Why nonalcoholic beer beats regular beer after exercise


For many people who run, bike, or exercise frequently, drinking beer and exercising are almost inextricably intertwined. But for performance, recovery, and health, non-alcoholic beer may be a much better choice and may even be as good as or better than regular sports drinks.

Studies show that fit and active people can drink plenty of alcohol. Appropriately “Fit and Tipsy?” A 2022 study entitled Men and Women with relatively high aerobic fitness determined that they were more than twice as likely to be moderate or heavy drinkers as those in worse condition.

There are many reasons for this sweating. Exercise has a health halo for some of us that justifies unhealthy habits. The social nature of exercise also often leads to bar visits after a bike ride or yoga class.

2021 “Do You Have Beer?” on exercise and alcohol

But for those of us who exercise, beer has its downsides.

beer is not a sports drink

Beer with full alcohol is a mild diuretic, counterproductive if you need to change fluids once after exercise. A 2016 study found that healthy men who drank beer after a workout produced more urine than those who drank water or a sports drink.

Research also hints that alcohol, including beer, can affect how well our muscles strengthen and grow after exercise, and not surprisingly, can impair reaction time and balance. Intoxication is rarely a performance enhancer.

Therefore, some researchers began to wonder if non-alcoholic beer was a better, more acceptable, or even recommendable beverage for active people.

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The first clues came in the much-debated 2012 study of 277 men enrolled in the Munich Marathon. The scientists asked half of them to start drinking two to three liters of non-alcoholic beer each day three weeks before and two weeks after the race. Others drank a similar-tasting placebo as a control group. (The study was funded by a German brewery, but the researchers declared in the study that the brewer had no contribution to the design or analysis of the study.)

Fewer colds and less inflammation

The researchers drew blood several times before and after the race, and also asked the men to report any signs of respiratory infection. Colds and other upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) are common after a marathon.

But non-alcoholic beer drinkers seemed relatively spared. The study’s authors wrote that “the incidence of URTI was 3.25 times lower” among this group than in controls. Beer drinkers also showed lower markers of inflammation in their blood and other indicators of an overall improved immune response.

“We attributed these benefits to beer polyphenols,” said David Nieman, a professor of biology and human performance at Appalachian State University who wrote the study.

Polyphenols are natural chemicals often found in plants that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, he said. Beer, including the alcoholic variety, tends to be rich in polyphenols and there are numbers and types depending on the particular brew.

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The alcohol in regular beer likely undermines any beneficial effects of the polyphenols, said María P. Portillo, a researcher affiliated with the Carlos III Research Institute Biomedical Research Network Center in Spain and the University of the Basque Country. He and colleagues published a study in December that reviewed the available, albeit incomplete, data on beer, polyphenols, and cardiovascular health.

“What’s true is that the polyphenols found in both conventional and non-alcoholic beer show interesting antioxidant effects and the resulting anti-inflammatory process,” he said of their findings. But alcohol can also trigger inflammation, she continued. Thus, “in the case of traditional beer, the beneficial effects of polyphenols may be masked by the negative effects of alcohol.”

In non-alcoholic beer, on the other hand, the polyphenols should calm inflammation without the interference of alcohol.

When should you drink non-alcoholic beer?

Non-alcoholic beer also appears to be beneficial for hydration. A 2016 study found that if male athletes drink non-alcoholic beer 45 minutes before a draining workout, they are less dehydrated afterward than after drinking beer, similar to drinking water, but with a better sodium-to-potassium ratio. The researchers concluded that drinking non-alcoholic beer “may help maintain electrolyte homeostasis during exercise.”

In other words, “non-alcoholic beer may be a reasonable recovery drink,” said Johannes Scherr, chair of the Center for Prevention and Sports Medicine at the University of Zurich Balgrist University Hospital and also lead author. 2012 marathon run.

Nieman agrees. “After long and vigorous bouts of exercise, non-alcoholic beer provides water, polyphenols and carbohydrates,” he said, and these together “will aid metabolic recovery.”

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It also has the signal advantage of being almost completely natural, which is rare among sports drinks. “One goal of my research group is to show that sports drinks can be replaced with healthier alternatives,” Nieman said. “Non-alcoholic beer falls into this category.”

However, none of these studies suggest that exercisers should start non-alcoholic beer if they don’t like the taste, or if they’re worried that non-alcoholic beer now might encourage their full alcoholic beer intake later.

These drinks also contain calories, typically around 50 to 90 per can or bottle, less than most sports drinks, but not zero, considered for weight control.

And of course, beer during exercise, even non-alcoholic, won’t do much good for your gastrointestinal tract. Beer is fizzy and can cause discomfort, burping, nausea or worse.

So, if you’re exercising, when is the best time to drink non-alcoholic beer?

“If you consider the polyphenols and their anti-inflammatory activities, it probably doesn’t make much of a difference,” Scherr said. “But for rehydration, it should be drunk first after exercise.”

Got a fitness question? Email [email protected] and we can answer your question in a future column.

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