How to Hack Your Happy Hour to Make It Healthier

Finally summer’s in full swing, which means more outdoor classes, more after-work drinks, more weekend parties and more boozy beach days in the sunshine. You want to join in on the fun, but not at the sacrifice of all of your entire winter’s worth of hard classes. Because, let’s face it, those post-work cocktails and deep-fried appetizers can make you feel more guilty than happy.

But good news: There are ways to hack your happy hour so it’s not a waste of time, energy and calories. Here are seven strategies to help you do it all (and still make it to that morning Pilates class):

Slow things down

It’s only natural to make a beeline for the bar after sitting in an air-conditioned office cubicle with limited windows for 9 or more hours a day. But remember that it doesn’t take all that long to acquire a buzz, and your happy hour will likely last two hours or more.

Save yourself the sudden hit of tipsiness and the next-morning hangover by sipping on your drink slowly. Or, better yet, swap out each alcoholic beverage with a water or seltzer. Not only will this help you pace yourself, it will also limit the amount of high-calorie alcoholic beverages you’re consuming. Remember, that margarita might be tasty, but it also clocks in at upwards of 400 calories per drink.

Don’t show up starving

When you’re going to a party with a smorgasbord of mouthwatering appetizers, you may be tempted to skip lunch, but don’t. Saving calories for later might sound like it will all add up just right at the end of the day, but we promise you’ll be worse off.

Instead, enjoy a hearty, healthy and filling lunch so that by the time happy hour rolls around, you’re not in starvation mode and gulping down the nearest fried whatever. After a few drinks, you’ll probably be tempted to go back for seconds anyway, so avoid that desperate race to the buffet by coming hungry—but not too hungry.

Have a limit in mind—beforehand

You’ve been itching for that Thursday or Friday night happy hour since you first sat down at your desk Monday morning. So by the time the day finally rolls around, your mind’s focused on finally holding that ice-cold beer or cocktail in your hand and socializing freely with your coworkers or friends. Not front of mind? How fast the time’s going by and the number of drinks you’ve racked up along the way.

Be smart about how much you consume by going into the event with some kind of a limit. You know how much booze you can handle and how you feel after one, two, three or four, so do your next-day self a favor and anticipate how much you intend to drink.

Walk to the bar if possible

Sure, the train or bus may take only 15 minute, but walking sneaks in some easy exercise and, if you’re accompanied by a group, gives you a nice chance to catch up without having to yell over the loud music and crowd at the bar.

Fun fact: The average person can burn as much as 180 calories just from walking at a 3.5-mph pace for 30 minutes straight. Depending on what you order, that could equate to an entire cocktail burned off! Plus, that rush of endorphins you’ll experience from getting your heart rate up will lift your mood, thus enhancing your happy hour experience (obviously!).

Use a smart mixer

A Coke and rum is delicious, but as “light” as it may taste—because, sure, it’s no frozen smoothie or super-sweet margarita—it still clocks in at about 150 calories. Multiply that by four drinks and you’re looking at over a third of your daily caloric needs. Instead, opt for a Diet Coke and rum, which is only about 66 calories per drink. If you’re really craving that margarita, ask the server if he can make it a “skinny.” This essentially means he’s using fresh-squeezed lime juice, natural agave nectar and a splash of orange juice as opposed to a pre-mixed margarita loaded with a sugar-saturated sour mix.

Ask for extra ice

Aside from keeping your drink nice and cold while you’re outside, ice helps keep your drink filled longer, thanks to the liquid displacement. (The more ice you put in, the higher the liquid inside will rise). Ice also helps dilute the alcohol, sneaking in some hydrating and sobering water. Win, win!

For every beverage, drink a full glass of water

While this might not be the best idea for your bladder (or long bathroom lines at a local fave watering hole), it might save you a major headache the next day. Plus, drinking a full glass of water before going for another round will help you stay hydrated, feel fuller and ultimately, slow you down (see tip #1!). 

Jenn Sinrich is an editor in New York City, a self-proclaimed foodie always looking for the healthier version of all recipes, a passionate lover of all things cheese, a friendly New Yorker, Bostonian at heart and proud Red Sox fan. Love cats? Cheese? Mac n' Cheese? Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.