How to drink alcohol without getting fat

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Despite what you’ve heard, having a cheeky beer won’t waste all your muscle tissue or cause your testosterone levels to nosedive. ‘People who say that forget that the body actually produces a small amount of alcohol naturally as a by-product of processing substances such as sugar alcohols,’ says nutritionist and sports scientist Laurent Bannock ( ‘Our systems are designed to use and dispose of alcohol in small quantities anyway, so the idea that you need to avoid it entirely simply isn’t true.’ 

1. Drink your five (units) a day

How much booze can you consume in one sitting before your body starts to suffer? A study published in the journal Sports Medicine established 0.5g alcohol per kg of your bodyweight as the limit, which equates to five units – or three 330ml bottles of beer – for an 80kg man.

2. Have three days off in a row

Your new golden rule? Guarantee three booze-free days every week with the two-card system: you start each week with two drinking cards and you can play them on any two days. Just remember the amount you can drink is still governed by Rule 1.

Why? According to the Royal College of Physicians it takes two to three days for liver cells to recover after processing alcohol, so if you can manage three consecutive booze-free days each week your liver should be in the clear. What’s more, American studies have found that indulging within these limits can even reduce the risk of dementia and heart disease. 

3. Get the NAC of beating hangovers 

Even if you rarely drink, chances are you’ll fall off the wagon at some point – and by then, it’s all about damage limitation for the inevitable hangover. ‘The metabolic pathways that your body uses to process alcohol rely on a compound called N-Acetylcysteine (NAC),’ says functional medicine consultant and personal trainer Aaron Deere ( ‘If you don’t have enough NAC, it’ll hamper your body’s ability to process all the alcohol you’ve consumed. To counteract this and reduce the length and strength of your hangover, take a NAC supplement before going to bed at the end of a night out, ideally with a pint or two of water to help rehydrate yourself.’

4. Keep it lean

One of the main reasons that regular drinking leads to weight gain is that the body prioritises metabolising alcohol ahead of everything else, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. This reduces its ability to process fats and carbohydrates, which it instead stores as fat.

To avoid this problem, stick to eating lean protein sources with plenty of green veg before and after a big night out. “Chicken breast and venison are among the leanest and most nutrient rich," says Deree. 

Try this recipe for a green veg and protein rich meal

5. Win the hunger games 

One of the biggest issues with consuming alcohol is that it reduces your inhibitions, which makes you far more susceptible to making poor nutritional choices,’ says Bannock.

A study from the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry & Behavior found that the histamine in red wine ramps up your levels of the hormone cortisol and with it, your appetite, as do most blood sugar-spiking mixers. The good news is the study also established that beer can help to suppress your hunger by releasing a compound called GLP-1. Our advice: stick to low-sugar mixers such as soda or even just water.

Try these low-sugar cocktails you can make at home

6. Sleep it off

Ever spent your Friday night worrying about how much your burgeoning drunkenness will affect your on-pitch performance the next day? According to research published in the Journal Of Science And Medicine In Sport, you shouldn’t- provided you allow yourself enough time to sleep before kick-off.

The study put a group of rugby players through a series of strength and conditioning tests the morning after drinking a ridiculous 11 pints each. Surprisingly, the only negative affect was a reduction in lower-body strength, which the researchers actually attributed to a lack of sleep rather than the alcohol intake.

The closer you can get to seven hours’ kip (the minimum amount recommended by the National Sleep Foundation) the better. If you’re struggling to nod off, try snacking on a tryptophan-rich, sleep-hormone improving banana before hitting the sack – it’ll also help soak up the booze.

7. Hit the bar not the road

Unsure how best to schedule your training around your social life? If you want to avoid a drop in testosterone levels after a big night out, head to the gym beforehand rather than going for a run.

According to a study published in the journal Sports Medicine, which found that consuming roughly 15 units or six pints of beer, for an 80kg man, after exhaustive endurance exercise led to significantly lowered testosterone levels compared with consuming the same amount after weight training.

Ben Ince

Between 2010 and 2016, Ben was the deputy editor of Men’s Fitness UK, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Ben also contributed exclusive features to Coach on topics such as football drills, triathlon training plans and healthy eating.