The consumption of alcohol and tracking one’s own macronutrient diet may seem a daunting task considering the fact that most forms of alcoholic beverages do not fit into the standard trio of macronutrients found in all other types of food.
However, this is not to say that alcohol itself does not provide calories or energy to the body, and as such it is important to track any alcohol consumed in one’s diet so as to avoid going over their calorie limit or otherwise affecting their fitness plan.
Generally, alcohol is tracked as the “fourth macronutrient” wherein it is not quite a fat, protein or carbohydrate, and as such is still capable of imparting significant calorific value per unit of volume to the individual without providing any other sort of nutritional value whatsoever.
What are Macros?
The term macros is the shortened form of the word macronutrient, which namely covers the three main compounds absorbed by the body from most ordinary kinds of food.
These three macronutrients are known as fat, carbohydrates, and protein, all of which impart a set caloric value per unit gram consumed as well as serve their own purpose within the body – with a lack or excess of any resulting in different side effects occurring.
However, alcohol is occasionally considered the less often spoken about fourth macronutrient due to the fact that it is also capable of providing the body with calories despite the fact that it otherwise has no nutritional value or use whatsoever.
At an average of approximately 7 calories per gram consumed, alcohol lies somewhere between the 4 calories per unit gram of protein and carbohydrates and the higher 9 calories per gram of fat.
Why Should One Track Alcohol in Their Macros?
Tracking alcohol in one’s dietary macronutrients is not entirely necessary, considering that it is not utilized in the same manner as any of the three primary macronutrients.
Simply counting the total caloric value of alcohol consumed towards one’s total daily caloric intake should be more than sufficient for most dieters and their goals.
However, for the purposes of high level macronutrient partitioning diets or for individuals making use of tracking systems that do not allow for a fourth macronutrient, it is possible for the individual to choose to track alcohol as either a carbohydrate or as a fat by making the appropriate mathematical conversions.
This, of course, all applies to pure ethanol alcohol itself and does not apply to mixed drinks or other ingredients absorbed alongside the alcohol, the majority of which are likely composed of the three more common macronutrients and as such can be tracked in a normal manner.
Why Can’t Alcohol be Tracked as Protein?
Alcohol is best not tracked as a protein macronutrient in a diet due to the importance of eating the correct amount of protein in one’s diet.
Being vitally responsible for organ function, muscle growth and a variety of other healthy physiological functions, counting alcohol as a protein macronutrient can lead to the individual consuming less protein than they need, interrupting their muscular training (if any) and impacting their general health.
Additionally, some evidence may suggest that alcohol is converted and stored in the body as glycogen in a manner quite similar to that of carbohydrates, further supporting the fact that alcohol is best counted as either a fat or a carbohydrate as opposed to a protein.
Is Alcohol Just Empty Calories?
For the most part – yes, pure alcohol is simply “empty calories” that provides no nutritional value to the individual consuming it, and from a purely utilitarian perspective alcohol is best avoided entirely while trying to lose weight, gain muscle mass or achieve a healthy state of being.
This is not to say that one cannot consume alcohol while tracking their macronutrients and calories, however, as it is still entirely possible for one to make allowances in regards to their caloric intake so as to still be able to consume one or two alcoholic beverages without exceeding their daily caloric limit.
How to Track Alcohol with Other Ingredients?
While all the aforementioned information in this article is in regards to alcohol in its more pure form, it is quite common for the drinker to either mix their alcohol with other ingredients so as to improve the experience of drinking it or to “chase” it with another fluid for similar reasons.
As such, it is best for the individual to first track the macros of the other ingredients present in the alcoholic beverage prior to adding the alcohol itself to their calorie count and macronutrient intake.
Such things like fruit juices, sugar, syrups and even soft drinks used as chasers should all be counted alongside the calorie count and macros of the alcohol, even if the alcohol itself does not have the same type of macronutrients as the other ingredients.
This may be done by first calculating the total calorie count of the entire alcoholic beverage, subtracting the macronutrients of the non-alcoholic ingredients and counting whatever calories that are left over as that of the alcohol itself.
How to Track Alcohol Macros
Alcohol macros are described as being a total of 7 calories per gram of pure alcohol, and as such is mostly pertinent to the total daily or weekly calorie count of the dieter without a need to track it as a carbohydrate or fat macronutrient.
If the individual desires to do this, however, it is possible to either track it as a carb by dividing the total calories of the alcohol by 4, or to track it as a fat by dividing the total calories of the alcohol by 9.
For example, if choosing to track approximately 100 calories of alcohol as a carbohydrate in one’s macronutrient profile, they would simply need to divide this 100 calories by the 4 calories per gram that is carbohydrates, thereby ending in 25 grams of carbohydrates that are actually from alcohol.
- Brenes JC, Gómez G, Quesada D, Kovalskys I, Rigotti A, Cortés LY, Yépez García MC, Liria-Domínguez R, Herrera-Cuenca M, Guajardo V, Fisberg RM, Leme ACB, Ferrari G, Fisberg M, on behalf of the ELANS Study Group. Alcohol Contribution to Total Energy Intake and Its Association with Nutritional Status and Diet Quality in Eight Latina American Countries. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2021; 18(24):13130. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph182413130
- William E.M. Lands, Alcohol, Calories, and Appetite, Editor(s): Gerald Litwack, Vitamins & Hormones Academic Press Volume 54 1998, Pages 31-49,ISSN 0083-6729, ISBN 9780127098548,https://doi.org/10.1016/S0083-6729(08)60920-6.