My Beer League Team Has a Hockey and Beer Belly Problem (Or Can I Lose The Beer Belly, But Keep the Beer?)

I get asked a lot about beer and how it affects fitness. Over the years, a lot of that has come after a rec league hockey game, tournament, or drop-in when the most cherished part of rec league hockey takes place: the post-game beer drinking with your buds.

“I play all this hockey, but I don’t seem to lose weight.”

At the end of the day, weight loss or gain is all about calories in versus calories out. Eat more calories than you need, you will store fat; consume less calories, you will drop weight. Most people do tend to underestimate the amount calories they eat and overestimate the amount of calories they burn doing exercise.

Figure out how many calories you need

Step 1: BMR. The starting point is understanding how many calories you need to maintain your current weight at rest, the basal metabolic rate (BMR). Now, BMR between individuals can vary. The largest cause of variation is the amount of lean mass an individual has. So, a BMR calculation is only a rough estimate. There are a couple of BMR equations in use and the match can scare off people. Fortunately, there are various on-site sites that will calculate BMR, including http://www.myfitnesspal.com/tools/bmr-calculator.

Step 2: TDEE. BMR is calories needed while at rest. After calculating BMR, the next step is to multiply it by an activity factor in order to get the number of calories needed to maintain current weight factoring in the number of calories burned doing daily activities (TDEE, total daily energy expenditure). There are several variations on what the multipliers are, but this table shows the common activity factor multipliers (again, like BMR equations, this is just going to be a rough estimate). Be honest here on actual workout activity level.

Activity Level TDEE
Little to no exercise TDEE = BMR x 1.2
Light exercise (1-3 days/week) TDEE = BMR x 1.375
Moderate exercise (4-5 days/week) TDEE = BMR x 1.55
Heavy/intense exercise (6-7 days/week) TDEE = BMR x 1.725
Very heavy exercise (2x/day) TDEE = BMR x 1.9

EXAMPLE: If BMR came back as 1800 calories. If the person is doing moderate exercise 4-5 days/week, his TDEE would be 1800 x 1.55 = 2790 calories.

Step 3: Goal. At this point, you have an estimate of the number of calories needed to maintain weight at your given activity level. Now, the calories need to be adjusted by the person’s individual fitness goals are. Calories need to be added for those looking to gain muscle; calories need to be subtracted for those wanting to lose fat. If looking to gain muscle, multiply the TDEE by 1.1. If looking to lose weight, multiply the TDEE by 0.85. Adding 10% for muscle gain or subtracting 15% for fat loss is not too aggressive. Adding too many calories when trying to gain weight will likely yield more fat gain than muscle gain. Removing too many calories for those dieting runs the risk of burning muscle. Safe weight loss is generally considered to be about 1-2 lbs/week.

EXAMPLE: If TDEE is 2790 calories and the goal is to put on muscular weight (assuming a good weight training program is going on and factored into the activity in step 2), calories should be adjusted upward to 2790 x 1.1 = 3069 calories. If trying to lose weight, dropping calories by 15% would adjust daily calories to 2790 x 0.85 = 2370 calories.

Step 4: Your Macros. The last step is to break out the macros (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) you need to consume. For each gram, protein and carbs each is 4 calories; each gram of fat is 9 calories.

Protein

There are numerous opinions out there on protein requirements. For protein needs, many bodybuilding and fitness websites and magazines promote taking anywhere from 1g to 2g of protein per pound of weight. However, most recent studies conclude that intake of protein above 0.64-0.82g/lb provides no additional benefit for adding muscle. In looking at athletes specifically, 0.82g/lb is the upper limit at which protein intake benefits muscle gain, although high frequency/intensity training may require a little more (Phillips, Stuart M. & Van Loon, L.J. (2011): “Dietary protein for athletes: From requirements to optimum adaptation,” Journal of Sports Sciences, 29:sup1, S29-S38. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22150425).   Other studies suggest those dieting may go up to 0.9g/lb in order to spare destroying muscle in a calorie deficit. Realize that if you follow some pro bodybuilder’s diet that many of them do take sizable amounts of performance enhancing drugs that may allow them to use higher protein amounts.

So, if you are working out, the upper amount of protein you will need is going to be somewhere between 0.64 and 0.9 depending on goals.

EXAMPLE: If our subject weighed 200 lbs and the adjusted TDEE was 3069 calories, his protein needs will be 164g using the 0.82/lb finding above (200 x 0.82 = 164). Each gram of protein has 4 calories, so 164g x 4 calories/g = 656 calories each day from protein (percentage-wise, 656 / 3069 = 21%). If we use the weight loss scenario from our example, his protein needs would be 180g day using the 0.9/lb recommendation for fat loss (200 x 0.9 = 180). Since he is consuming less calories (2370), protein is now 30% of his daily caloric intake.

Fat

For fat, again there are a lot of opinions on this. Some personal training certification programs teach fat intake should be about 25% of calories; other common recommendations are anywhere from 20% to 30%.   If you use 0.4g/lb, that will be close. From our example, the fat needs will be 200 x 0.4 = 80g or 80g x 9 calories = 720 calories each day (720 / 3252 = 23% for the gain scenario and 720 / 2370 = 30% for the loss scenario).

Carbs

At this point, the left over calories are allocated to carbs. In our weight gain example, 656 + 720 = 1376 calories came from protein and fats. So, 3069 – 1376 = 1693 calories allocated for carbs (1693 / 4 calories/g = 423g carbs) each day. For the weight loss scenario, 1440 calories come from protein and fat. So, 2370 – 1440 = 930 calories or 232g carbs per day.

Beer

Beer’s calories come from alcohol and carbs. Beer is not a health food – among other things, it slows down fat burning (Shelmet, J.J., Reichard, G.A., Skutches, C.L., Hoeldtke, R.D., Owen, O.E. and Boden, G. (1998). “Ethanol Causes Acute Inhibition of Carbohydrate, Fat, and Protein Oxidation and Insulin Resistance.” Journal of Clinical Investigation, 81(4), 1137-1145.), and the body treats the alcohol as a toxin. So, at the end of the day, it is still best to manage how much one is drinking. If the goal is a more extreme one – wanting six pack abs – it is best to do without it. If the goal is to put on lean mass, beer is often considered counterproductive.

That being said, for the drinkers trying to not add belly fat, the main recommendation is to plan for the beers and adjust the daily calories around it.   As beer’s calories come from carbs and alcohol, first, subtract out during the day the equivalent carbs that will be coming from the beers (e.g. if you will be consuming several beers that have a total of 30g of carbs, drop the amount of carbs from the rest of the day’s quota by 30g or 30 x 4 = 120 calories). Since it would be better to keep the protein, particularly if trying to lose weight to spare muscle loss, the fat calories for the day should be adjusted down by the equivalent amount of calories from alcohol from the beers.

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