If alcohol is going to be a part of your dinner or an evening with friends, it's important to have a plan — not only on how you get home, but also to keep yourself from feeling tipsy too quickly.
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First things first — it's never a good idea to drink any amount of alcohol on an empty stomach. Alcohol is absorbed very quickly and you're more likely to feel the effects sooner when you're running on empty.
When you drink alcohol, you'll feel the effects almost everywhere in your body. This is why you feel buzzed, have impairments in motor skills (aka lose your balance) and visit the bathroom more. On average, it takes the liver one hour to metabolize one standard drink, which is defined as a 12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine or one shot.
People assigned female at birth typically feel the effects of alcohol faster and for longer periods of time, but much of how your body tolerates alcohol has a lot to do with body size, sex, medications and the food you eat before.
"Drinking can be very dehydrating so make sure you have been drinking enough water during the day and especially between drinks," says gut health dietitian Amanda Sauceda, RDN.
Alternating alcoholic drinks with a glass of water can help slow down your drinking and help you stay hydrated. This can be especially helpful if you're drinking alcohol in a hot and humid environment.
Why What You Eat Before Drinking Matters
There are a lot of myths surrounding what you should eat before you drink alcohol. We tapped Sauceda on what to eat before drinking — not only to help avoid the dreaded hangover but to reduce any damage to your gut.
Sauceda says to focus on PFFF: "This stands for protein, fat, fiber and fermented foods, which is the ideal way to eat for your gut and really your overall health." This means a balanced diet filled with carbohydrates, fats and protein should be your choice of nutrients before you order that drink.
"Alcohol can be irritating to the gut and contribute to leaky gut as well as possibly have effects on the microbiome," Sauceda says. "In addition, your liver is also going to be taking the brunt of getting rid of alcohol because it is a toxin."
Food can't soak up the alcohol in the stomach, but it can slow down the absorption, so that's your main goal, Sauceda says. A good rule of thumb is to stick with the recommendation for drinking, which is one to two alcoholic drinks per day.
Because alcohol causes dehydration and altered kidney function, you run the risk of electrolyte imbalances, according to June 2020 research in the Journal of Clinical Medicine. So eating a diet rich in vitamins and minerals throughout the day is very important to replenish and restore balance to your gut.
If you don't drink, there is no benefit in starting. The recommendations here are for moderate and occasional alcohol intake. Excessive drinking can be harmful to your health, so if you think you have an alcohol dependency, visit the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism for help.
The 15 Best Foods to Eat Before Drinking
If your pre-drinking meal is also out on the town, choose wisely when ordering.
"Guacamole as your appetizer is great because the avocado is a good source of healthy fats that will help slow the absorption of alcohol," Sauceda says. Avocados are also a rich source of fiber, so they're a smart choice all around.
2. Salad With Grilled Chicken Breast
If you need whole meal ideas, look no further than the entree-sized salad. This is always a good option for many reasons: First, you get a good dose of protein; plus a salad is usually loaded with nutrient-rich vegetables.
Typical salad ingredients like lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers contain a lot of water, so you get a boost of hydration with your meal. Add a vinaigrette made with olive oil and you check all the boxes for a well-rounded meal.
Sauceda is a fan of ensuring your whole day is filled with good nutrition — not just your pre-drinking meal. "Have a yogurt parfait in the morning because yogurt is a good source of protein along with being a probiotic food — plus it's lower in lactose which is good for someone with lactose intolerance."
Look for lower sugar yogurts with active live cultures on the label to ensure it's probiotic yogurt.
A smoothie filled with fruits and vegetables is a great option for nutrients and hydration. Sauceda encourages nutrient-rich plant foods to help your body function properly. "Color equals more antioxidants which will support your liver to detox," she says.
Add nut butter or a protein powder to get more protein in your smoothie and a small amount of avocado will add healthy fats and creaminess.
Sauceda recommends prebiotic foods like oats, which are great for your gut bacteria and can help keep your gut lining strong. Oatmeal is loaded with fiber to fill you up.
Make your oatmeal with soy or dairy milk for extra protein and add berries for extra antioxidants.
"Berries like blueberries are one of my favorite ways to get antioxidants along with being a high-fiber food that's good for your gut," Sauceda says.
Blueberries can be added to a wide variety of dishes and they are a perfect snack on their own.
7. Baked Potato
Sauceda says a baked potato is a great choice before you drink. "A baked potato for dinner will not only add fiber to your diet, which will help slow the absorption of alcohol, but it is also a source of antioxidants like vitamin C."
You can top your baked potato with meat or vegan chili for another nutritious boost, or add guacamole for healthy fats and fiber.
8. Grain Bowl
Sometimes called a buddha bowl or a power bowl, this is a bowl typically filled with grains, vegetables and a healthy protein such as salmon, tofu, chicken or lean beef. This is a great choice because of your ability to personalize it and the nutrient content is in line with what you should be eating pre-drinking.
Grain bowls are high in fiber, protein and colorful vegetables. Choose an oil-, avocado- or nut-based dressing to get healthy fats into your meal.
Charcuterie may be all the rage, but it might also be the perfect meal to pair with your drinking if you make smart choices. Keep an eye out for the usual suspects on the board: cheese, bread, dried fruits, raw vegetables, olives and olive oil.
Go easy on the processed meats, but feel free to have a few. Choose more fruits and vegetables like grapes, carrot sticks or radishes to make up the bulk of your meal and fill it in with cheese, bread and olive oil.
10. Trail Mix
It's possible you're on the go and don't have time to eat at home or stop and eat before meeting up for drinks. In that case, you need to plan ahead and pack a snack until you can order food. Remember, something is better than nothing, and you need to get some food in your stomach before that first drink hits the lips.
Put together a trail mix filled with nuts, seeds and dried fruit to get some protein, healthy fats and fiber. It's a good idea to get more food when you can, but trail mix can be a good hold-over.
11. Turkey Sandwich
No one said you had to eat a fancy meal before cracking open some cans — a turkey sandwich will do the job and help slow that absorption of alcohol down. Opt for whole-wheat bread to get the benefit of fiber and add lettuce and tomato for added hydration.
If a turkey sub isn't your thing, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich might be. PB&J is often considered a very comforting food and it might be just the thing you need to help delay your buzz. Because PB&J is so easy and fast to make, you can whip it up even if you're short on time.
Use whole-wheat bread for extra fiber and B vitamins, more nut butter and less jelly to cut back on added sugar. Instead of jelly, you could use fresh fruit, such as sliced bananas, strawberries or raspberries.
If this sounds more like what you should eat after you've been drinking, it also makes for a good pre-drinking meal. Omelets are high in protein, and you can add vegetables for some added nutrients.
Throw in a piece of whole-wheat toast and a side of fruit, and you've got yourself a meal that will slow alcohol absorption.
Soup is a good recommendation to increase your hydration before you start drinking alcohol.
Choose a soup that has protein and carbohydrates at a minimum, such as chicken noodle, Italian wedding soup or Tuscan bean soup. You could also choose to pair a broth-based soup, such as tomato or french onion with a sandwich for a little more bulk to your meal.
15. Banana With Peanut Butter
If you're looking for a quick snack to eat before you have drinks with dinner, go for the trusty banana-and-peanut-butter combo. Even if you plan on eating dinner, drinks usually come first — and starting your first drink on an empty stomach could be counterproductive to your goals of slowing down absorption.
Bananas are a nutrient-dense carb, and paired with the protein from the peanut butter, it's a good snack to fill you up temporarily until you can get a full meal.
Foods to Limit Before Drinking
1. Fried Foods
In general, you should steer clear of fried foods, aka bar food. While the fat from those fries and chicken tenders may keep you full, you are not getting a good variety of nutrients to keep your gut healthy.
2. Heartburn-Inducing Foods
It also might be a good idea to avoid foods that can trigger heartburn, as alcohol might be irritating to your digestive system and cause reflux itself, according to October 2017 research in Best Practices in Research — Clinical Gastroenterology.
Foods that can trigger heartburn include chocolate, spicy foods, peppermint and those fried foods.
Drinks that contain additional caffeine should be limited before drinking alcohol.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautions against drinking energy drinks or caffeinated drinks either prior to or with alcohol. It can make you feel more alert and can mask some of the symptoms of alcohol use, which could give you the false sense that you can drink more.
4. Bloating Foods
Sauceda offers one last recommendation on what you should avoid if you have existing gut issues especially: "I would avoid foods that make you feel bloated or gassy. And since alcohol can upset your gut, sticking to your usual foods will keep your gut happy."
- Journal of Clinical Medicine: "Magnesium, Calcium, Potassium, Sodium, Phosphorus, Selenium, Zinc, and Chromium Levels in Alcohol Use Disorder: A Review"
- Best Practices in Research — Clinica Gastroenterology: "Tobacco Smoking, Alcohol Consumption and Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Alcohol and Caffeine"