Before the Detroit Pistons’ season kicked off, Andre Drummond’s teammates heard rumors of his diet. Extreme caloric intake (or restriction), exercise and offseason body transformation has become commonplace for NBA stars, but what they heard about Drummond’s summer didn’t add up: He apparently added beer, a beverage the 26-year-old didn’t even like in the first place, to his meal plan. But hell, apparently his dietitians actually advised it.
More amazingly, the 6-foot-10 center entered the league slimmer than ever, and so far, he’s averaging more rebounds, assists and points than previous seasons.
So what does this mean for me, a 5-foot-8 Irish boy who sits for eight hours a day — you know, the polar opposite of Andre Drummond? Could I also drink a beer a day and lose weight? Or could I drink a specific kind of beer to do so? For example, Athletic Brewing Company offers a non-alcoholic beer with “favorable carb counts” that they encourage drinking before working out. Before chugging a beer with my Lunchable, however, I checked in with a couple experts.
“On the surface, people would think this is a terrible idea,” says Justin Meissner, a personal trainer in San Diego. “But the answer is that it depends. If you’re a high-performing athlete, or just living a pretty active lifestyle, having a beer as a part of your diet can be a way to have some ‘empty carbs.’”
The term “empty carbs” is thrown around a lot by people who are watching their weight and thus opt for a vodka soda over Bud Light. So aren’t empty carbs basically the devil?
Not for athletes like Drummond, it turns out. In fact, these “empty carbs” are a necessity for guys like him. “Empty carbs are basically types of carbs that you’ll find high on the glycemic index,” Meissner explains. “When you consume this type of carb, your blood gets an influx of sugar, so your insulin increases to help wash out the excess sugar, which leads to your body quickly absorbing both.” (It’s similar to why some marathon runners suck little packets of “energy” gels: They basically provide a quick sugar boost to get through the race.)
For Drummond, the fast-burning empty carbs come in the form of a light beer, which he needs after a morning of intense exercise “to start replenishing right away,” Meissner says. “He wouldn’t get the same effect from a slower-burning carb that’s lower on the glycemic index, like oatmeal, because it’ll take longer to get full absorption.”
This aligns with why Drummond’s dietitians recommended the beers in the first place: Having cut red meat from his diet, his caloric intake was so low that he found himself getting dizzy and tired after practice. And what’s a quick, easy way to inject some carbs and energy into the body? A light beer!
But back to my original question: Would it work for me, too?
No. No, it won’t.
“Don’t take this as a sign that now you can drink beer for a healthy diet,” Meissner tells me. Because Drummond is a 279-pound professional athlete who works out multiple times a day, he’s almost constantly working at a caloric deficit. In other words, he needs calories to prevent negative health implications. Moreover, it’s that calorie deficit that lead to his weight loss, not the beer a day. The beer a day simply gives his body something to burn when it has nothing else.
A normal person, on the other hand, typically doesn’t need extra calories. Quite the opposite, actually: Unless you’re burning as many calories as a professional athlete, there’s a good chance you’re getting more than enough calories from your daily meals.
And because non-athletes don’t need calories, we especially don’t need empty calories — i.e., those calories that don’t come jam-packed with other necessary nutrients. If anything, we need to make our calories count even more, which means more vegetables and fewer Andre Drummond-inspired lunchtime Miller Lites.