There’s something about going to nutrition conferences that seems to make people want to get shitfaced. I challenge anyone to not need a drink or two after concentrating on calcium homeostasis and bone mineral density all day, but something else is going on that makes health professionals, usually known for their perpetual moderation, start throwing down liquor like Richard Burton on a film set.
On one such episode of dieticians gone wild, I was just about to sneak off after I heard my name called. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve tipped some booze down in my life, but at this point, I was much more focused on health and muscle gain than I was on getting blind drunk. I felt pretty good 3 drinks in, but it was only soon after that I realised I might be in trouble. I’d been dieting briefly and had fasted most of the day. A single 100kcal protein shake about three hours before was the only thing that had passed my lips until I’d hit the bar, and my once professional liver was already giving up on me. After a few more drinks, it was all over.
It’s great if you hit the gym, track your Calories, and care about your health, but sometimes you’re thrust into a situation that calls for special measures. Your best friends three day stag for example or the pub crawl that starts at 11 am you can’t get out of. While binge drinking is a choice, it’s likely you are going to opt to do it every now and then. If you’re out of practice, like I was, you may need some help making it through without getting totally wasted.
When designing a strategy to help you drink like a sailor on shore leave without falling off your barstool two hours in, it can be helpful to understand what makes us drunk in the first place.
When you drink, the alcohol is absorbed anywhere in your digestive system, where it’s sent to the liver to be metabolised. The average persons liver can deal with about 7g of alcohol per hour, so when it gets slightly more of the good stuff, it becomes overwhelmed. If your liver hasn’t dealt the booze completely it will enter the circulatory system and reach the brain, and that’s where good, or bad, things start to happen. Alcohol affects the areas that control alertness, reactions, and memory making. While those things are being messed with, the liquid courage you just drank is also going to town on the areas associated with planning, control judgement, and pleasure seeking.
The first and most sensible fix to managing a drinking session while still being able to hit the gym the next day or at the least avoid A&E is to do what you can to slow how much moonshine makes it to your liver in one go. Having a full stomach before drinking is, therefore, a no-brainer in avoiding getting smashed.
- The alcohol you drink on an empty stomach is almost 100% absorbed. A study by Salder et al showed that after a meal, this reduced to only 66% of the predicted value in women, and 72% in men.
- Eating might also help by increasing the blood flow to the liver, which helps deal with the alcohol.
- The type of food you eat before getting your drink on isn’t that important, you just want to make sure you have a lot of it.
If you can, you should keep eating while you drink. Avoiding getting completely sozzled does not lend itself well to low-Calorie days. If you can’t eat though, you can still try a few things to slow the rate that alcohol makes it to your liver.
- Using a sugary mixer with your drink has been shown to slow absorption as well as food.
- On an empty stomach, drinks like neat vodka are going to be absorbed quicker than something with much more volume than beer. However, when you have a full stomach, the opposite is true. Less liquid volume will mix better with the food in your stomach. You can still drink drinks with mixers, but chugging back a whole keg when you’ve eaten is going to backfire.
Aside from “Eating is Cheating”, we still have some tricks up our sleeves to help you make it through your front door in one piece rather than sleeping in next door’s privet hedge.
- If you’re starting the night off tired, you’re already in a bad place. According to the University of Rochester, “consuming alcohol when tired will, in general, simply increase one’s level of tiredness while magnifying alcohol’s traditional effects”. If you’re heading out on the biggest night of your life, having proper sleep leading up to it will give you a head start in handling the drink.
- Caffeine when combined with alcohol at points in reduces some of its depressive effects.
Caffeine doesn’t only stop you falling asleep when you’re drinking, but has been seen to actually make you feel less drunk too.
- Heinz et al. (2013) gave people alcohol or alcohol and 220mg of caffeine. The people who drank both booze and caffeine reported significantly lower levels of intoxication than booze alone.
- Marczinski and Fillmore (2006) found that having caffeine with alcohol counteracted cognitive effects of the booze.
Along with how smashed you feel, caffeine along with your booze also reduces mental fatigue, reductions in energy, and makes you more alert. Adding in caffeine can be a simple as drinking Coca-Cola as a mixer, breaking up the night with a few coffees, or making sure you whack a double espresso down before you go out. There’s no need to go crazy with it. You don’t need to start popping caffeine pills or drinking endless energy drinks, but if you want to maintain the proper motor skills needed to point to the menu in the kebab shop at the end of the night, adding in a moderate amount of caffeine at some point will help.
In summary, these are your go-to science-based techniques to avoid getting wasted when you got a big night ahead of you.
- Eat a large meal before commencing drinking
- Keep eating throughout the drinking session if you’re able
- On a full stomach, stick to smaller drinks and be wary of too many pints
- Drink sugary mixers if possible
- Make sure you’re fully rested before you go out
- Include moderate caffeine use while drinking
Vodka and coke anyone?
Moderation doesn’t always cut it. If you’re in a situation where you’re going to get completely trousered, use these tips to make it through a drinking session with your pride and health intact.
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