and gene expression – only wishful drinkers would be genuinely surprised by this.

Since most boozing happens at night, it’s a good idea to squeeze in a morning workout on the days you plan to party. The post workout pump doesn’t carry into the evening anyway.


No 3: Better yet, chill and train with a hangover

If you’ve planned in advance of the night you’re going out, the ideal scenario is to make that a rest day in your program. It’s probably even better to train when hung-over than before drinking, since recovery is more important than absolute performance for muscle growth.

Training while hung over may leave you feeling about as useful as a herring trying to ride a bicycle, but consider it the cost of doing business and you’ll be left feeling like your old self afterwards.


alcohol fitness


No 4: Be in a fat loss phase

So, when there are beers percolating in your system, fat gets stored and protein gets burned. What about carbs? Contrary to popular belief, carbs can’t be converted to fat efficiently without overfeeding and, therefore, carbs are ok to consume with alcohol.

The key point here is to avoid being in a calorie surplus. That’s your cue to load up on drunk man’s favorites like breads and pasta, but to try avoid the fatty food urges that’ll derail your sober aesthetic ambitions.


No 5: Unless you’re bulking…

Bulking on alcohol is difficult because, as mentioned earlier, alcohol limits muscle protein synthesis and recovery from training. If you know it will be impossible to avoid an energy surplus because you’re going to drink a gallon or you have a festive dinner beforehand, it helps if you have depleted liver and some muscle glycogen stores.

You can achieve this by 3 days of low-carb dieting or 2 days of severe caloric restriction. This will increase insulin sensitivity and stimulate your body to store carbs as glycogen instead of fat. It’s a strategy known as having your cake and eating it, but without the cake.


No 6: Training an alcohol reserve?

Unless you’re going to both drink and overeat enormously, you generally wouldn’t bother with any specific type of glycogen depletion. This would disrupt your training plan and goals, all for that one night of hedonism.

However, a HIIT cardio session alongside your normal strength-training routine that morning would be a good plan for this day as you’ll continue to burn another 15% of the total calories from the intense session over the next 24 hours as well as improving insulin sensitivity.


No 7: Minimize alcohol – maximize drunkenness

Regardless of whether you’re a light or heavy weight, your liver can break down only a certain amount of alcohol per hour, irrespective of the amount that’s in your blood. If you drink alcohol faster than your liver can metabolize it then the alcohol accumulates in your blood, which is when you start to feel and behave like you’re on an 18-30’s holiday tour.

Drinking one drink per hour, you’ll get a small spike in your blood before your liver metabolizes it – that won’t make you drunk, at least not if you can hold your liquor. To get tipsy with the least amount of alcohol, you’ll be best chucking your drinks down quickly at the start of the night, saving money and calories.

You’ll gain “party-starter” status from your crew too.


No 8: Maximum alcohol – minimum drunkenness

Anyone with an IQ higher than a sea sponge realizes social pressure is at least part of the reason people drink. When this narrative plays out, it becomes a crapshoot how much you’ll glug because once booze has cut your social brakes and tumbler glasses get shoved into your hand, you won’t even be able to keep count.

To minimize damage from a night out, and wake up headache-free, you want to do the opposite of when you want to get drunk. Spread your alcohol consumption over as much time as possible. Everyone reaches that point in a boozy evening when nobody is paying attention to whether you’re on your 5th or 15th drink so work this to your advantage.


No 9: Pre-drink foods

If you’ve set the party-savvy goal of getting absolutely bladdered, your nutrition (or lack thereof) plays another role in making this happen. A full stomach slows down the accumulation of alcohol in your blood and means you’ll need more drinks to get drunk.

Have only a small, low fiber meal, such as white pasta or rice with chicken, a few hours beforehand and let alcohol do its job.


No 10: Damage mitigation meal

Eating a large meal close to your drinking session is the way to go if you want to drink with impunity from drunken consequences. A good meal can make you consume over twice the amount of alcohol otherwise needed for the same level of intoxication, basically cutting the damage from alcohol in half.

Most meals eaten before drinking reduce the percentage of bioavailable alcohol to around 70%.


No 11: Foods for thought

High protein and fiber meals, though? They’re particularly effective at stimulating the liver and delaying gastric emptying, potentially reducing alcohols bioavailability by the time it reaches your blood to below 40%. That means a high volume of food consisting of things like casein protein, egg whites, fiber supplements and vegetables should be eaten prior to the big night.


cork screw in the shape of a dumbbell


No 12: Calories in alcohol

Alcohol, the actual macronutrient, contains 7.1 calories per gram with a high thermic effect of 20% (Our body uses 20% of the calories in alcohol to metabolize it). The calories of alcohol are 2nd highest only after fats. Fortunately, we can save a ton of calories by drinking only dry wines and spirits, possibly with diet mixers. Or just man-up and savor a taste for the finer things in life such as whisky and water.


No 13: What drinks?

Most SpiritsDouble shot100
Red wineSmall glass125
White wineglassSmall 121
Pina Colada9oz (UK 255ml)490
Cosmopolitan 2.75oz (uk 85ml)146
Mojito6oz (uk 170ml)143


No 14: The alcohol munchies

The three key macros: protein, carbs and fats suppress your appetite – the more you eat, the more full you feel. Alcohol doesn’t do this – in fact, alcohol can even increase appetite. Combined with your brain operating with the reasoning of a puppy at the beach when you’re under the influence, it’s easy to overeat when you’re drunk. If you’re prone to overeating after a night out, save up some calories during the day and prepare a filling high protein meal you can eat when you get home (or wherever you’re lucky enough to end up).


No 15: Logic wins

There is no magic formula for every individual to figure out the minimum dose of alcohol required for the desired effect. The critical factor here is alcohol tolerance. The more frequently you drink, the better your liver becomes at processing the alcohol.

Body size also matters, a big guy can drink more than a petite women. So it’s very individual and you’ll have to find your personal tolerance level. A little common sense goes a long way here to balance keeping you safe whilst making your night memorable.


No 16: How often can I drink and stay in shape?

Dosage makes the poison, so how much you drink is more important than how often. If you only drink 1, maybe 2 units a day, you can drink pretty much daily with minimum negative effect on your physique. This is assuming you have the wear with all to fit alcohol within your daily macros.

For binge drinkers, the negative effects go hand in hand with the frequency you indulge. The more often you go drinking, the worse the damage as you exceed your body’s ability to recover.

More than one big night out weekly is hard to combine with a healthy fitness lifestyle and puts you at a bigger risk of turning that party bod into a dad bod.


No 17: The responsible message

Drinking to socialize it a great stress reliever that can yield rewards long after your hang over has subsided, providing your buddies have got the photos to laugh about it afterwards.

There is a flip-side of the coin because research at John Hopkins Medicine found drinking to get rid of painful memories doesn’t work and actually makes you more fearful of them.

Deal with your problems with help from friends, family and professionals because the answer is never at the bottom of a bottle and will make your physique suffer thanks to the up-tick in stress and cortisol.


Bonus Tip – No 18: Drink up

You don’t have to be a social recluse to build an awesome physique. Many non-competing lifters regularly drink alcohol and still make great progress. Binge drinking isn’t healthy and may somewhat compromise the development of your physique but makes for some great experiences (if you remember them).

An optimized diet isn’t just about maximum muscle growth and fat loss. It should be a part of the lifestyle that makes you enjoy life to the fullest.

If drinking is a part of that for you, use these tips and enjoy yourself, providing you’ve earned it.


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