This guide will tackle the burning question of alcohol’s place on the carnivore diet, highlight the downsides of regular consumption, and suggest potential strategies beyond complete elimination.
As the ultimate elimination diet, carnivore does demand that you make a ton of sacrifices. Giving up alcohol may be a step too far for people who consider it a sacred part of their lifestyle. But there may be a few ways around this roadblock.
Alcohol, as you may know, is primarily made from the sugars in plants, which is an issue when you’re trying to keep things carnivore. As of now, there’s no real way to make it from meat, as there’s only a little bit of sugar available in the form of glycogen, and any attempt to ferment them would be put a screeching halt by the amines and hydrogen sulphite emanating from rotting meat.
So this is a pointless article.
Unless…we sneak past the dogma and discuss ways we could make carnivore work without having to lose valuable parts of your lifestyle. Or at the very least, allow some leeway for the odd diversion. Sustainability trumps everything else when it comes to making a diet work, and perfection is a concept that doesn’t gel with reality. There’s no point ditching the carnivore diet altogether because you couldn’t relinquish your all-or-nothing mentality.
But first, let’s look at the issues that alcohol brings to the table.
The Downsides Of Having Alcohol On Carnivore
The Carb Content – Whatever you’re drinking, unless it’s straight ethanol, will come packaged with sugar, and that’s an issue if you’d like to stay in ketosis. Their many beneficial effects get neutered in the presence of glucose, which is why you need to deplete your liver glycogen in order to enter the state of ketosis. And unfortunately, the sugar in alcoholic drinks will be preferentially stored as liver glycogen rather than muscle glycogen.
So for the price of drinking a few beers, you’d be rewarded with brain fog, irritability, anxiety, and lethargy. That might not make for a good night.
Potential For Relapse – Whether you’re a recovering alcoholic and carbholic, or just someone who doesn’t know what portion control means, you’ll have to beware of alcohol’s ability to lower inhibitions and impair judgment. Get through a bottle of wine, and the thought of a box of chocolates might start to look a lot more appetising.
Your ability to resist that pull, will also be much weaker. After ten minutes of busy work nibbling various delicacies, you might decide that you’ve successfully ruined the week, and there’s no recourse but to make the most of it.
The dreaded hangover day could also egg you on to overindulge by making you miserable and in dire need of a pick me up. If you’re the type to be drained of appetite, then that can also be an issue when you arrive at the following day starving for energy.
Drinking sets a dangerous stage for people with a fondness for a relapse, creating a domino effect that could last days if not weeks, and seriously curtail progress on the diet.
Digestive Distress – Both alcohol and the plant toxins that tag along for the ride can irritate your gut lining and cause digestive issues. Given that autoimmune conditions and mental health disorders are inextricably tied to gut health, this can definitely lead to more unwanted consequences besides an upset stomach.
Impairing Liver Function – The liver plays a crucial role in processing both alcohol and dietary fats. Excessive alcohol consumption can place additional strain on the liver, potentially interfering with its ability to efficiently metabolize dietary fats from the carnivore diet.
Nutrient Displacement – Alcohol is a toxin, and the body works hard to get rid of it. While it’s busy burning off alcohol, it’ll neglect the absorption of nutrient-rich foods like the delicious slow cooked brisket you had an hour earlier.
Impairs Muscle Gain – Alcohol also lowers muscle protein synthesis, weakening your ability to build muscle, and certainly scuppering the efforts you’ve put into the previous workout.
Reduces Sleep Quality – By decreasing the amount of slow-wave sleep you’re getting, also known as deep sleep, alcohol can severely affect the quality of your shut-eye. This in turn means you’ll have to endure heightened cravings, impaired glucose tolerance, and reduced energy levels the next day.
In short, alcohol can bring a pretty nasty cocktail of unwanted effects that can derail the diet or just make you feel unnecessarily miserable. So at the very least, you’ll want to moderate your consumption, and not be in the habit of overindulging every week.
Now that the alcohol manifesto has been set out, let’s look at what coping strategies we can put in place to avoid total calamity and the premature end of your hopes and dreams.
1. Choose Spirits
If you’re going to indulge, then it makes sense to limit the extra calories, plant toxins, and accompanying chemicals as much as possible. That rules out the following.
Beer – Which is usually up at 200 calories per pint, and contains gluten as well as mycotoxins produced by fungi that contaminate the grains during storage. You’re getting the lowest quality grains for your troubles, and the hangover will reflect that.
Wine – One bottle can set you back over 600 calories, and also contains its own brand of mycotoxins, called ochratoxins. Then there’s the chemicals in the dyes, allergy-like reactions to tannins, and potential for sulfite sensitivity.
Cocktails – These can vary tremendously in their caloric content, but are typically very high in sugar. A Pina Colada contains 230 calories. However, I’m partial to a Long Island, as long as it’s made with diet mixers. So I don’t think they’re all that bad.
This brings us nicely to spirits, which are very low in carbs, with a large amount of their calories being in the form of alcohol. They’re the clear runaway choice for damage limitation, you just might need to pace yourself if you’re not used to them. Especially since you’re going to be metabolising the alcohol much faster on a carnivore diet, with the lack of digestive delays caused by carbs and fiber.
Since that means you won’t need to drink as much to feel the effects, I’d consider that a win.
2. Use Diet Mixers
Much has been made about the carcinogenic and gut-nuking effects of artificial sweeteners, and you’d definitely be right to be suspicious. But the science has yet to be settled, and I’d say you’re better off using diet mixers for your spirits, rather than taking big hits of fructose that guarantee you’ll be taken out of ketosis.
When possible though, use mixers that don’t have aspartame in them, and seek out ones made with stevia. Or just be a grown-up and sip your whiskey straight.
3. Drink Plenty Of Water
One of the major traps of a carnivore diet is dehydration, and that’s going to be inconvenienced further by the fact the alcohol is a diuretic. So you’re going to run the risk of becoming majorly dehydrated if you plough through an evening with nothing but spirits for company. That’s why you’re going to want to ameliorate those effects by balancing out your alcohol consumption with regular hits of water.
4. Consume Electrolytes Before Bed
To maximise your confidence that you’re not going to bed dehydrated, drink a bottle of mineral water that you’ve further infused with a serving of electrolytes. If you don’t have some electrolytes handy, then don’t worry, you can get by with a teaspoon of salt. Sodium is the driving force of the four electrolytes, and will work wonders ensuring that the other three are also balanced out.
5. Get At Least 6 Hours Of Sleep
In an ideal world, you’re aiming for 7.5 hours of shuteye, and thereby completing the required 5 sleep cycles and waking up fully rested. If you can, then more power to you. But there’s also a good chance that you’re going to bed later than usual, in which case you’d actually be best off waking up at your normal time rather than sleeping in.
That’s because waking up at 10am on a Sunday rather than 6am will then cause you to feel way too awake to sleep at 10pm the following evening, thereby carrying consequences into the working week. Sticking to predictable sleep and wake times will improve sleep onset and quality. Whereas allowing that to fluctuate wildly over the weekends can make it challenging to regain that consistency over the week.
So if you’re going to bed a little later than usual, make a point to still wake up at your usual time.
6. Extend The Fast The Following Day
This is one of the rare instances I’d actually recommend fasting for long spells (20+ hours) on carnivore. Usually, going that far would be to your detriment, since it reduces the amount of nutrition you’re getting in, lowers muscle protein synthesis, and increases the potential for excess cortisol.
However, in this case, you’ve subjected your body to some problematic compounds, and a longer fast gives the body a window to dedicate itself towards detoxing.
Finally, I’ll underline the point I’ve already made. Alcohol consumption should be moderated. The dose makes the poison, and you have to be highly cognisant of your relationship with drinking, and the potential for a destructive domino effect across the rest of your lifestyle.
If you’re going to make it a weekly thing, then it shouldn’t be more than two or three drinks. If you’re heading out into town, then it shouldn’t be more than once or two a month.
And if you struggle to get yourself back on track in the aftermath, then you’re best off abstaining altogether until you go through a full dopamine reset.
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