One of the first things we bodybuilders cut out during a prep is alcohol and sometimes it sucks. I was in prep for almost two years straight and it REALLY sucked. Although I would tell myself the standard I don’t need alcohol to have a good time schpiel, I was just really in denial, but my six-pack of abs made up for that. I’ve never been a big drinker, except during my clubbing years but that ended about a decade ago. Even so, it still sucks to cut out booze.
The reason for abstaining is simple: your body processes alcohol in a similar way as it would a super decadent dessert. So two glasses of wine is like a chocolate soufflé AND a slice of cheesecake. If you’re out to dinner and have a nice meal with a couple of drinks and then some dessert, it’s the equivalent of having all of your allotted calories in day in one sitting and then some, which ultimately leads to a plateau in fat loss (or muscle gains). As a result bodybuilders typically cut it all out completely unless it’s offseason, or they swap in booze for a weekly treat meal, which is no fun when you’ve been dieting down and can’t stop thinking about stuffing your face with a bucket of greasy French fries. I’d rather take the food over the drink any day. And so for the longest time, alcohol was a no-go for me and even going drinks with friends was usually my ordering a club soda with a lime wedge.
Last weekend though, I made the exception as a bit of an experiment to see what would happen when I drink during a contest prep. Granted I am still 5 months out, so regardless it’s no big deal. I wanted to see whether or not it actually is possible to keep it balanced and not wake up crazy bloated the next day. You see, I always advocate (as many fitness coaches do) this type of balance for my clients around the holidays or special occasions, when we know there will be good food, good drinks and you’ll definitely want to partake without feeling restricted. So I wanted to practice what I preach to see if it is possible without going overboard, and brother in-law’s 40th birthday bash would be the perfect excuse.
The day started out as a typical Saturday, where I got up at noon, fed my bunnies (pictured below) and sat down to a nice breakfast with a giant mug of coffee and a hilarious book that I could not get enough of. Nutrition-wise I’m pretty much doing macro counting as per my coach’s suggestion, so I made sure that each meal is a solid mix of complex carbs, healthy fats, and lean protein with lots of fiber. I hit the gym in the late afternoon for some serious lifting; back and biceps, which was surprisingly intense despite my ability to only curl a 25lbs barbell for 15 reps at 4 sets. I drank a ton of water all day so I was super hydrated and had another balanced meal before heading out.
Bunnies! Breakfast (yum!)
I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from this party as I was the youngest there and the only single one in-house. Plus the guest list consisted of couples with young kids who are oh so excited to have a night out without their tornado of toddlers around. Basically I was concerned that I wouldn’t fit in, even though I had already known everyone quite well for many years. What can I say except that I am a super shy introvert with some pretty intense social anxiety; but that’s a story for another day.
I had a rockin time! Seriously, this was the most fun I’ve had in a while and I haven’t partied it up in years, so this was a welcomed change of pace. The great news was that I didn’t overdo it and go on a bender or binge eat the available and yummy junk food, so much to my delight I woke up feeling pretty great the next day. I realized that the strategies of balance really do work here. I had about two drinks (vodka soda, my fave) plus one shot of coconut rum which warmed my tummy up real nice. I only ate about a handful of chips and that was it. About an hour before I headed home I started chugging water like a beast. I think I had about a litre and a half, so I sobered up pretty fast. I got home around 2am, fed my bunnies a late night snack and prepped one for myself too, albeit a totally unbalanced one which consisted of toasted white crusty bread with tons vegan margarine follow by a few bites of chocolate cake and more water. Just to be clear, this snack was for me, not my bunnies; they had wheatgrass. I binged watched a few episodes of The Real Housewives before heading to bed around 5am…although my bunnies were still going strong and hopping around, take about party animals! (see what I did there J)
When I rolled out of bed a few hours later I was thrilled to see that there was no bloating (or hangover!) and that my abs were still intact and very visible (see below). My body responded well to this strategy and it managed to use the extra glycogen towards filling out my muscles nicely and giving me a great post-workout pump when I hit the gym the next day. A real win indeed.
The moral of the story is that you can have fun AND partake without restricting yourself or doing the opposite and getting excessive. Balance really does work. So the next time you find yourself worried about an upcoming night out, don’t panic and instead try these tried and true strategies on for size:
- Eat lots of hearty and healthy food throughout the day
- Drink tons of water
- Get in a serious gym sesh with lots of heavy lifting
- Eat before you leave home
- Drink lots of water when you’re done with the booze
- Eat a little something greasy before you go to bed
- Hit the gym the next day and put that extra glycogen to good use
There you have it. Take it from someone who has spent the last two years being super rigid about diet and exercise and contest prep, this shit works. I’m finally starting to see that you can be a bodybuilder, look awesome while still having a life and an awesome time at that.