how to track macros for alcohol

alcohol, track macros, drink, macros

Have you ever wondered why alcohol contains calories, but doesn’t contain macronutrients? You’ll read “0” protein, fats and, depending on what you’re drinking, “0” carbohydrates, too! The reason might surprise you. Alcohol is the fourth macronutrient and it’s not required to be labeled on nutrition facts which means it won’t contribute to any of your macro targets in your food diary if you’re tracking. 

The three macros that you’re probably familiar with are protein, fat and carbohydrates. But alcohol is a macro and contribute calories, just like proteins, fats and carbohydrates do. 

I’m not the dietitian who will tell you have to give up alcohol while in pursuit of your health, body composition and athletic performance goals, but I do want you to be an informed consumer. So, let’s talk about how you can track macros accurately to account for your alcohol beverages. 

here's the bad news

Drinking alcohol is like putting water in your car’s tank: the body can’t do anything with it because alcohol does not contain useable nutrients. And, because you might be “carving space” in you calorie allotment for the day, you will be stealing those calories and nutrients away from other functions in the body. 

  • ⁣can’t build that booty you want with bubbles⁣
  • can’t support hormone balance with tequila⁣
  • can’t balance blood sugar with white claw⁣
  • can’t recover from heavy lifting with blood mary’s⁣
  • can’t get restful, deep sleep with red wine⁣

here's the good news

When we’re talking about creating a lifestyle void of guilt, shame and fear around food – one where maintaining a comfortable body shape and size is effortless, you’re gonna have to figure out the best balance for drinking alcohol (or not) for you. ⁣If you want to enjoy alcohol on occasion and stay on track with your goals, you’ll need to get picky about:⁣

  • the type⁣
  • the amount⁣
  • the frequency at which you drink⁣
  • the mixers you choose⁣

⁣You WILL have to make adjustments to allow for drinks. Sometimes those adjustments are totally worth it and sometimes they are not.

how to count alcohol towards your macros

When counting alcohol towards your macros, I teach my clients to track it towards carbohydrate or fat macros, but never protein. Protein is the most important macro for body composition goals because, by eating enough of it, you’ll essentially “tell” the body that it’s a priority to maintain or build lean muscle mass. That’s important when you’re pursuing a leaner and stronger body shape! Carbohydrate and fat macros are sometimes referred to as your “fun macros” because you have more flexibility to under or overeat them in the context of tracking for your macro prescription

Here’s how you’ll do it:

  1. Find the total calories for your drink. You can do this by searching for the drink in your preferred tracking app and multiplying by the number of drinks you want to have. 
  2. If you’d prefer to give up carbohydrates to accommodate your alcohol, divide total calories by 4 because carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram. Log your alcoholic drink by searching for “quick add carbohydrate” in your food diary and tracking the total number of grams that you calculated above.  
  3. If you’d prefer to give up fats to accommodate your alcohol, divide total calories by 9 because fat contains 9 calories per gram. Log your alcoholic drink by searching for “quick add fat” in your food diary and tracking the total number of grams that you calculated above.
  4. Then, identify a meal or snack where you could hold back XX number of carbohydrates or XX number of fats to accommodate the drink.

Here’s a couple examples:

  • 1 white claw has 100 calories: 100/4 = 25 g carbohydrates or 100/9 = 11 g fat. You’ll eat 25 g carbohydrate or 11 g fat fewer during the day to accommodate.
  • 1 Bell’s Two Hearted Ale has 212 calories: 212/4 = 53 g carbohydrates or 23 g fat. You’ll eat 53 g carbohydrate or 23 g fat fewer during the day to accommodate. 
  • 1 8 oz margarita on the rocks has 482 calories: 482/4 = 120 g carbohydrates or 53 g fats. You’ll eat 120 g carbohydrate or 54 g fat fewer during the day to accommodate. 

how to know which macro to give up for alcohol

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which macro you budget (carbohydrates or fats) to use for alcohol. What matters most is that you are counting alcohol in your macros in some capacity. However, there are a few things to consider when deciding how to track alcohol.

Giving up certain macros is easier for different people depending on their food preferences. If you prefer to “give up” some carbohydrates in your day to accommodate a few drinks, that’s your choice. Others might prefer to “give up” fats to accommodate. 

Second, if you are open to giving up fat macros, consider swapping fats over carbs for alcohol. A minor advantage might be seen if you eat carbs and drink your fat macros to accommodate alcohol calories. Fat metabolism is paused while you’re drinking alcohol (and for hours – days after) so it might be in your interest to eat less fat and more carbs on these days. In addition, blood sugar balance gets a little wonky (you swing low) when you’re drinking. Eating carbohydrates can keep blood sugar more stable so you don’t experience low lows in blood sugar.

To budget fat macros you might:

  • Choose a leaner cut of meat
  • Prepare your meals without oil
  • Skip the cheese, bacon or avocado on a salad or sandwich
  • Use a vinaigrette salad dressing versus a creamy one
  • Cut back on your portion of nut butter or coconut cream in your morning smoothie

To budget carb macros you might:

  • Have steamed vegetables over a baked potato
  • Skip the bread basket before a meal when eating out
  • Avoid the desserts and snacks in the work break room
  • Skip the side of toast at breakfast or the bread/breadstick with lunch
  • Cut back or eliminate certain “extras” in your day that typically help you meet your carb target like cacao nibs, honey, maple syrup, fruit juices, cereals, etc.

At the end of the day, if your goals are to lose body fat and/or gain lean muscle mass, you’ll want to keep alcohol to a minimum throughout the week. If you are going to choose to drink, work it into your macros for the day by using a calculator like this one. The best case scenario would be that you limit your alcohol intake to 2 drinks per week or less if you’re serious about getting to your body composition goals as quickly as possible.