If you’re tracking your food intake, alcohol can be quite the mystery. You track your carbs, fat, and protein, but how does drinking alcohol fit into the mix?
Don’t worry, it’s actually very simple!
But before we dive into it, I want to address two very quick things:
1) Please, drink responsibly. I do not condone binge drinking, but I fully support you enjoying a drink or two if you enjoy them.
2) Alcohol consumption is absolutely fine as part of a healthy diet. Many people think that drinking alcohol is off-limits when eating healthy, but that is not the case at all. Remember, everything is absolutely fine in moderation!
Okay, now let’s get into it.
Alcohol is a macronutrient
If you’re “tracking your macros” you’d never consider alcohol content to be part of that category.
And yet, alcohol is actually the fourth macronutrient!
The main macros (macronutrients) are Carbohyrdrates, Fat, and Protein. When we track our food intake, we count these values because they are the components of food that provide our bodies with energy/calories.
Every gram of fat = 9 calories.
Every gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories.
Every gram of protein = 4 calories.
While alcohol itself also contains calories, it provides us with no nutritional value, so it’s sort of like the strange adopted second-cousin of the macronutrient family.
It’s technically part of the family… but it’s not being invited to Thanksgiving dinner.
Every gram of alcohol = 7 calories.
Being 7 calories per gram, alcohol macros fall right in between carbs and fat… so how do we track that?
How to track alcohol
If you’re tracking your macros, an alcoholic beverage can seem really out of place. I mean, how do you track something that doesn’t go towards carbs, fat, and protein, like literally every other food on Earth?
Let’s look at the Truly above.
It contains 100 calories, but there are barely any macros to track. The drink has only 2g of carbs, no fat, and no protein. So where in the world are those calories in the drink coming from?
For simplicity purposes, let’s pretend the carb total is zero. Most hard seltzers are going to have virtually no carbs, so it’s an easy thing to pretend.
If all the 3 macronutrients are absent, we need to find a place for those mysterious calories to go.
We’re actually going to take these alcohol calories are track them as one of the 3 main macronutrients!
We have 3 options: track the calories as carbs, track them as fat, or track them as a combination of both.
1. Track as carbs
This is a very popular way to go about it, because most people like to make sure they are hitting their protein & fat targets above all else, so you don’t want alcohol to interfere with those.
Carb targets tend to be much more lenient, so it’s easy to throw alcohol into that mix.
To track the Truly as carbs, you would take the 100 calories and divide it by 4 (since carbs have 4 calories per gram), and you’d track it as 25g of carbs.
2. Track as fat
This is a less conventional method, and not one I personally recommend, but since there are no hard-set rules for tracking alcohol, it can still work.
If you eat super low carb (like the keto diet), you might want to track alcohol as fat so it doesn’t use up all of your carbs for the day.
To track the Truly as fat, you would take the 100 calories and divide it by 9 (since fat has 9 calories per gram), and you’d track it as 11g of fat.
Getting enough fat in our diets is important, which is why I typically caution against this approach. It can certainly work, but if you were to have a couple drinks, you could be missing out on over 20g of fat in your day, which you may need, depending on your specific goals.
3. Track as carbs AND fat
When in doubt, compromise!
Since the 7 calories from alcohol falls right in between carbs and fat, track it as a little bit of both. Continuing with the Truly example, divide it in half, giving you 50 calories. Divide 50 by 4 to find the carb total, and divide the other 50 by 9 to find the fat total.
In this example, you’d track it as roughly 12g of carbs and 6g fat.
Bonus Option: Track as calories only
This is actually my preferred method.
If I were to drink the Truly, I would just log the 100 calories, but not towards any of my macros.
For me, I try to make sure I am hitting protein and fat targets, and I don’t worry too much about everything else. If I’m within my calorie goals and roughly hitting my protein and fat targets, then I would simply add the 100 calories to my day and move on.
If you use a macro tracking app like MyFitnessPal, you can add something like a Truly exactly as-is (just calories and empty macros) and call it a day!
If I had to choose one way to track the alcohol, I would track it as carbs. Since I mostly focus on fat and protein goals, that means my carbs are the most flexible, so I wouldn’t mind tossing the alcohol into the mix of my daily carb total.
Why we don’t want to track alcohol as protein
Notice how there is no option to track alcohol as protein above.
There is really only one wrong way to track alcohol, and it’s tracking it as protein.
Protein is too important in our diets, so you don’t want to take away from your protein intake. Whether your goal is fat loss, building muscle, or just maintaining a healthy lifestyle, getting adequate protein is incredibly important.
If we were to track your alcoholic drink as protein, you’d be missing out on a ton of important protein in our lives.
Using the example of Truly, if we were to track is as protein, that would mean we’d be tracking 25g of protein (since protein has 4 calories per gram). If you have 2 alcoholic beverages, that means you’d be missing out on 50g of protein for the day!
Let’s try to avoid that.
Do you need to track alcohol?
Short answer: absolutely not!
Personally, I don’t try to track macros from alcohol if I’m tracking my food intake.
However, I take a very loose approach to tracking.
I like to just log the calories and move on. But, I’m pretty experienced when it comes to tracking, so I don’t worry about it nearly as much as I used to.
If you’re a person brand new to tracking, using one of the methods outlined above can be really beneficial for you. The goal with tracking macros is to reach specific goals, and more importantly, equip you with the knowledge to not have to track for the rest of your life.
By tracking your alcohol intake, it can help you become more comfortable with tracking overall so you don’t need to rely on it forever!