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How Much Alcohol Can You Drink Without Counteracting Your Fitness Goals?

Summer is officially in full swing – and so are the parties, gatherings and weekend getaways. It’s a time to relax, be social and enjoy friends and family. Often, these summer gatherings include drinking alcoholic beverages – champagne for a birthday, a margarita by the pool or a beer on the porch before bed. During the summer season, the drinks can start to add up. But at what point do they counteract your fitness goals?

First, even though studies show moderate alcohol intake might be beneficial, I would never tell anyone, no matter what their fitness goals, to start drinking to get healthy. If you don’t drink, there is no reason to start. The best option is to be alcohol-free. After all, alcohol is technically a poison, and any amount can have side effects.

[See: 7 Health Risks of Binge Drinking You Can’t Ignore.]

But let’s face it: For many people, drinking can be enjoyable. At dinnertime or a party, alcohol contributes to social connection and bonding; slowing down and relaxing. You shouldn’t feel like you have to stop drinking altogether, as long as you do it responsibly and for enjoyment and not out of stress, habit or addiction.

What it comes down to is how much you drink and the fitness goals you set for yourself. If you want to get up at 5 a.m. to work out, it might mean saying no to drinks with your friends after work. Or maybe you want that piece of cake at a colleague’s birthday party more than you want the accompanying glass of champagne.

Just like with food, it’s important to be mindful of how much alcohol you’re consuming and why. In my experience, all-or-nothing thinking doesn’t work; for most people, cutting alcohol completely just won’t ultimately be successful. It’s about finding out what works best for you. As with any goal setting, it’s important to be realistic with yourself about whether to keep drinking, cut back or stop altogether. To help you determine the point at which alcohol is harming your fitness goals, ask yourself these questions:

1. How does drinking make you feel?

If you find that drinking causes you to feel emotional, tired or anxious, you probably need to make some trade-offs. For example, try avoiding alcohol during the week and save your drinks for special occasions or gatherings. Challenge yourself by doing something new that would make you happy. For example, consider signing up for your favorite fitness class instead of attending happy hour.

2. Are you enjoying the drinks themselves?

Take note of how you drink. Do you tend to pound drinks down without a thought or without taking time to experience and taste them? Then perhaps drinking has become more of a bad habit than a fun, occasional indulgence.

In these situations, slow down. Savor that glass of wine and give yourself time to explore the flavors. Take breaks between drinks to see how you feel, or try to replace that third cocktail with a glass of water. Go for quality over quantity; swap out that cheap glass of chardonnay for something higher end. Treat yourself to something you can enjoy.

3. Are you seeing fitness results?

How much summer drinking counteracts your fitness goals depends, of course, on what your fitness goals are. If you’re training for a marathon, for instance, late-night drinking probably won’t jibe with your training plan. If you’re simply trying to maintain your fitness until fall, enjoying summer happy hours may suit you fine. The key is listening to your body. If what you’re doing isn’t working, reevaluate what you want and make adjustments.

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