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The New Rules Of Alcohol

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Red wine is good, everything else is bad… right? Actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Here’s your template for (almost) consequence-free indulgence.

Bad news first: no, you don’t need alcohol as part of your healthy diet. Yes, some studies show a link between drinking and longevity or fat loss, but most of the beneficial effects come down to (a) the plant compound resveratrol, found in red wine, or (b) being sociable, so you’d get similar effects from a pistachio-and-grape night with your mates. Forget lording it over the teetotal: booze is bad. So what do you do?

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“If you’re serious about getting results fast, you’ve got to cut it out,” says body composition expert Luke Leaman (musclenerds.tv (opens in new tab)). “Once I created a booze-and-lose diet, and it worked, but… it hinders sleep, and it causes inflammation and issues with digestion.” But if you’re not going to give up altogether, you need a practical solution. Here's a five-step plan from the experts over at our sister publication, Men's Fitness.

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Step 1: Drink Better Wine

The red wine advocates are right – up to a point. Resveratrol has anti-ageing effects, and there’s speculation that sirtuin activators in wine can also aid health by mimicking the effect of fasting and exercise on the body. But your bottom-shelf browsing doesn’t cut it. “You want a better-quality wine that doesn’t contain sulphites,” says Leaman. “They cause a lot of issues, including allergies. There’s speculation that they also cause headaches, though medical evidence is basically non-existent.” Most stores sell sulphite-free options; if in doubt, look for an organic label on the bottle.

Step 2: Prepare For The Worst

Lining your stomach has science to back it up, but not the way most men do it. “You want to eat things that’ll delay gastric emptying, like good fats,” says Leaman. “A lot of guys will eat a ton of bread, which is going to jack their insulin up, and that makes them drink more because as their blood sugar drops, the alcohol will raise and lower it again really quickly. Your best option is to have a steak and some potatoes, so you have something that’ll soak up a lot of that in the stomach.” And, while you’re eating, glug some water – it’ll slow your drinking down later.

Step 3: Rethink Happy Hour

When you’re reaching for the mixers, steer clear of soft drinks – even the diet versions. “The standard is vodka with sparkling water. I like carbonated water, because the carbonic acid will get transported into your bloodstream and get converted to bicarbonate, which helps keep you alkaline,” says Leaman. “You hear people say, ‘Oh, alkaline diets are bullshit because your blood maintains a steady pH on its own’, but nobody’s explaining how it does that. It maintains that pH level by using things like calcium and magnesium which it’s leaching out of your bones. So, yeah, it’s keeping it constant, but the way it does that isn’t helping you. Sparkling water will help your body’s processes.”

Step 4: Mitigate The Damage

Whether things get out of hand or not, you can undo some of the damage after you binge. But it’s better to be prepared. “Before you go out, put a couple of vitamin B capsules next to a litre jug of water right next to your bed and see it off before you go to sleep,” says Leaman. “You body loses a lot of vitamin B when you’re drinking, and you’ll be super-dehydrated.”

Step 5: Don't Do It Often

“You can get away with a lot when you’re young, but at some point your body stops being able to cope,” says Leaman. “Sleep gets impaired, immunity suffers and recovery gets hurt.” Enough booze also curbs fat loss and impedes muscle gain. The NHS recommends 48 consecutive hours off the sauce to allow your liver to recover, and 14 units a week as the top end to stave off your cancer risk. The limits are science-backed, not just nanny-statism, so stick to them if you can.

Joel Snape
Joel Snape

From 2008 to 2018, Joel worked for Men's Fitness, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Though he spent years running the hills of Bath, he’s since ditched his trainers for a succession of Converse high-tops, since they’re better suited to his love of pulling vans, lifting cars, and hefting logs in a succession of strongman competitions.