Tracking Alcohol In Your Macros
What kind of macronutrient is alcohol?
We know about the three main macronutrients fat, carbs, and protein, right? So, what exactly do we classify alcohol as? Alcohol is a fourth macronutrient, and contains 7 calories per gram, like the 4 calories per gram in carbs and protein, and the 9 calories per gram in fat. However, while alcohol does contain calories (or energy), it does not have any other nutritional value, like vitamins, minerals, or fiber. Therefore, it is important to remember to consume alcohol the way you would consume candy—in moderation.
Three possible ways to track alcohol
There are three possible ways to track alcohol in your macros: as carbs, as fat, or as a combination of both. My recommendation is to track as carbs. Fat and protein are essential macronutrients for a properly functioning body, whereas carbs, though imperative as an energy source, are a bit more arbitrary in comparison. Additionally, most people have more carbs to spare on a given day than fats. However, if you have a lot of fat allotted in your daily macros, you may opt to substitute alcohol for fat or as a combination of both.
How to do it:
Track any mixers first before tracking pure alcohol calories. You may want to consider using calorie free mixers to keep overall calorie content as low as possible.
Use the nutrition label for your drink to discern how many calories from alcohol (versus carbs, etc.) are in your beverage. Divide leftover alcohol calories by 4 to track as carbs or 9 to track as fat. To track as a combination of both, split the number of calories and divide by 4 for fat or 9 for fat.
To track as carbs: If your beverage has 150 calories for alcohol, you would divide 150 by 4, giving you 38 grams of carbs (37.5 rounded up to 38). Subtract this from your daily carbohydrate allotment.
To track as fat: Divide 150 by 9, equaling 17 (16.7 rounded up to 17). Subtract this from your daily fat allotment.
To track as both: Let’s split evenly—75 calories of carbs and 75 calories of fat. Divide 75 by 4 to get 18.75 grams of carbs (round up to 19). Divide 75 by 9 to get 8.3 grams of fat. Subtract these numbers from your carb and fat allotments, respectively.
For those in the general population who are just interested in a sustainable way of eating to lose fat: consuming alcohol, especially in social situations, can be a way of maintaining satisfaction with the dieting process. However, excessive alcohol consumption does not allow the body to rebuild after training and can interfere with performance and recovery and thus with fat loss. Enjoying alcohol is certainly something that can be done in a balanced manner, but as with anything, moderation is key. If you know that you are planning to have a drink, plan ahead and adjust your daily goals accordingly. Knowing what you can have in advance can help you make smarter decisions about how much to drink. If you are an athlete, keep reading:
Disclaimer for athletes:
If you are an athlete who is in an intense training phase that requires a constant state of recovery (a powerlifter in a peaking phase, for example), it is important to remember that “acute alcohol consumption, at the levels often consumed by athletes, may negatively alter normal immunoendocrine function, blood flow, and protein syntheses so that recovery from skeletal muscle injury may be impaired.” (Barnes). Basically, as the body deals with processing alcohol, it is not synthesizing protein and rebuilding muscle during that time. If recovery is impaired or slowed, subsequent training sessions may suffer. If being in optimal condition to maximize performance is your main goal, consuming alcohol is something you should take the time to make an educated decision about. In off season training, the occasional drink with friends should not be much cause for concern. However, during the final weeks or months before a major competition, you may want to limit your alcohol consumption and opt for maximized recovery through nutrient dense foods instead. Recovery is an important part of the training process and allows our body to make adaptations to our training.
Ultimately, we are all a little different and you may feel that avoiding alcohol altogether is the right decision for you, or you may choose to still indulge in the occasional beverage. Make smart decisions and keep your goals in mind. If you are interested in learning more about the affects of alcohol on athletic performance, I have included two research papers addressing this in the sources section.
Further reading & sources:
This site has a great free tool for calculating alcohol macros: https://www.workingagainstgravity.com/how-to-track-alcohol-into-your-macros
Steiner, Jennifer L., and Charles H. Lang. "Alcohol Impairs Skeletal Muscle Protein Synthesis And Motor Signaling In A Time-Dependent Manner Following Electrically Stimulated Muscle Contraction." Journal Of Applied Physiology 117.10 (2014): 1170-1179. SPORTDiscus. Web. 1 Feb. 2016.
Barnes, Matthew. "Alcohol: Impact On Sports Performance And Recovery In Male Athletes." Sports Medicine 44.7 (2014): 909.Publisher Provided Full Text Searching File. Web. 1 Feb. 2016.