I have a two-fold question. I am 21, and have been working out an average of 4 days a week since the age of 17. I picked up running as a hobby a few years ago and I found out that I was good at it. This summer, since I didn’t have much to do, I started working out every day and I ended up running a full marathon. I now eat between 5,000 to 6,000 calories a day. I do not have a specific diet. I weigh 145 pounds, so I try to eat about 150 grams of protein every day. I have not been gaining weight thus far. My problem is that summer is over and I’m going back to college soon. I’m no longer training, so I’m afraid of gaining massive amounts of weight due to the decreased activity. I plan on continuing to workout about 4 times a week, but right now I have a low body fat percentage (9-10%).
Is there anything I can do to keep the gains that I have worked so hard for without having to run as much as I have been doing? Is that impossible or will my body naturally maintain itself? I heard that alcohol is terrible for the body. How detrimental is alcohol to metabolism and overall muscle in general? Will it destroy what you have, or just prevent you from becoming better?
These are great questions and I can definitely relate as I have been through summers spent working out and then going back to college and being hit with a full load of course work. There is an important lesson to be learned here in that as we reach adulthood life becomes inherently busier, thereby reducing our “free time” to workout. College is a great time to get in the habit of maintaining a healthy lifestyle while juggling multiple responsibilities. Since you have multiple questions, I will divide my answers accordingly.
In terms of going back to school and decreasing your running routine, in order to maintain a low percentage of body fat without the high level of energy output (calorie burning), you will need to focus on cutting back a bit on your overall calories. If you’re currently consuming about 5,000 to 6,000 calories per day, you will most likely need to cut this down to about 3,500 to 4,000 calories and see how your body responds. Everyone’s body responds differently to differing ratios of caloric input and output. This response will essentially manifest itself in two ways, aesthetics and energy levels. Aesthetics in this case simply means you are happy with the way you look in the mirror. And though this certainly shouldn’t be your most important determination of overall health let’s face it, when we look good we feel good.
The other way that your body will let you know if it is “happy” with your caloric ratio is your day-to-day energy levels. It is just as easy to get tired from eating too much as it is from eating too little, so the trick is finding what ratio of calories in to calories out gives you optimal energy levels. It is essential to note here that even though caloric input is important to your energy levels, the types of calories you take in are of even greater importance. Your body’s energy levels are at their peak when your body is running at its peak efficiency. In order for your body to run at this peak efficiency you must feed it a premium fuel source. In other words, your body treats a 1,000 calories worth of fast food much differently than 1,000 calories of fruits and vegetables. After all, the human body is a biological organism that requires organic fuel.
To answer your second question of whether your body will naturally maintain itself, the simple answer is no. The human body really is only wired to maintain whatever functions are necessary for its survival. Anything above and beyond that requires that you place a demand on the body. If you have reached a particular level of fitness and you wish to maintain it then YOU must maintain it. And as the word “maintain” is a verb it requires action or effort. The good news however, is that it is much easier for you to maintain a certain level than it is to acquire it. This is why it is so important to make fitness and nutrition a priority in your lifestyle. It truly is something that requires lifelong maintenance. But is any endeavor worth more effort than your health?
In terms of the role alcohol plays in your overall physique, it really depends on what you’re consuming and how much you are consuming. Remember alcohol contains 7 calories per gram which is a little higher when compared to carbohydrates and fat. Your body processes alcohol first, before fat, protein, or carbs so drinking alcoholic drinks will ultimately slow down the burning of fat.
Everyone reacts to alcohol differently, so without knowing your personal drinking habits or your medical history, this is a difficult question to answer so as far as it changing your metabolism or restricting your ability to gain or maintain muscle, that is a question better suited to a physician or registered dietitian who are specialized in this area. There are however, many smarter choices when it comes to having a few drinks while keeping the empty calories to a minimum. Some of the basics of following a clean diet when alcohol is involved is to stay away from beer as much as possible. Beer is basically “liquid bread” since it contains the basic ingredients of water, malt, hops, and yeast. Many of the darker and richer flavored beers taste amazing but also contain a lot of calories and can pack a serious punch of up to 500 calories per bottle! A few of the cleaner alcoholic drinks to choose from when you’re trying to maintain a lean physique include:
- 100% Agave Tequila with Soda Water
- Captain Morgan’s Rum and Diet Coke
- Absolute Vodka and Crystal Light
- Grey Goose and Sugar Free Redbull
- Ketel One and Diet 7-Up
Remember, moderation is the key when drinking alcohol so make sure to really try to limit your yourself to 2-3 drinks maximum. If you drink alcohol in excess, you are risking the negative effects of a hangover the day after which usually results in lethargy (missing workouts) and also might trigger a binge on junk food since your body will be craving high fat and salty food.