I’m often asked if it’s okay to drink alcohol on Atkins and, whilst it’s not encouraged for the first 2 weeks while your body is switching to burning fat for energy, it’s fine to have alcohol in moderation after this ‘Induction’ period.

I’m often asked if it’s okay to drink alcohol on Atkins and, whilst it’s not encouraged for the first 2 weeks while your body is switching to burning fat for energy, it’s fine to have alcohol in moderation after this ‘Induction’ period. 

Some people find that drinking low carb drinks have no effect on results yet others find it can stall progress. So let’s uncover why it may slow results:

Alcohol is metabolised before other macronutrients

When you drink your body must process the alcohol before the other macronutrients, like protein, fat & carbs. Food does slow down the absorption of alcohol so eating before you drink is advisable but, the fact is, that alcohol stops the fat burning process as the carbs and dietary fats are more likely to be stored as bodyfat rather than utilised by the body. If you’re in ketosis then you may even come out of this fat burning mode, depending on the type of drinks you’ve had.

Alcohol adds empty calories

Yes alcohol is a macronutrient but offers little nutritional value and is 7 calories per gram; as opposed to protein/carbs which are only 4 calories per gram. Fat is 9 calories per gram but you get the benefits of increased absorption of fat soluble vitamins, positive effects on metabolism, uptake of Omega 3 fatty acids and its contribution to healthy skin and hair, as well as many other benefits.

Alcohol affects your sleep which may also affect your results.

You might believe you get a good night’s sleep when you’ve had a few drinks however the quality of the sleep is what’s affected as you tend to not sleep as deeply as when sober. Lack of sleep can affect your results as night-time is when your body repairs damaged muscle tissue from workouts. So do this more than once or twice a week and you’re going to be negatively affecting your results all round. Plus being tired means you’re more likely to have cravings for carb-rich foods.

Alcohol lowers your inhibitions

You may start your night with every intention of sticking to your healthy eating plans however after a few drinks you’re more likely to give into the temptation of ordering chips instead of side salad if you’re eating out and less able to resist the temptation of stopping for junk food on the way home. This is made worse by the fact that alcohol stimulates the appetite so you’re more likely to reach for foods that you’d not ordinarily eat. Same goes for the day after, it’s common to crave comfort foods when you’re feeling slightly worse for wear.

Alcohol can dehydrate you

As alcohol is a diuretic you lose water from the body but this may also mean you lose vital minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium. Drink a large glass of water before your night out and then alternate an alcoholic drink with a large glass of water during the night. The effects of alcohol can show on the scale for a few days after, as your body may retain the water, so don’t weigh yourself following a night out.

What are the best & worse choices of alcohol?

Once you’re ready to reintroduce the odd tipple, the best choices are:

  • Spirits which are carb free but ensure you have a diet mixer as some mixers can pack a sugary punch. Good choices are vodka & diet coke, gin & diet tonic or whisky & water for instance.
  • Red or white wine give you the benefits of the polyphenols, such as resveratrol, which are antioxidants. Depending on the wine variety (drier are lower carb), you’re looking at 1-4g carbs per small glass.

The worst choices are:

  • Beer – there’s a reason for the term “beer belly” as it contains a lot of digestible carbs; you’re looking at about 11-15g carbs per small bottle
  • Cider has a high proportion of sugar at about 15g per serving
  • Sugary mixers/cocktails– the sweet taste of these drinks gives away the game and they can contain upwards of 30g sugar per drink. When you order a spirit & diet mixer make sure the bartender gives you the diet drink too, rather than full sugar option, as this has tripped up many a person!

What are your favourite alcoholic drinks? I’d love to hear your views so come and join the conversation on our forum and share your favourites!

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Posted by Linda O'Byrne
Atkins Nutritionist