Beer is a popular “post-workout” drink. It is not commonly treated as a sports supplement by athletes but as a post-competition reward and social lubricant. Is there any merit in using beer as a rehydration drink?
Rehydration is essential for recovery and performance. Athletes can lose large amounts of fluids and electrolytes through sweat during training and competition, which need to be replaced accordingly. Thus, rehydration beverages should contain water, sodium, potassium and carbohydrate (1, 2). Sodium and carbohydrate are of particular importance because they help absorb and retain water (2). The actual amounts of each component will depend on the type of event, etc. (1).
Nutrients in beer
Besides alcohol, beer contains water, carbohydrate, some minerals and small amounts of certain vitamins. The table below shows a comparison between different types of beer and sports drinks (regular and sugar-free). In general, beer contains less carbohydrate and sodium than sports drinks, but more potassium (3).
Beer as a rehydration drink
Some scientists have explored the possibility of using beer as a rehydration beverage. For example, an experiment in Spain compared the differences of beer plus mineral water vs just mineral water in rehydrating physically active young men after running in hot conditions. The scientists limited the regular strength (4.6% alcohol) beer intake to 660ml and found no differences in recovery between the intervention and control groups (1).
A Dutch study examined the effect of different strength beers (from zero to 5% alcohol) vs water vs a sports drink on the recovery of young healthy trained males. The full-strength beer increased urination. However, low-alcoholic beer, non-alcoholic beer and water produced roughly the same net fluid balance (2).
While most people focus on rehydration, intrepid Chilean researchers tested the effects of drinking 700ml of regular beer vs non-alcoholic beer vs water before exercise. This experiment was done on young male soccer players. Not surprisingly, alcoholic beer was not good for electrolyte balance, but non-alcoholic beer performed just as well as water (4).
It is important to note that all the studies mentioned above were small and should not necessarily be applied to all athlete populations or sports.
Cons of alcohol intake
People who drink alcohol in excess may engage in may engage in risky behaviour, such as driving intoxicated. In addition, athletes who are intoxicated are more likely to forgo best practices for nutrition and recovery (5).
Alcohol also decreases sleep quality, which is important for recovery. Moreover, drinking alcohol in excess may also cause swelling of damaged tissues and inflammation, and may have a negative impact in the immune, endocrine and circulatory systems. Finally, drinking alcohol reduces post-exercise muscle protein synthesis and its diuretic effects may prevent rehydration (5).
- Sports drinks seem to be the best rehydration option for athletes as they contain water, carbohydrate and electrolytes. Water + electrolyte products are also a good option, followed by plain old milk.
- Non-alcoholic or light beer may be enjoyed after training or competition in moderate quantities, and preferably paired with a source of sodium, such as electrolyte tablets. Another option is adding salt to beer (probably not very pleasant) or eating a hopefully healthy salted snack alongside the beverage.
- If you do wish to partake on beer drinking after your workout but are gluten intolerant, you might want to check out O’Brien or Hahn Ultra Crisp beers.
- Beer should not be considered a sports supplement nor be the main source of fluid replenishment as the cons of excess alcohol outweigh the benefits. Drink responsibly!
- Jiménez-Pavón D, Cervantes-Borunda MS, Díaz LE, Marcos A, Castillo MJ. Effects of a moderate intake of beer on markers of hydration after exercise in the heat: a crossover study. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2015;12.
- Wijnen AHC, Steennis J, Catoire M, Wardenaar FC, Mensink M. Post-Exercise Rehydration: Effect of Consumption of Beer with Varying Alcohol Content on Fluid Balance after Mild Dehydration. Frontiers in Nutrition. 2016;3.
- Food Standards Australia New Zealand (2014). AUSNUT 2011–13 – Australian Food Composition Database. Canberra: FSANZ. Available at www.foodstandards.gov.au
- Castro-Sepulveda M, Johannsen N, Astudillo S, Jorquera C, Álvarez C, Zbinden-Foncea H, et al. Effects of Beer, Non-Alcoholic Beer and Water Consumption before Exercise on Fluid and Electrolyte Homeostasis in Athletes. Nutrients. 2016;8(6).
- Burke, L. Clinical Sports Nutrition. [VitalSource]. Retrieved from https://bookshelf.vitalsource.com/#/books/9781743763124/