Balancing your social life with your fitness goals

Can you have a social life while chasing fitness goals? Coach Darragh Henry thinks so.

Ah, alcohol; Dutch courage, liquid confidence, can’t live with it, can’t live without it. It gives us courage, perceived silky dance moves and chat up lines, and a raging hangover the following morning. We know to drink it in moderation, but when the sun is shining and your various WhatsApp groups are buzzing with excitement as to the location of your après work drinks, moderation goes out the door. Who doesn’t love a cold one after work on a Friday?

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Setting the scene

However, with all this excitement in the WhatsApp group, you hesitate to respond in kind to the messages due to your recent success in the gym. You begin to look and feel better from your time in the gym. You also notice that clothes start to fit you that little bit better, but now you’re afraid of losing your momentum in the gym for the cost of a few drinks with friends after work. Your friends notice your silence and call you out in the WhatsApp group…. Crunch time. What do you do?

Before you reply let’s break it down a little. Alcohol is a macronutrient; carbohydrates, protein, and fats are also macronutrients, however, when fitness personnel talk about “macronutrients” in a blog or social media post they often leave out alcohol, which I think is wrong as it can have a massive influence on our health. Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram, when compared to 4 calories per gram of protein and carbohydrate, and 9 calories per gram of fat. Excessive alcohol or binge drinking over the long term can damage our physical health, leading to such issues as fatty liver and certain cancers (I’m talking in extremes here of course). Because alcohol contains calories and along with other added ingredients a single drink may contain over 200 calories. Multiply this by 6 drinks and before you know it you’ve consumed 1200 calories. A pint of Heineken for example is 205 calories (according to MyFitness Pal).

Make this a weekly habit and you will quickly begin to see changes in your body composition. Alcohol also disrupts our sleeping pattern, as well as staying out late, meaning we’re more likely to consume highly palatable foods the following day, such as high fat and sugary foods(i.e. your “hangover cure”), which can be eaten in excess, leading to fat gain. This is one possible scenario in your head as you stare at your phone debating with yourself as what to reply.

Breaking it down

Now, in the context of alcohol and health, when assessing the perceived “pros” and “cons”, we must determine what is deemed ‘health’? The World Health Organisation defines this as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Just remember this for later.

We often read or hear “influencers” or personal trainers say; “it’s all about balance”. In one sense they are correct, but in another, they are not. Simply saying to yourself every week after working hard in the gym and making better decisions with your nutrition to just say to yourself “ah but my trainer said it’s all about balance, that means I can go out for a few drinks tonight and then head out tomorrow too”. Bullshit. That’s not how it works, and it genuinely frustrates me when people have this mentality.

Figure 1 below shows the mean food and alcohol intake during a day on the weekday vs weekend in the American population.

Figure 1. (Haines et al.,2012) . Image source: NCBI

The balance of enjoying yourself with a few drinks or a big night out on the weekend vs putting in the hours in the gym and making better nutrition choices during the work week is not 50:50, party all weekend vs disciplined on the weekday. You will literally be spinning your wheels. The balance is tipped more toward 20:80 in favour of eating and exercising regularly, with maybe 1 to 2 nights out every 4 weeks, but this is merely my opinion.

Now that said, I do enjoy a night out. I know sometimes life does get in the way of certain aspects or goals we’re chasing. We also must remember that the social and mental aspect of going out with our friends for a few drinks. After all, health is not merely physical, as previously defined by the World Health Organisation, there is a social and mental aspect. Sure, why do you think people refer to a few drinks as a “few socials”? It is the balance of these three areas, physical, mental, and social, that we must get right in order to achieve sustainable goals but also enjoy our lives.

My top tips

Here are a few of my top tips to enjoy your social lives whilst also staying on top of your health and fitness goals.

1. Prioritise your nights out; Simple, is it just an ordinary night down in the pub or is it a good friend or family member having a birthday that you can hardly say no to? Sticking to a couple of pints for the former and maybe a few extra drinks to the latter is one solution. Or if the former is a weekly event, perhaps just go every second week. You’re an adult! You’re in control of this. Tell your friends that you’ll give this one a miss.

2. Low-calorie beverage options; Try sticking to low-calorie beverages. White spirits, gin or vodka, with some carbonated water, soda water, club soda, or sparkling water, and some citrus fruits, lemon, lime or orange. Keep your calories for your food, not your drinks. These drinks will also keep you hydrated throughout the night and minimise that hangover the next day.

3. Preparation beats willpower; A saying coaches at FFS constantly say. If you have a night out planned, why not make a healthy breakfast for the following morning? Or have something for when you get home before you go to bed? Instead of that chipper at 4am why not have a healthy meal prepared for when you get home? An omelette, poached eggs on avocado toast, or overnight oats are all great and convenient options that will be ready for you when you get up the following morning or some chicken breast in a wholemeal wrap with some salad leaves for when you come in at 4am.

4. Low-intensity activity the following morning; Going for a walk the following day I think is important for a couple reasons. 1. We’re less likely to be active after a night out and therefore decrease our energy expenditure. By going for a 45-minute walk this will at least off-set some of the fat gain if energy intake was high from the previous night. 2. It will reduce our energy intake, as one reason many people eat is because they are bored. If you are being stationary in the house all day trying to recover from the previous night you will more than likely graze throughout the day which will accumulate the calorie load for the day.

Considering the previous points, I just made you look at your WhatsApp group, you’re getting roasted by the way, and you think “I’ve worked hard this week; however, I haven’t been out my friends in a couple of weeks. I also have some cooked chicken fillets ready for me when I get home, as well as eggs prepared for the morning. I’ll just go for 2 drinks and get the last bus home”. You reply “See you at 8 lads/ladies”.

Great choice.

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About the Author

Darragh's philosophy includes balancing hard work and enjoying the process, and what better way to do that than with delicious, healthy food.

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Find Darragh on Instagram at @darragh.henry