If you’ve been avoiding the bar scene in an effort to stay on track with your diet and fitness routine, we commend you. It’s tough to say “no” to happy hours and game day beers with friends. Which is why we have an inkling you may be itching to live a little on Saint Patrick’s Day. It’s one the biggest party days of the year, after all! To help you do just that—without stalling your progress—we asked top nutrition and fitness experts how to indulge in corned beef and Guinness without packing on the pounds. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Skip the pre-booze workout
While it may seem counterintuitive, hitting the gym before you party isn’t the best idea.
“People tend to drink more on the days they exercise, likely because they think they’ve earned it by putting time in at the gym,” cautions Jim White, R.D., A.C.S.M., owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios.
Another reason to skip the pre-booze workout: “Alcohol consumption affects post-workout muscle building by reducing protein synthesis,” White says. “This could cancel out your entire workout while still causing you to consume extra calories in the form of food and alcohol.” If that bit of intel doesn’t convince you to stay away from the gym before you drink, we’re not sure what will.
2. Eat a filling meal
If you show up at a Saint Paddy’s party on an empty stomach, you’re bound to overeat nutrient-void food that will slow your fitness progress. Chips, green beer, and an entire loaf of soda bread do not a six-pack make.
Plus, without a substantial meal in your system, the alcohol will hit you that much harder. To ensure you don’t overdo it, eat a filling meal of protein, fibrous vegetables, and whole grains before leaving home, suggests Angel Planells, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. Grilled chicken with quinoa and brussels sprouts or broccoli fits the nutritional bill.
3. Navigate the buffet like a pro
St. Paddy’s house/bar parties can be epic. Everyone’s decked out in green garb, and the Irish-themed grub is plentiful. But before you load up your plate, know this: not all festive foods are created equal. Bangers and mash, for example—which is traditionally a British dish, not an Irish one, anyway—are filled with salt and fat, Planells cautions.
“If you decide to dig in, be mindful of portion sizes, Planells says. “Instead of having two or three sausages, shoot for one. Have a small portion of mashed potatoes and go light on the gravy.” (If you happen to be hosting, consider making our healthy recipes for bangers and mash.) And if corned beef is on the menu, that’s another dish that should be enjoyed in moderation, Planells says.
So what can you eat without abandon? Cabbage. (Not what you wanted to hear, we know.) “It’s a great way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and provides quality nutrients like fiber and various vitamins and minerals. Load your plate up!” Planells says.
4. Deconstruct your drink
Drop a shot of Baileys and a shot of whiskey into a half-pint of Guinness, and you’ve got yourself an “Irish Car Bomb,” a Paddy’s Day favorite. You’ve also got yourself a recipe for disaster.
“Mixing booze is the last thing you should do when you’re looking to stay on track with a smart diet,” says Planells, who suggests cutting yourself off after two drinks. Since a serving of booze is considered to be 12 oz. of beer, 5 oz. of wine, or 1.5 oz. of hard liquor, just one Baileys-Guinness combo will put you over that recommended limit.
So what’s a smart drink order? “You can’t go wrong with Irish whiskey on the rocks,” White says. “If you need to cut it with something, skip sugary juices and sodas and ask for fresh lime wedges so you can squeeze in the juice.” Another smart pick: Guinness. “It’s not as bad as everyone thinks—a 12-ounce beer has about 125 calories, which is the same as most light beers,” White notes. To slow your buzz and ward off a hangover, don’t forget to chase each alcoholic drink with a glass of water.
5. Skip the late-night food run
The saying “nothing good happens after 2 a.m.” definitely rings true when it comes to your diet—especially if you’ve been drinking. “If possible, avoid eating after a night out,” White cautions. “You’re bound to make poor choices when under the influence.”
But if you are going to indulge, to at least eat something nourishing. “If you do decide to get pizza, get one slice and load it with veggies,” Planells says. “If you’re at a diner, choose the turkey or grilled chicken over the burger. And if you lack the willpower to order smart, go home and have a big glass of water and a turkey sandwich, a bowl of cereal with fruit, or a yogurt.”
6. Hit the gym in the morning…
If you follow all of our expert guidelines‚ you may be surprised just how ready you feel to get back into your healthy routine come morning. But before you hit the gym to burn off the beers, hydrate—and then hydrate some more.
“When you hit the gym after a night of drinking, you’re sweating out alcohol and need to replace the fluids. Drink plenty of water and eat foods with a high water content like watermelon, almond milk, yogurt, and tomatoes throughout the day,” White advises.
7. … and take it slow when you do
Even after you’ve hydrated, ease into that calorie-bomb-eraser. “High-intensity workouts can cause an upset stomach or headaches due to dehydration,” notes White.
You should also avoid any complex movements. “After a night of drinking, your judgment may be impaired. This means your form and balance could be off, which could result in injury,” Planells cautions. Instead, lift with lighter weights or go for a light run, swim, or bike ride.