Is it Possible to Drink and Still be Healthy? (A Nerd’s Guide to Alcohol)

A toy bartender serving some alcohol

It’s time to take a look at alcohol!

Being healthy while drinking is not impossible, but there are some considerations to make it work. Luckily, we help folks in our Online Coaching Program walk that line. Today, we’ll share them with you too!

Here’s what we’ll cover in today’s guide:

Side Note: if you aren’t 21 or of legal drinking age in your particular country, this article isn’t for you. Instead, distract yourself with these baby sloths getting a bath:

Also, I’m not a dietitian, doctor, or anybody with any sort of important-sounding credentials. I’m not an expert of any kind. I’m probably not even wearing pants right now. I’m merely a nerd who likes to dig into these things and present my results.

What Happens When You Drink Alcohol?

A LEGO and an alcoholic beer

I could dig REALLY deep into the science of how alcohol works, but that sounds more like a boring term paper and less like a fun Nerd Fitness article, so I’ll keep this section brief.

When you consume an alcoholic beverage, the alcohol (ethanol) makes its way to your stomach where around 20-25% of it gets absorbed into your bloodstream immediately.

The rest of it continues to your small intestine where it is absorbed by the bloodstream.

Gif of blood stream

Once it’s in your bloodstream, the alcohol slowly heads toward your liver where it is metabolized (broken down).

As the all-powerful Wikipedia tells us:

Alcohol is metabolized by a normal liver at the rate of about one ounce (one shot, a normal beer, a regular-sized glass of wine) every 90 minutes.

Many different factors [1] affect this rate – like body fat percentage (lower the body fat, lower the blood alcohol level) and biological sex (women typically process alcohol slower than men).

Any amount consumed over that doesn’t get processed immediately, and instead saturates your blood until your liver can process the excess alcohol.

Think of it like a trip to the DMV or Post Office. There are 47 of you in line, but only two sloths working the counter, which means you’re going to be waiting for hours until you can finally get outta there.

Because alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, the first drink or two can help loosen you up or relax. As the amount of alcohol in your blood increases, the effects become more and more pronounced.

We call this “drunk.”

What Are the Negative Effects of Alcohol?

A LEGO skeleton

“Steve, I know what drunk is. Just tell me if I should drink or not!”

All right, all right! Let’s get to the good stuff!

…Actually, let’s get all of the BAD stuff out of the way first, and then move onto the good stuff.

#1) Alcohol is pretty much void of any nutrients – its calories, although plentiful, are empty.

#2) It’s the first fuel to be burned [2] as energy in your system, which will lead the rest of the calories in your system (mostly the carbs) to get stored as fat as they’re going unused rather than being burned as fuel.

#3) Alcohol stimulates insulin production when consumed. Just like with grains and other sugars, this can lead to increased fat storage.

#4) It has a dehydrating effect on your body, which can cause all sorts of health issues if you don’t keep an eye on it. Essentially, it makes you urinate out way more fluid than you’re taking in, which leads to dehydration. If you have ever gone out drinking one night and woken up a few pounds lighter than you were the day before – this is why.

#5) Alcohol impairs your body’s hormone regulation, which is a big factor when it comes to building muscle or losing weight.

#6) There are also studies that show that the congeners (byproducts of fermentation) in alcoholic beverages have an estrogenic effect [3].

#7) It can wreak havoc on your sleep patterns. When you drink 30-60 minutes before bedtime, you’re probably going to screw up your sleep schedule [4], whether you realize it or not. The effects kick in once all of the alcohol has been metabolized, so although you might fall asleep (pass out) right away thanks to the consumption of alcohol before bed…

A man saying "here I am drunk again"

…it’s going to cause issues with your body and your sleep patterns throughout the night.

#8) Beyond that, alcohol generally contains a lot of liquid calories that can be consumed in large quantities without realizing it. If you’re a bigger dude, it might take you 6, 10, 12+ beers to get drunk… which you’ll do and combine with your normal dinner. With each beer being 100+ calories, that’s 1200+ calories consumed not including food. This doesn’t even included mixed drinks (which I’ll get to below) that bring in tons of calories and sugar on top of the alcohol – double whammy.

#9) The real issue I’ve found with drinking is the lack of rational decision making after too many beverages. All of a sudden, every possible terrible food sounds like a great idea – 4AM Taco Bell, six slices of pizza, a mountain of Chinese food, and everything in between. Even if you’re consuming alcohol responsibly, it’s oftentimes served with smothered wings, chips, pizza, piles of french fries, and more. It’s easy to get sucked into a night full of calorie consumption that would make hot dog eating champion Joey Chestnut blush.

What Are the Positive Effects of Alcohol? (the Good)

Christmas Beer on snow with decorative artwork

There are SOME beneficial effects of MODERATE alcohol consumption. 

First and foremost, alcohol consumed in moderation can make you feel good. Stress is a huge factor when it comes to weight gain and health issues – if a beer at the end of the day helps you relax and unwind, I’d say its positive effects outweigh its negatives.

Notice I said A beer…if you’re pounding beers every weekend to forget how miserable your week was, it’s time to reevaluate the source of why you’re unhappy and fix the source code of the problem.

Every health-conscious drinker will tell you this one – red wine actually has quite a few healthy antioxidants in it, and can be healthy for a number of reasons.

Grapes turning into wine

(Like these 8 reasons, for example).

And from Mark’s Daily Apple:

Alcohol as a blood thinner enhances vascular health, and the phenolic content (potent antioxidants) can pack a healthy punch. Research has compared alcohol abstention with moderate and “heavy” drinking.

Moderate alcohol consumption appears to lower the incidence of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, total and ischaemic stroke, as well as result in an overall reduction in mortality…Moderate drinking in those over 65 with superior cognitive and memory function. It has also been linked to higher bone density in postmenopausal women.

How to Drink Alcohol and Still Be Healthy

Clones and alcoholic beer caps

Here’s the Nerd Fitness philosophy on drinking in one sentence:

Do the best you can, be smart, and have some fun.

Long story short: drinking isn’t healthy for you. But neither is staying up too late, spending too much time on a computer, not spending enough time in the sunlight, spending too much time in the sunlight, playing video games for too long, etc.

And yet we all do lots of these things, either because we have to or because we want to. My goal with this site isn’t to make you into the perfect model human being (which is impossible), but rather to remove any barriers you have toward living a healthy lifestyle while still letting you live the life you want.

As stated in the Rules of the Rebellion: Your exercise and diet can become part of what you are, but not at the expense of who you are.

I believe drinking can be done occasionally, in moderation, and a desirable healthy lifestyle can still be achieved.

If you decide that you want to drink, good for you. If you decide that you don’t want to drink, that’s fine too. I won’t make you do anything you don’t want to do, and vice versa.

You know yourself best; you know what you can handle and what you can’t; you know what your goals are and how your body reacts to certain things. Be smart.

As long as you are following a solid nutritional strategy, and you have found a way to responsibly mix in the occasional adult beverage and it works for your goals, great!

If you’re not quite sure if you’re eating right yet, or you don’t have a good blueprint to follow, check out Nerd Fitness Journey!

Our app will take you step-by-step to a healthy diet. No guesswork needed, just log in and follow along.

You can try it (for free) right here:

Now, rather than tell you to give up drinking, let’s find a way to fit in into your schedule so that it allows you to be happy WITHOUT derailing your efforts toward weight loss, muscle gain, and a healthier life.

How Much Alcohol Should I Drink? (Determining Goals)

Photo of two mugs of foam beer, table football, ball, football boots, pipe, rattle toy on black table

If you’re trying to figure out if you can drink or not, start by determining your goals:

  • Do you want to build lots of muscle quickly?
  • Do you need to lose a lot of weight quickly?
  • Are you trying to get to a sub 10% body fat percentage?
  • Or are you just trying to lose weight and feel better about yourself?
  • Can you ONLY drink one or two? Or does one or two always lead to six or seven or fifteen?

My advice to you on drinking will be very different depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.

#1) If your goal is elite performance, rapid weight loss, or rapid muscle gain: abstain from drinking as much as possible.

If you need to lose a lot of weight very quickly (maybe you have a wedding coming up, a weight loss competition at work, or a vacation and you want to get a slim as possible), cut out the drinking completely.

It messes with your sleep and your hormones, two crucial aspects of weight loss and muscle building. “But, Steve, I want to still drink!” Okay then! Readjust your goals and don’t expect elite results.

#2) If you are trying to just look better and feel better: make yourself into an experiment.

Treat Keto like you would a science experiment

Drink your glass of red wine or have your after-work beer along with healthy eating and healthy living, and see if your body is progressing in the right way. As long as you are feeling better and looking better, keep doing what you’re doing. If you are stalling or plateauing, consider not drinking for a while and see if it makes a difference.

#3) If you know one or two usually turns into six or seven: it’s probably best if you stay away from drinking, especially if there’s any sort of alcohol abuse in your family. You can also volunteer to be the designated driver, provided you take that responsibility of safely getting your friends home safe VERY SERIOUSLY.

You have to stop after one or two drinks for the night to keep everybody safe – it takes the pressure off of you to make that decision to drink more.

What Are the “Healthiest” Alcoholic Drinks?

Wine, glass, red.

Before I tell you WHAT to drink, let’s give a quick education on what is considered a “drink” and how the liquor measurement system works.

  • 100 proof liquor contains 50% alcohol
  • 80 proof liquor contains 40% alcohol
  • 40 proof liquor contains 20% alcohol

Traditional wine has approximately 8-14% alcohol, while regular beer has 4-6% alcohol. Generally, this means that you’ll need a lot more beers to reach your desired level of inebriation compared to a liquor drink or wine. More beers = more carbs and more calories = worse off for you.

The goal when drinking is to consume as few calories and carbs as possible while still providing you with the “benefits” (I’ll leave how much you’re looking for up to you) of that alcoholic beverage.

Here’s my humble opinion: Your mileage may vary. Just because something is in the FAIL category doesn’t mean you can’t ever have one again, just save them for special occasions, or drink in extreme moderation (can one actually be EXTREMELY moderate?).

Win

  • Red Wine – ~130 calories and ~5-6g carbs. Full of the healthy stuff previously listed.
  • NorCal Margarita – (Robb Wolfe’s drink of choice) tequila, club soda, and lime juice – ~150 calories and ~5g carbs
  • Whiskey/Brandy/Scotch/Cognac – Full of healthy antioxidants as well. 64 calories and zero carbs.
  • Vodka/soda or Vodka/rocks with lime (my drink of choice) – >2g carbs, 66 calories + lime juice (>10 calories)
  • Bacardi and Diet – (Staci‘s drink of choice). 2g carbs, 66 calories. I know, I know, fake sugar and chemicals, but we’re already drinking, right?

Meh

  • White wine – ~130 calories and ~5-6g carbs. Not a terrible option, but not nearly as many of the health benefits you get with red.
  • Light beer – ~100 calories and ~3-5g carbs. This varies on the type and brand of beer. Yes, lower in calories and lower in carbs, but beer is created from grain and it’s easy to consume LOTS of these very quickly.

Fail

  • Regular beer – ~150 calories and 10-14g of carbs. Made of grain, easy to consume half a dozen of them without batting an eye, and full of calories and carbs. If you’re a real beer drinker (I am), do so in moderation. I’ll refer you back to the “what are your goals” section to determine what “moderation” is for you.
  • ___________ and coke/sprite/orange juice/cranberry juice. Sugar, sugar, sugar, sugar, calories, sugar. The innocent cranberry juice you added to your vodka? 120 calories and 30 grams of sugar.
  • ___________ and Red Bull – Although I love Red Bull’s marketing, I hate their drink. Both alcohol and caffeine are diuretics that will dehydrate you very quickly. On top of that, the alcohol tries to slow you down, the caffeine tries to speed you up – your body has no effing clue what to do.
  • Pretty much anything frozen – Sugary margaritas, daiquiris, pina coladas, hurricanes, vodka Red Bull slushies (yes these exist, stay far far away). There’s enough sugar in these drinks to make Def Leppard think ‘that’s a bit much’.
  • Sangria – Think of it like wine but with 20 packets of sugar added in.

Tips and Tricks for “Healthy” Drinking

LEGOs and a beer

Okay, so you’ve decided that you’re okay with drinking. How do you put it into practice?

#1) Hopefully, this goes without saying, but regardless of whether you drink or how much you drink, you should be devoting most of your healthy efforts to fixing your nutrition.

How you eat will account for 80%-90% of your success when it comes to weight loss or muscle building.

Also, the more healthy you are with your food choices, the more you can ‘get away with’ making unhealthier alcohol choices! Just do so reasonably!

So before we even get into drinking strategies, grab our strategy guide for eating with our 10-level Nerd Fitness Diet. Grab the guide free when you sign up in the box below, pick the level that works for you, and THEN get your drinking strategy right!

#2) Identify the days you’ll be drinking. My guess is that it will be Friday and Saturday. During the Summer, it might be Sunday afternoons.

Whatever your decision is, decide which days you’ll be drinking and how much you’re like to be drinking.  That’s up to you – if you can manage with just one drink to nurse throughout the night, good for you.  If you need more than that, I’d make sure those dates are spread further apart.

#3) If you have a party to go to next weekend, for example, spend your entire week being incredibly diligent with your diet and choices. Be more strict on your meals, stick to only water, and work from there.

#4) Make sure you eat BEFORE you go out – you need that food in your system before the alcohol if it’s going to help you at all later on.

#5) When you get to the party or wherever you’re going, alternate alcohol with ice/soda water. Now, if your goal is to get as intoxicated as possible, there’s not much I can do for you other than feel sorry for your body and brain the next morning. But, that is your decision to make, and I won’t hold it against you – we’ve all been there 🙂 In fact, I’ll even tell you what to do in the next section for the day after.

#6) Don’t mix and match. Don’t switch from beers, to shots, to liquor, to margaritas, to Jägerbombs, to whatever. Bad idea. Don’t start with beer and then switch to hard liquor either. You’re already drunk so you won’t be able to tell how much liquor you’re consuming, which is when things go downhill quickly.

A drunk on a barstool falling over

Pick something and stick with it.

#7) Stop drinking at least an hour before you’re going to go to bed. If you’ve been drinking a lot, CHUG WATER LIKE A MOFO. Yup, it’s going to make you want to pee. Yes, you’ll have to get up to pee during the night. Yes, you’ll wake up feeling like an overfilled water balloon. Because you’re dehydrated and your body can only retain so much water, you’ll require a lot of it to get back to level.

#8) Avoid mixers that are high in sugar like a stage-5 clinger  vodka and cranberry, rum and coke, Red Bull and vodka, pretty much any________ and _________ is probably loaded with calories and sugar. A Long Island Ice tea has 700+ calories. A piña colada has 600+ calories.

The same goes for a margarita. Drink booze on the rocks, add some fruit wedges if you want to adjust the flavoring.

#9) Scared about not being able to restrain yourself? Worried about your friends poking fun at your slow drinking? Volunteer to be the designated driver. That way, your friends will love you and OWE you as they don’t need to pay for a cab, and you have a built in excuse why you’re not drinking.

I didn’t drink through most of college, so I was the DD a lot – it was kind of nice having everybody owing me favors all of the time!

How to Cure a Hangover

drunk hangover dog

We’ve all been there.

Some of us more than others…

Your best friends are in town for one night, or you’re out at a bachelor party/friend’s wedding/watching a big sporting event…or it was Tuesday and you had nothing better to do.

You were accidentally overserved, clearly through no fault of your own, and now it’s the next morning and you feel like Stu in the Hangover:

On to the hangover cures!

In case you’re curious WHY your body hates you right now, read this.

Here are some tips to reduce a hangover:

#1) You are SEVERELY dehydrated, so it’s important to get fluids back in your system – you’ve lost a lot of essential electrolytes and water from the night before, so get it back into your system. Look for a low calorie or zero calorie Gatorade, or even Pedialyte.

#2) No Gatorade or Pedialyte? Eat a banana! Your body is potassium-deficient. Feel free to throw banana peel in the street and watch hilarious go-kart spin-outs.

#3) Take a shower. Drag your butt off the couch/bed/park bench that you woke up on, stumble to the shower, and take a nice, long hot shower. Or, if you need a slap in the face, try cold showers! Alternatively, you could ask your friend to slap you in the face (not recommended).

#4) Pounding headache? You’re severely dehydrated so lots of strenuous activity is NOT a great idea…but some quick light activity could wake you up! Try doing some push-ups or jumping jacks and get the blood flowing out of your brain and into the rest of your body.

#5) Don’t take acetaminophen (Tylenol). From Ask Men:

The reason is that when your liver is busy metabolizing alcohol, it processes the painkiller differently than it otherwise would, resulting in toxic compounds that can cause liver inflammation and even permanent damage.

If you NEED to, take Ibuprofen. If you can tough it out without the drugs, do so…but take ibuprofen if you have to.

A Healthy Relationship With Alcohol (Next Steps)

Two LEGOs and wine

Hopefully, that was everything you wanted to know, and a lot of what you didn’t, about drinking.

Remember, as long as you are leveling up your food choices, adding in adult beverages here and there shouldn’t slow down your progress too much. Pick your level (grab our strategy guide in the box below), plan your drinking days, and put a plan in place!

Try to be "active" every day so you can continue your streak of success!

If you want to continue your journey with Nerd Fitness, you can check out:

#1) Our Online Coaching Program: we work hand in hand with our clients for all sorts of nutritional changes, including how to heave a healthy relationship with alcohol. 

You can schedule a free call with our team so we can get to know you and see if our coaching program is right for you. Just click on the image below for more details:

#2) If you a blueprint for how to move to a healthy way of eating and drinking, check out NF Journey. Our fun habit-building app helps you exercise more frequently, eat healthier, and level up your life (literally).

Try your free trial right here:

#3) Join the Rebellion! We need good people like you in our community, the Nerd Fitness Rebellion. You’ll meet all sorts of individuals who are trying to better themselves, by drinking less, eating more vegetables, or lacing up to go for a run. 

Sign up in the box below to enlist and get our Diet Cheat Sheet, which will show you where certain alcoholic drinks fall on the “healthy or less-healthy” spectrum. 

Have you been able to lose weight and maintain a healthy social life with/without drinking?

Do you have any healthy hangover cures to pass along?

Anything I didn’t address that you’d like me to add?

Let me know!

-Steve

###

photo sources: toy bartender, lego and beer, Hungoverclones and beercaps, Ilkin Quliyev © 123RF.com, nuclearlily © 123RF.com, olegdudko © 123RF.com  becks and stormtroopers, damedeeso © 123RF.com, clones and booze

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198 thoughts on “Is it Possible to Drink and Still be Healthy? (A Nerd’s Guide to Alcohol)

  1. Alcohol is metabolized to acetaldehyde, and then to acetate and finally carbon dioxide and water. But, acetaldehyde is the chemical cousin to formaldehyde, also known as embalming fluid. Both are highlychemically reactive. Acetaldehyde has a fondness for attaching itself to proteins that have sulfhydryl groups, usually when they contain cysteine, and can also “stick” to DNA, causing strand breaks and cancer. To get rid of the damaged proteins, the body goes into inflammatory overdrive, which is a likely mechanism for what feels like a hangover. In animal studies, prior to giving alcohol, administering n-acetylcysteine (NAC) and/or lipoic acid (LA) which both contain sulfhydryl groups, appears to prevent liver toxicity. They probably react with the acetaldehyde before it has a chance to react with proteins and DNA. Taking a combo of NAC and LA before and after a drinking bout works well for some people, and if you have one of the ADH isoforms that doesn’t metabolize acetaldhyde quickly, it may also be useful for treating asian flush reactions. The brand that has both in relatively high quantities is called Heddrite and can be found on Amazon.

  2. Great article, I am a bit behind a still goof up since I often have more than ‘a’ beer or the sugary sweet flavored alcopops (bad idea folks) I must find a better way and this is has some good alternatives that I admit never tried before.

  3. GREAT article on proper alcohol use for the non-teetotalers!
    Just one thing to add in their ‘hangover” section.
    There’s a drink called Pedialyte that’s very similar to Gatorade but with half the sugars (the sugars are in the form of dextrose). It was designed to help sick children keep from being dehydrated and to balance their electrolytes. Of course it works for adults too.
    They come either in bottles, or in powder packets you mix with water.
    Substitute Pedialyte for Gatorade in your hangover cure strategy.
    You may have to go to the drugstore to get it, as most grocery stores don’t carry it.

  4. Take sports for example – someone can be a healthy lifestyle addict, be crazy about micro and macro elements in their diet, exercise daily, and limit stress in life as much as possible. He or she enjoys doing this and repeats it and cannot imagine a day without it. All sounds perfect, doesn’t it? Well, sports and a healthy lifestyle can also be taken to an extreme level. Problem with alcohol also falls in line with a medical approach to any disease – someone is sick, there is a reason for it, there is always a way to become healthy, and there is a medication to take. I do not simply want you to think there is a fix-all treatment or pill to take. If you have a problem or someone you know has the problem, there are many solutions. Of course one and only right is go to an AA meeting, but it’s a very hard step to take. There is a lot of books you can read first, to prepare for this. I can recommend this one – net-bossorg/how-to-help-an-alcoholic-you-love. It presents really good approach.

  5. I have not checked in here for some time because I thought it was getting boring, but the last several posts are good quality so I guess I will add you back to my everyday bloglist. You deserve it my friend .

  6. My colleague is trying to achieve his ideal body figure this year so that he could fit on his suit again. I never knew that red wine has a low-calorie count while giving you that alcohol kick! I think I should relay this to him so that he can try it out by visiting a wine shop.

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