Unless you’re following a clean and narrow diet and exercise plan, it’s likely the odd pint plays a part in your weekly diet. And deservedly so. Whether it’s a quick jar over lunch or a few quiet cans alongside your latest streaming obsession, it’s hard to deny the pleasures of a freshly-chilled beer.
All of which is good news for your tastebuds, happiness and well-lubricated social life but, well, less so for your belly. Not just an inevitable sign of ageing, that rim of fat around your middle is most likely the result of a few too many drinks. Not only are beers highly calorific (think an average of 180 cals per pint…), sink a few too many and you’re more likely to pick up something greasy and calorific (and delicious) on the way home too. Not to mention no one in the history of man has ever been known to stick to their early morning workout plans on a hangover.
With that in mind, we dragged the best PTs we know out of the local boozer and made them wrack their brains about the best ways to fight back against the bloat. Far from us to forbid you the odd pale ale, of course. But drink in the advice below, and you’ll strike a much better balance, which is something we can all raise a glass to.
What’s The Science Behind My Pint?
Glad you asked. When it comes to wellness, knowledge is power, after all. Keith McNiven is the founder of personal training company Right Path Fitness and can help set you on the road to fitness.
“Reasons for beer bellies forming can be down to excess of calories. A sugary diet doesn’t help, of course, but around 180 calories and up to 20 grams of carbohydrate per pint means beer is a sneaky contributor to your bloat. Factor in a good few pints and the calorie and carb content really rises. Drink five pints, and you’ve almost added half of your recommended 2500 cals per day. As a one-off, that’s fine. Especially if you’re training regularly. It’s when this becomes a regular occurrence that a beer belly can make an appearance.”
It isn’t just your willingness to take your top off on the beach that is affected, either. “Carrying excess weight around your middle is a big risk factor for cardiovascular disease,” McNiven says. “But just doing some extra sit-ups isn’t going to get rid of your beer belly. As unpopular as it might be, not drinking beer excessively, cleaning up your diet and getting some nutritious carbohydrates into your system instead of those empty calories from beer is the way to do it.”
Best of all, as the fat starts to disappear, your stomach muscles will make an appearance. Which, let’s be honest, is what you’re most concerned about…
Your 10-Step Action Plan
“The beer belly is something every man dreads, and often something we presume will automatically happen to a man at some point in his life. Not so,” says James Castle-Mason, flat-stomached adonis/expert PT at London’s Roar Fitness.
“One of the biggest misconceptions about your beer belly is that it just comes with age. This simply isn’t the case; it’s about habits and lifestyle. And it isn’t necessarily anything to do with too many beers.
“In the simplest terms, you’ve put on a load of weight around your stomach, and suddenly it’s got to a crisis point. This can be from simply overeating and under-exercising for too long, whether you’re knocking back Budweiser or burgers, Heineken, or Haribo.”
With that in mind, here’s Castle-Mason’s action plan. And remember, sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind to yourself.
1. Get Some Sleep
Arguably the easiest of rules to follow: “Lack of sleep is potentially the biggest driver of weight gain,” says Castle-Mason. “That’s right. A chronic lack of sleep leads to consequential behaviours that make us gain weight, such as eating energy-laden junk foods to make up for the fact we are tired, and also not wanting to exercise due to fatigue.”
Sounds familiar, right? If so, turn in early tonight, leaving coffee, tea and Instagram until morning – all of them can help keep you awake, thereby denting your ab-uncovering plans.
2. Track Your Eating
“There’s no easy way to say this, but if you’re overweight, you’re eating too much. In fact, you might not even be aware of it. Studies have proven that people typically underestimate just how many calories they actually are eating over the days and weeks,” says Castle-Mason.
Keeping a log – either in a notebook or via an app like MyFitnessPal (which has a catalogue of nearly every high street ready meal) can help you track this, especially as calorie information for most meals is available online. Add up your total calorie count at the end of each day. If you’re hitting around 2000 calories before dinner, there likely isn’t room to sneak in a pint in there, too. It also pays to plan ahead; if you know you’re likely to sink a few pints after work, consider having a lighter lunch.
3. Get A Sweat On
“Obviously, if the problem is a calorie excess, then burning off these extra calories is a good place to start. It isn’t easy starting out with exercise, but doing something is better than nothing.” Not sure how to get started? When it comes to fat burning, the ‘big three’ compound moves – deadlifts, squats, and bench press – offer the most bang for your buck.
But, if the gym isn’t your thing, why not head out for a mile-long run before breakfast, with the aim of building up the distance over time? Failing that, five-a-side football is a great way to get active (and see your mates without hunkering down in the pub). Failing that, pack a skipping rope in your bag, and bust out a few minutes’ worth whenever you have chance. There’s a reason so many boxers do it.
4. Fix Your Posture
“Whilst you might be carrying some extra timber around the waist, it might look worse than it actually is,” says Castle-Mason, to our relief. “If you have a tilted pelvis, where your abs are weak and your lower back is often tight and painful, then it will make your belly stick out more. This can often be brought about by sitting at a desk for too long and not doing any strengthening exercises around it.”
A good way to get around this is to make sure you get up from your desk and walk around every 20 minutes or so. In the gym, you should spend as much time on mobility as you do weights, making sure to stretch out the hamstrings in particular (tight legs have a huge effect on your posture and back pain). Hanging exercises are also great for posture. We’re not saying you need to bash out 10 pull-ups – just hanging for 30 seconds and rotating the pelvis can help loosen things up, helping you stand taller and appear leaner.
5. Avoid Binging Behaviour
“A single night of socialising can lead to a lot of food and drinks being consumed, which massively ramps up calorie intake,” warns Castle-Mason. This can boost your average calorie intake for the week, even if you’re watching what you eat during the day.”
One way around this may be to look elsewhere for ‘treats’. Instead of treating yourself to beer or high-calorie food, reward yourself by doing something you enjoy instead. Maybe it’s a long bath. Maybe it’s promising yourself the time to go for a run every night. Maybe it’s meditation. Whatever it is, find something that makes you feel good – without a hangover or bloated stomach the next day – and stick with it. Then, when you do allow yourself a drink, it’ll feel like a bigger reward than ever.
6. Make Smart Swaps
Having said that… “If dieting is a somewhat dull prospect or something you struggle with, a good way to start to do away with bad habits is to replace them with something similar,” says Castle-Mason. “Instead of beer, for example, opt for something else. Get Drunk Not Fat is an app that grades all the beverages you can think of in terms of their calorie count so you could effectively reduce calories from drinking without giving up drinking.” Genius, right? “Another good example is coffee. If you drink lattes and cappuccinos, consider replacing them with a simpler (sugar and milk-free) Americano for a calorie saving.”
Likewise, skipping the 3pm biscuit at the office will add up to a ton of calories saved over the course of a month without you really having to do anything. Every little help, after all.
Plus, it goes without saying that swapping beer for less calorific drinks like a vodka soda and avoiding the fee bar nuts is a no-brainer.
7. Undesk Yourself
“If you work a largely sedentary job, it’s in your best interests to move more,” says Castle-Mason. “It does you no good to be sat in the same position all day. Get a pedometer and up your steps, go for a walk at lunch, anything.”
And, of course, if you do spend all day sitting down, don’t just go home and spend all night sat on the sofa (or in the pub, for that matter). While it might seem like the last thing you want to do, joining an after-work (or lunch-time) fitness club is one of the best things you can do for mind and body alike. Class Pass, with a range of introductory offers to a variety of classes across the country from boxing to powerlifting, is a good place to start. After a few weeks you’ll feel more energised than ever, and your gut will shift as a nice side-effect too.
8. Eat More Protein And Vegetables
“Boring?” asks Castle-Mason. “Probably, but smart all the same. Start batch preparing food and eating meals consisting of more protein-based food and vegetables and you’ll feel more satiated, and less likely to reach for the snack-jar or the pint glass.”
Not only that but by keeping your fibre levels topped up via plentiful portions of fruit and veg, you’ll help ease digestion, decreasing bloating. Plus, fibrous foods are proven to feed your gut bacteria which also help with digestion, fighting the bloat on yet another front.
9. Streamline Your Fridge
One way that weight is gained is through those moments where you intended to eat one biscuit, but end up scoffing the entire packet. The same goes for having ‘just one drink’ at home. Before you know it you can be knee deep in empty cans.
“When at home and procrastinating, it’s easy to eat or drink out of boredom,” says Castle-Mason. “Clean out the cupboards and the fridge to cut the random indulgences.”
10. Maximise Your Time
“Many people drink on evenings in the week, which means you load up on calories and have trouble sleeping [see point one],” says Castle-Mason. This sounds restrictive, but look at it another way; by giving the pub the boot, you’re freeing up your time to do anything you want. And, because a calorie restriction and regular exercise are the best way to lose weight – beer-related or otherwise – take this as the perfect opportunity to hit up your local gym, bringing the fight to your beer belly, instead of bringing a hangover to your morning.