Face it, gents: Despite all of your healthy choices, the threat of the beer gut isn’t enough to stand between you and a booze-soaked social calendar. You know you’re going to do it anyway so you might as well approach the bar just like you approach the bench: as a health-conscious athlete. The good news is, it’s not all hangovers and empty caloric intake; there’s plenty of science behind the health benefits of alcohol. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology linked moderate drinkers to healthier weights than those who binge or abstain from alcohol all together. And the perks of imbibing don’t stop there. Stay fit and even gain some fringe benefits with these healthy drinking habits.
1. Lose the liquor
Although hard liquor is often lauded as the low-carb alternative to having a brew with your buddies, beer and wine are healthier options. Besides the fact that the lighter spirits are often comparable to mixed drinks in caloric content, they’re also packed with antioxidants that can benefit everything from cardiovascular health to cancer prevention.
2. Pick light over dark
If you must go with the hard stuff, opt for vodka or gin on the rocks. Mixers are often packed with extra sugar and calories sure to deflate your hard earned six-pack, so skip the frilly trimmings and sip it straight. Although similar in caloric content, dark liquors have higher concentrations of congeners, toxic compounds formed during fermentation that are responsible for your hangover. Keep it light if you care about your waistline and your ability to hit the gym in the morning.
3. Choose red over white
A good Cabernet could actually help you hold on to your youth. In 2013 Harvard Medical School researchers confirmed that resveratrol, a compound found in red wine, promotes longevity and blocks diseases by boosting cells’ energy production.
4. Keep things regular
No matter how health conscious you are, you’re still vulnerable to cold and flu season. But your drinking habits can help reduce your susceptibility and stay on your A-game at the gym. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that participants who drank 8-14 glasses of wine per week reduced their risk of succumbing to a cold by up to 60 percent. Swap your holiday martini for mulled wine this season to stay fit and festive.
5. Have one for your heart
Alcohol (especially red wine and beer) can also deliver cardio benefits. Research published in the American Heart Association Journal found that alcohol increases levels of good cholesterol when consumed in moderation. Lower your risk of heart disease by 30 percent and keep your heart in marathon shape with your favorite brew.
6. Get creative with your cocktails
Those amazing pick-up lines you come up with after a few cocktails? Turns out your inventiveness isn’t just in your head; there’s truth to the claim that a few drinks can make you more creative. A 2012 study from the University of Illinois found that intoxicated participants were better able to solve creative problems and develop creative insights than their sober counterparts. Use happy hour to plan your gym circuit to keep your workout sessions from getting stale.
7. Sip to stay sharp
A fit mind is as essential to maintaining athletic prowess as a fit body. Contrary to the belief that alcohol kills brain cells, research published in the British Medical Journal found that moderate alcohol consumption actually improves brain function into old age. A 2011 study took a closer look and found that ethanol actually protects neurons against the damage that can eventually lead to Alzheimer’s and dementia.
8. Don’t overdo it
Hammer too hard in training and you’ll get injured. Same goes for your drinking habits: Health benefits tank as soon as you head into binge drinking territory (that’s five drinks in one sitting for men). Sip smarter and your body will thank you.