As the age-old saying goes, “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere!” The tradition of blowing off steam after work with your colleagues is a great one. Lips are loosened, ice is broken and friendships are formed, often over a spread of $5 draft beers and jalapeño poppers glistening with industrial vegetable oil.
When you’re overworked, stressed and hangry, it’s easy to go overboard with the drinks and snacks. Indulging occasionally on giant pretzels and nachos won’t derail you too much, but making it a weekly habit can lead to side effects like unwanted weight gain, decreased energy, indigestion and, well, the list goes on.
No one wants to hear this, but we’re about real talk here: alcohol contains calories. Plus, the more you drink, the more likely you are to snack, which can turn one innocent happy hour into a 1,000-calorie binge fest.
Ok —lecture over. Just because happy hour can be unhealthy, doesn’t mean it has to be. Here are our tips for making happy hour healthy hour, so you can go out with your work wives or husbands, talk all the smack, and worry less about how it’s going to affect your overall health.
Need more guidance in the nutrition department? Check out Mealplan for a personalized meal program.
Do Your Research and Plan Ahead
If you know which bar or restaurant you’re going to, take some time to research the menu. Most establishments will post their offerings online as a way to lure you in and make sure you order that second round.
It might take some hunting, but peruse that website like you’re searching for gold. If you’re heading out to a chain like Chili’s or TGI Fridays, find the “Nutrition/Calorie Menu.” In many U.S. States, large restaurant chains are required to post the calorie content on every dish. While this may seem like a buzz kill (and we won’t lie, it can be), choosing your happy hour spread based on calories is a smart way to enjoy your evening.
If your destination doesn’t post the calories, you can still plan on what you’ll order. In the event the menu doesn’t offer any healthy alternatives and seems like a lost cause, plan to eat super clean during the day in preparation for those mini corn dogs.
Planning ahead is the best way to ensure you’ll make the right choices before the drinks start kicking in.
Make Healthy Modifications
While the menu can appear to be full of empty calories, you can do your best to make healthier modifications.
Chicken wings are usually the same across the board, from TGI Fridays to your local dive bar, and that means sauce, butter, oil and all the deep fried goodness that adds on the calories. So how do you make wings healthier? Order them plain and ask for extra celery and carrots.
Wings are a solid source of protein, and can taste pretty damn good when stripped down. To get that hot wing effect, douse them in whatever hot sauce is on the table, like Tobasco or Cholula, for a fraction (or complete absence of) the saturated fat and calories. Filling up on the extra celery and carrots is a great way to get your veggies in, along with vitamin C, A, folate and fiber. Feel free to dip those bad boys in ranch, we won’t tell.
The possibilities are endless for cleaning up junk appetizers. Forgo the fully loaded nachos for chips and guacamole. Order sliders protein-style (if possible), or simply remove the top bun. See ceviche on the menu? Order that instead of fried calamari.
Water Between Drinks
Let’s get to the happy part of happy hour: the drinks! You’ve waited all day for that first taste of beer to hit your lips, but did you know one 12 oz bottle of beer can equal two slices of bread? By the time you’re on brew number three, you’ve basically consumed three sandwiches.
At the same time, a glass of wine contains about 100 calories, and who wants to stop at one glass of delicious pinot noir or sauvignon blanc?
A smart way to keep your beer and wine numbers in check is to drink a full glass of water in between orders. Not only will you cut down on calories, but you’ll stay hydrated and (hopefully) be less hungover the next day.
Note: Chugging your water in 10 seconds doesn’t count. Drink your water as slowly as you’d drink your wine or beer to really space it out. Otherwise, you’re just hitting the bathroom and breaking the seal every 10 minutes.
Steer Clear of Mixers
Now, my hard liquor and mixed drinks lovers, here is your cheat sheet.
Liquors contain about 80 to 90 calories for a shot, and tonic water is about 124 calories per 12oz. Do the math, and that vodka tonic is setting you back over 200 calories.
While mixed drinks like margs and Moscow mules taste delicious, they are overflowing with sugar, which not only leads to unhealthy blood sugar spikes and weight gain, but can make you feel like total garbage the next morning.
Don’t be fooled by fancy places with craft cocktails containing “elder flower” and “essence of hibiscus.” Chances are those are all just flowery words for syrup.
Stay away from sugary mixers and opt for your booze on the rocks or mixed with soda water. “Does that mean I can do shots?” you might ask. Technically, yes, as long as you keep it to one or two. But once you get into the “shots shots shots!!” territory, you’re just racking up the calories and buying yourself a one-way ticket to blackout town.
Our most important advice for making happy hour healthy hour? Drink responsibly and never ever get behind the wheel when drinking. There’s no excuse, especially with the availability of Lyft, Uber, Taxis and designated drivers.