Chicago is often described as one of the best places to be during the summer. Every week the streets are packed with events, residents find any excuse to enjoy a meal or a drink on patios. However, those drinks can be problematic for anyone who is training for a fall marathon or just wants to stay in shape.
While avoiding alcohol and sugary drinks is always the best method, it’s often not realistic. So instead of fighting a losing battle, athletes can implement a few tricks and focus on some important rules. Following a plan and knowing what you are drinking can be incredibly beneficial for anyone hoping to endure all the summer drinking.
“When you think about alcohol, it’s devoid of nutrients and it’s dehydrating,” dietitian, food and nutrition expert and founder of eatchicchicago.com Amari Thomsen said. “Best case scenario is not drinking at all, but in reality it’s about making the best choices for your goal. If you’re trying to lose weight you really should avoid alcohol as much as possible. But if you’re feeling great and making healthy choices, you can get away with a few drinks if you’re being smart.”
The problems often come not from the actual nutritional content in alcohol, but in what goes along with it. Frozen cocktails, like margaritas or daiquiris, should be avoided whenever possible, Thomsen said. The sugar and caloric intake with those kind of drinks hit much harder than most other cocktails. Additionally, any mixers used often kill any chance at avoiding a nutritionally safe night. Thomsen said that there are some drinks, however, that can be enjoyed without too much concern over high calories. These mixers include club soda, mineral water, diet soda and sugar free tonic water.
Brooke Schantz, a dietitian and author of the Bitchin’ Nutrition blog, said the bartender can often be an athlete’s best friend when it comes to keeping the drinks in check. They can ask the bartender to fill the glass with ice, keeping the portion size in check and slowly melting to fill the glass with more water.
Both Schantz and Thomsen said that water is the key. Schantz said that using water as a mixer can fight against the dehydration from alcohol. Thomsen said she encourages her patients to alternate between alcohol and a glass of water while they drink. But in the end, it often comes down to the amount of alcohol ingested.
“For alcohol intake, there is a limit for binge drinking,” Schantz said. “Two drinks for women, three to four for men. If someone is an athlete I’d try to keep it to one or two. They are going to add up quickly, one serving of alcohol should be in that 60 to 100 calorie range.”
On top of the calories from the alcohol and anything mixed with it, Thomsen said she warns against the other calorie intake often caused from drinking, eating. As the drinks add up, people tend to eat more and with the alcohol hindering choices, the food is often far from healthy.
“For a lot of people, having a liquid carbohydrate generally turns into fat storage,” Thomsen said. “It’s not like drinking a Gatorade and going on a seven mile run. It’s drinking a beer and sitting with your friends, often eating. “Having several drinks and food later is a bad combination.”
Tips for avoiding a fattening night of drinking are helpful for anyone maintaining weight, or even some who are training. However, those who are trying to lose weight or training intensely are advised to avoid drinking whenever possible. Unfortunately this can make for an awkward feeling for anyone out with their friends who are drinking.
Schantz said she tells her patients that if they want to enjoy a night out with friends without seeming out of place by not drinking, they should just go back to their friendly bartender. Instead of asking for a cocktail, order a Pellegrino, cub soda or sugar free tonic water with a lemon or lime garnish. This drink will look like a typical gin and tonic or other alcoholic drinks without any of the side effects.
The biggest key, Schantz said, is to make sure the night out stays within the lifestyle goals or training regimen. So while a drink or two may not kill a 5K time, just remember that training run the next day.