The super-low-carb keto diet and alcohol seem like two things that just don’t mix. After all, most cocktails pack more sugar than the average person should consume in an entire day. And beer? Carb city. However, with a few rules in mind, it is possible to drink without shifting out of ketosis.
Your Metabolism On Keto
To understand why alcohol is tricky territory on keto, you first have to understand the fundamental way keto changes your metabolism (a.k.a. how your body produces and uses the energy it needs).
Because a keto diet limits carbs to such an extreme, it forces the body to break down fats for fuel instead. This shift marks a fundamental change in how our metabolism works, explains dietitian Ginger Hultin, M.S., R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In this state (called ketosis), the body runs on compounds produced from fat (called ketones) instead of glucose.
Your Metabolism On Alcohol
The next order of business: understanding how alcohol affects your metabolism.
Regardless of whether you’re in ketosis or not, alcohol has a significant impact on your metabolism.
When you consume alcohol, your body immediately begins metabolizing it (a.k.a processing it). In fact, “the body processes alcohol over other macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) because it contains toxic [by-products] that the body needs to clear quickly,” says Hultin.
So, whether you’re in ketosis or not, when alcohol enters your system, your metabolism shifts to process and get rid of it. How long that shift lasts depends on how much you drink.
Related: What Is ‘Dirty Keto’?
From there, of course, your body has to deal with any sugar or carbs in the alcohol you drink (and in any late-night pizza that follows). Whatever you can’t use immediately or store in your muscles or liver becomes body fat, explains global integrative nutrition health coach Karissa Long, C.H.C and author of Clean Keto Lifestyle: The Complete Guide To Transforming Your Life & Health.
Then, finally, your metabolism can get back to business as usual.
How Alcohol Affects Ketosis
If you’re eating a keto diet (and especially if you’re eating keto to lose weight), you want your body to burn fat as efficiently as possible.
Thing is, anytime you drink, your body essentially presses ‘pause’ on fat-burning to metabolize that alcohol, says keto and fitness experts Drew Manning, C.P.T, best-selling author of The Complete Keto.
If you imbibe carefully, having a drink every so often while on keto isn’t a huge deal. As long as you stay away from carbs, your body will get back to burning fat after it processes the alcohol.
However, drinking regularly can derail your fat-burning long enough to ultimately slow your weight-loss progress, says Long.
And, of course, drinking alcoholic beverages chock-full of sugar or carbs, can completely throw you out of ketosis. In this case, even after metabolizing all of the alcohol, your body will have to use up all of the sugars you’ve consumed.
How To Drink The Keto Way
If you do decide to imbibe on your keto diet, it’s key to do so strategically. Stick to the following guidelines to keep the fun as fat-burning-friendly as possible.
1. Stick To Pure Liquors
Though beer and sugary mixed drinks are off-limits, pure spirits—like tequila, vodka, gin, and whiskey—are carb-free and less threatening to ketosis. (Just stay away from anything flavored with syrup!)
Mix your plain spirit with a no-carb beverage, like water, seltzer, diet soda, or diet tonic.
2. Sip Wine With Caution
Though many wines contain too many carbs to be keto-friendly, some dry wines, which are lower in carbs, are okay in small amounts.
Manning recommends Dry Farm Wines, whose wines contain less than a gram of sugar per liter and leave out sulfites and other headache- and hangover-causing added ingredients.
When going the vino route, make sure to keep your total daily carb allowance in mind and limit your drinking accordingly.
3. Pace Yourself
Since carbohydrates typically slow our absorption of alcohol, people on keto often notice that alcohol hits them extremely quickly.
For this reason, Long recommends staying conscious of the fact that you’ll likely feel drunk more quickly, and sticking to just one or two drinks a sitting.
4. Stay Hydrated
Because keto-eaters store less water than carb-eaters, it’s especially important that they stay hydrated when drinking (which is also dehydrating.) To make it happen, alternate between alcoholic drinks and glasses of water or seltzer.
As a bonus, throw a pinch of pink Himalayan salt into your water to help replenish your electrolytes and promote better hydration, says Long.
How To Bounce Back After Drinking
Though you can’t completely undo a night of over-imbibing, you can take a few steps to get fat-burning back up and running.
1. Drink Lots Of Water
Whether you’re keto or not, rehydrating is a must after drinking. Try to down two glasses of water before bed and another two when you wake up, says Long. Then, aim for a glass every hour or two throughout the rest of the day.
2. Do A Fast
Not quite as ketogenic as you’d like the morning after drinking? Fasting can help your body shift back into ketosis faster.
Manning recommends fasting for anywhere from 12 to 24 hours after your last drink or bite of food. This gives your body the opportunity to burn through any glucose in your system and get back to producing ketones for energy.
3. Take A Ketone Supplement
If you need to reboot fat-burning but don’t want to fast (because who wants to fast when hungover?), Long recommends taking an exogenous ketone supplement.
Made with BHB (beta-hydroxybutyrate) salts, these supplements flood your bloodstream with ketones. When in doubt, they’ll help your body shift back into full-on ketosis more quickly, says Long.
Pin this handy infographic for quick reference: