Tracking macros is a common dieting technique people use to stay accountable and monitor calorie intake.
It’s a goal specific strategy that people use to build muscle or lose body fat whereas calorie counting is more general for weight loss or weight gain.
Whilst counting macros is a popular (and effective) diet strategy, it can be challenging to follow on a daily basis…
We’re often asked about how to count macros in certain foods and drinks, with one of the most common being alcohol.
When it comes to any diet, understanding how alcohol factors in can be confusing. Some people think that they can’t drink alcohol whilst dieting or are unsure about how to factor calories from alcohol into their diet.
In this article, I’ve explained whether alcohol is a macronutrient, if you should have alcohol when counting macros, and how to count macros in alcohol.
Table of Contents
Is Alcohol a Macronutrient?
Alcohol isn’t classed as a macronutrient.
Macronutrients are the major and essential nutrients that the body needs in large amounts. These are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. As alcohol is a chemical substance, it isn’t classed as a macronutrient.
To expand on this slightly further, a macronutrient is defined as a kind of food that the body needs in large amounts as part of its diet.
The major macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.So when following a macro-focused diet, people will split their calorie intake between carbs, proteins, and fats.
This split varies depending on what people’s goals are. For example, if you’re trying to build a lot of muscle, then protein is going to be a significant part of this split.
Whereas if you want to lose body fat, carbs might be seriously restricted.
After a few weeks/months, this split will then be changed and another ‘cycle’ will start.
As alcohol is a kind of chemical substance and not a kind of protein, carb, or fat it isn’t classed as a macronutrient.
As I’ll go on to explain though, just because alcohol isn’t a macronutrient doesn’t mean you can’t drink alcohol when you’re counting macros and it also doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t track it either!
Can You Have Alcohol When Counting Macros?
Although alcohol isn’t one of the main macronutrients, you can still have it when counting macros.
However, as alcohol can be high in calories, and can have negative health consequences, it shouldn’t form a significant part of your diet when counting macros.
As alcohol isn’t one of the main macronutrients, you may think that you can’t have it when counting macros.
However, just because alcohol isn’t a major macronutrient doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the occasional drink when you’re following a macro-based diet.
I say occasional because if you’re looking to lose weight and build muscle then alcohol shouldn’t be a regular feature in your diet.
This is for a couple of reasons:
Firstly, alcohol contains calories. On average, one gram of alcohol contains around 7 calories although this can be a lot higher depending on what you’re drinking.
Whilst 7 calories per gram may not seem like a lot, regularly drinking, or drinking large quantities will add up fast!
These kinds of calories are also described as ‘empty calories’ since they don’t have any nutritional value (which is what the macros are essentially).
So consuming a lot of alcohol and regularly consuming alcohol can undermine weight loss and fitness goals.
Secondly, alcohol can be damaging to people’s health. Alcohol has potential side effects when it’s consumed in large quantities or consumed excessively.
It can also be very addictive. So drinking in moderation is important.
Also, no one wants to workout when they’re hungover and you can’t perform the same while your body is trying to flush out the toxins from the night before!
When people fail with their fitness goals the main reason is usually because they are going too hard too fast. Like starting a diet on 1,000kcal, training 6 days per week, and doing cardio everyday.
I’ve not even exaggerated, when people new to fitness have that initial motivation they start at the most extreme end of the spectrum and this usually leads to burnout after a few weeks and ultimately failed goals.
Well, another reason for people struggling is alcohol. Boozy sessions can lead to 1, 2, or more days with a hangover. This leads to lower motivation, an inability to train hard, and also bad decisions in terms of food.
Therefore, drinking isn’t an issue when cutting for many people but there are those that it can definitely impact, especially those tracking macros…
With this being said though, occasional alcohol consumption can be successfully incorporated into counting macros, as I’ll explain in the next section.
How To Count Macros In Alcohol
In order to count macros in alcohol you should record the amount of calories within the alcohol that you’re consuming. These calories should then be accounted for in macros from either carbs or fats.
As alcohol isn’t one of the major macronutrients, apps for counting macros might not allow you to record it.
This can make counting macros from alcohol tricky, but it’s still possible using two steps:
Firstly, you should still record your alcohol consumption as you would any other food or drink. This allows you to keep an accurate record of what you’ve consumed.
Don’t forget to record the amount of calories you’re consuming too. As I mentioned, alcohol isn’t calorie free.
On average, alcohol contains 7 calories per gram, although this can vary significantly depending on what you’re drinking.
Staying within your daily calorie target is important if you want to see results from counting macros.
So ensure that you record the calories you’re getting from alcohol and still stay under your target.
If you can’t scan your macros for an alcoholic drink on something like Myfitnesspal, at least add them as a manual entry so that you can continue to see your total calorie consumption each day.
Secondly, record the calories from alcohol as either carbs or fats and deduct from one of these for your total daily amount.
Basically, you should count alcohol by substituting it for your carbs or fat consumption, or even as a mixture as both of these depending on your preference.
In order to do this, you would take the total number of calories in the alcohol and divide it by 4 for carbs, or divide by 9 for fats.
As an example, if you have a 100 calorie drink (like a hard seltzer), and want to deduct it from your daily carb intake, you would count the drink as 25g carbs (100kcal / 4g).
Caution – If you’re on a low calorie diet, a few drinks (3) could quickly add up and impact the rest of the food you can consume for that day. 3 drinks using the example above would be 75g carbs which would be the equivalent of a pre/post workout meal.
Also remember that alcohol contains empty calories.
Therefore, the “75g carbs” you’ve consumed can’t be utilized as an energy source like the equivalent in rice or oats could. This is consuming alcohol while dieting is not recommended, you waste valuable calories.
The reason I suggest including the calories from alcohol as part of either carbs or fats is because protein is important for muscle building as well as appetite control so this isn’t something you want to take from.
By still recording your calorie intake from alcohol and accounting for it by using carbs or fats, you should still be able to enjoy an occasional alcoholic drink without undermining your goals from counting macros!
Should You Track Alcohol Macros
The reason it’s still important to track alcohol intake is because tracking macros falls underneath an overall calorie target.
This is important when you’re tracking both calories and macros.
Let’s say you need to consume 1,700 calories per day to lose weight and have a macro split of 40/40/20 (40% protein, 40% carbohydrates, 20% fat).
The individual macros will need to add up to the total calorie requirement. So, in the above example you’d have the following:
Protein (40%) = 680 calories (170g)
Carbohydrates (40%) = 680 calories (170g)
Fat (20%) = 440 calories (49g)
If you therefore tracked macros as normal and had 170g protein, 170g carbs and 49g fat then you should be on target to lose fat based on your calorie target.
If you then had a glass of red wine (100g) which technically has no macronutrient value, you could assume that you’d still be fine to lose weight.
This would still however contain 85 calories so actually you’d no longer be in a calorie deficit.
Therefore, you can’t really count macros in alcohol so you should still count the calories and detract the macros from other food sources.
This means if you want to drink alcohol when dieting, you’d need to reduce calories and macros from your other meals like we covered earlier with the hard seltzer example. .
If you’re carefully counting and tracking your macros when dieting, alcohol might be something that you’ve been struggling with.
Many calorie counting apps don’t tend to list alcohol products so you don’t get an accurate representation of their calories.
It’s important to note though that while alcohol does not contain any key macros that you can track.
You should still track the calorie content and then subtract the calories from other foods in terms of carbs and fats to allow for this.
If you wanted to consume 120 calories of beer as an example, you should reduce 120 calories elsewhere. To work out the macros you’d divide the calories by 4 for protein/carbs or 9 for fat.
So, to have 120 calories of beer and still stay on track with your overall calorie consumption you could reduce carbs by 30g which would be the equivalent of 120 calories.
You can quickly start to see that if you want a heavy drinking session, this could seriously impact what you can eat during the day and this will impact training performance, recovery and a range of other factors.
Therefore, you should count calories in alcohol when you know you’ll be consuming it, try to keep it in moderation and always allow for it by reducing intake elsewhere.
Not sure where to start with macros – check out our detailed step-by-step guide on how to count macros next.