There’s no getting around it: Alcohol is definitely not training-approved. There’s no nutritional value, and it can make it a whole lot harder to get up the morning and hit the trails or lift weights. Sprinting with a pounding headache and nasty hangover is never fun.
However, you shouldn’t have to ditch alcohol completely, as it can totally be enjoyed in moderation and for special occasions. And not all booze is created equal, so you can actually find low-sugar, low-calorie options when out. (And better yet? Whip up your own at home to limit excess sugar.)
These are the best and worst drinks to choose from for the next time you hit happy hour and still want to make it out the next day and crush your workout.
Gin and Tonic
“Tonic water is low in calories and contains no sugar, making this a good drink to have when you're training because it's lower in calories and (hopefully) won't disable you from getting up the next day and training,” says Maggie Michalczyk, MS, RD.
Just make sure there aren’t syrups added, which can be part of a cocktail at a bar. If so, ask for it without the syrup to keep it plain and simple.
Gimlets won’t be high in sugar, so you can better avoid a hangover the next day, and there’s a nice tart taste that is super enjoyable.
“Coming in under 200 calories and made with only lime juice and your liquor of choice, this is about as ‘healthy’ as it gets when it comes to an alcoholic drink,” says Michalczyk. The sour lime juice gives it a kick, but without all the excess calories, carbs, and sugar.
Who doesn’t love a refreshing mojito that makes you feel as though you’re tanning on the beach even when it’s 0 degrees and snowing out? “Minty, fresh, and refreshing, most mojitos are made with sugar, lime juice, and mint for flavor,” she says.
Plus, there are only a few ingredients. The more booze, syrups, and juices in a cocktail, the larger the number of calories and grams of sugar. “I like the simplicity of that, and it will satisfy your craving for a slightly sweet cocktail reasonably while training,” she adds.
It’s OK to grab a glass of vino. “These days you can find organic wine more ubiquitous in the grocery store and online, often made with less chemicals, lower in alcohol, and sulfate-free,” she says.
Just make sure you choose wines that are lower in sugar and drier, rather than super sweet wines, like a moscato. “I'm a fan because you're less likely to wake up with a hangover, i.e. able to train the next day,” she says. “A favorite of mine is dry farm wines,” she recommends.
Be wary of margaritas (as well as that big plate of chips and guac to go with them). “Margaritas can be upwards of 500 to 600 calories, high in sugar and salty. It will dehydrate you, which is not ideal for training,” she says.
And ones with pre-made, margarita sour mixes will definitely pack in the sugar and calorie. If you want a margarita, ask for tequila, lime juice, and triple sec, without the salt and sugar to fight bloating and dehydration.
They might look festive with the beachy umbrella and pineapple wedge, but they’re also another doozy. “Another sugar bomb, this drink is not your friend if you are training. Often there are multiple sources of sugar in the drink, and it's high in empty calories like a margarita,” she says.
Instead, go for rum or vodka with a touch of pineapple juice and soda water, which has that pineapple taste but is way lower in sugar and calories.
Drinks With Pre-Made Mix
“I'm going to go out on a limb here and say you want to avoid pretty much every drink that comes in a pre-made mix while training, because most are high in sugar and may contain artificial sweeteners and ingredients,” she says.
They’re more likely to lead to sugar crashes and a hangover, which can wreck your training schedule and make you feel bloated and lethargic afterwards. If there’s some sort of mix or syrup, ditch it.
A regular martini isn’t a bad option, but flavored ones have a good amount of unnecessary sugar. “Often with added syrups with additional sugars, you are getting a lot of additional calories and sugar that can hinder you from feeling your best and even wanting to wake up the next morning and train,” she says. Feel free to order a martini, but resist any syrup that might come with it.