While moderation is always the smart way to drink or eat, there are times (*cough* the holidays *cough*) when that’s just not an option, and excess and over-consumption reign supreme. And when those buttery, booze-soaked months finally come to a close, it’s time for some detoxing to get you back on track. But that’s easier said than done.
With long days and nights surrounded by drinks, bartenders can relate more than anyone to the difficulty of cutting back on booze and ramping up physical activity—especially a small group of bartenders who decided to take part in an intensive, 12-week boxing challenge. In an effort to get bartenders to lead better, healthier lives, the Bartending Boxing Organization, sponsored by Tequila Cazadores, enlists bartenders to train and fight as a test of both mental and physical fitness. The program, which took place this year in Los Angeles, Houston, New York and Chicago, is no laughing matter. It’s not for bartenders looking to play at boxing—this is real. Punches are thrown and bodies are tested. It takes serious commitment, lots of training and, for some, intensive detoxing.
We spoke to two of the Chicago participants, Alexis Brown of Serving Life Behind Bars, and Nicolas (Nico) Antunes of East Room, about their experiences and got their advice on how to really sweat it all out when you need to.
Supercall: What was your routine and diet like before the program?
Alexis Brown: I wasn’t very active. I had changed my diet some—I stopped eating meat about three years ago. But a typical week was really just going to work and being on my feet for 10 to 12 hours, walking back and forth in that one space. I wasn’t going to the gym or going outside.
Nico Antunes: I was working at a 4 a.m. bar in Chicago, which turns into a 5 a.m. bar on Saturdays, so you’re not done until 6 or 7 a.m. I would sleep, work, wake up and eat the worst possible stuff in between. You start seeing the pounds pack on. I was almost 210 pounds. The last time I stepped in a gym was a year before I started all this.
SC: How did your diet change while you were training?
AB: I cut out sugar, dairy and bread. I also stopped drinking. I still tasted through new menus or [drank] if I was at a special tasting, but I wasn’t consuming a lot of alcohol. It was tough at first; you have to get in the motion of saying, “No, I’m good.”
NA: I drank a lot of water, and protein shakes helped me survive. That was where I got a lot of my calories and protein. I started to try to eat smart: smaller portions throughout the day, leaner meats, a lot more veggies. I really don’t like greenery at all, but you have to do it. I ate a lot of beans and rice. Fish and chicken were my best friends. It helped me get back into cooking.
SC: What were those first few days like?
AB: For me, it wasn’t that bad. But for some people, it was their first time working out in months, so they were throwing up. We were pushing ourselves super hard and really fatigued. You could see it on everyone. You could see the alcohol and the all of the guck draining from us. That’s literally what it seemed like.
NA: The first week was awful. We were all dying. We were all out of shape.
SC: Did you have any cravings?
AB: I was craving chocolate like a mofo. I would get dark chocolate in my granola bars, but actually having milk chocolate ice cream or brownies—I missed that so much.
NA: I am a smoker. I am a drinker. I stopped smoking and drinking a week before everything started. I stopped cold turkey overnight and I kept it going until two weeks before the big fight when I injured myself and I wasn’t going to be able to fight. Then I started drinking and smoking again. The first time I drank again I had a three day hangover.
SC: How did you cope with those cravings?
AB: I would eat a granola bar or those Larabars. Those are really good because they’re all natural fruit and nut bars. They have an apple pie one or coconut cream—those actually taste like real dessert.
NA: It was really hard. There was no way to deal or cope with it; it was a matter of strength. Everything in my body tried not to drink soda or eat crappy food. I started meal-prepping but that didn’t last too long. I’m not going to lie. But it took a type of discipline that I didn't have prior. I don’t know how I was actually able to go through some of it.
SC: Any tricks to kickstarting a detox?
AB: Every morning I would do a green juice and start my day with that. I did straight green juices and two gallons of water every day, really flushing my system out and trying to get a clean slate. I started the program at 134 and in the first week I got down to 129.
NA: One thing that helped me stop smoking: cinnamon sticks. A lot of smoking is oral fixation. What I found was that chewing on cinnamon sticks went a long way. I always had a cinnamon stick or a straw. As for drinking, the only way to really detox is over hydrating. Drink as much as you possibly can, it’ll fill you up and stop the cravings. You can infuse flavors into the water like cucumber or mint or rosemary or lemon. You’re drinking the water, it’s cleansing your body, and it’s regulating your appetite. You can get away with a lot by just over hydrating.
SC: How do you keep healthy while still drinking?
AB: Know that you don’t have to have a drink at every bar. I have a lot of friends that work in the industry and they have new creations they want me to try, but you can say, “Hey, I can try it, but I don’t have to finish a drink.” Know when to say no and when to step back. And just take baby steps. When you ration yourself out and make actual measurable goals, that helps. And surround yourself with people who are encouraging. Sometimes you have friends who try to push certain things and make you take six shots. You have to see those people for who they are and make the decision that you can’t be around them.
SC: What have you kept up since the training?
AB: I’ll always incorporate certain stretches that I learned when I wake up. I use these muscles more than I think I do when I’m shaking things or reaching behind me. You need to stretch those muscles out.
NA: I started cooking again. I’m still boxing. It’s the best workout I’ve ever had—and that’s coming from someone who used to run at top speed for two hours straight playing soccer. So I’m going to keep boxing. And why wouldn’t I? I dropped 30 pounds. I started at 210 and then, at my peak, I went down to 180. Whenever I see friends I haven’t seen in awhile they’re like, “Dude, what happened?” I mean, it’s not like I have a 12 pack. I’m not shredded. But there’s a very visible difference. I lost myself when I first started bartending. The lifestyle is really hard. But halfway through this program, I started seeing physical results to the extent where I didn’t feel bad about waking up shirtless and looking in the mirror.
SC: And finally, what’s it like to take a punch?
AB: When I’m in the ring and that’s happening, I don’t think about the pain. It’s just like, “Oh shit, she got me.” I took the hits pretty well because of conditioning. But we wear headgear and it’s not so bad. I didn’t come out of there feeling super messed up. You get a head cold because you’ve been juggling yourself around, and your jaw hurts from biting on the mouth guard. You feel uncomfortable, but then afterwards you’re good.
NA: It doesn’t feel good—even if you’re trained. It still sucks.