Your New Post-Workout Recovery Drink… Beer?

Vices are bad, which might be why they’re called “vices” — the way I imagine it, our spongy wills are caught between our adamantine desires, slowly compressing with each turn of the crank.

But what if our vices weren’t actually vices at all? If our vices were virtues… well, we could actually feel good about succumbing to our low desires — without the voice of conscience nagging us about our weakness.

That’s why every so often there will be a new scientific study that comes out, saying, “X, previously thought to be unhealthy, actually has Y magic substance that cures ailment Z.” A miracle! You will live until you are 100 once you start drinking more red wine and eating chocolate and having at least one orgasm everyday.

Which brings us to today’s miracle substance, beer. Previously, beer was miraculous only for its taste (like water flowing straight from heaven) and for its effects (miracles seem possible if you drink enough of it.) In the last few years, scientists have discovered that beer has yet another miracle to offer us: Beer as the ultimate post-workout recovery drink!

This is Your Body on Beer
A couple of years ago, the New York Times reported on a study from the Technical University of Munich that reports on the on the effects of beer after exercise. (Their scientific nature and love of beer make Germans the ideal adjudicators of this subject!)

Marathon runners were told to drink two or three pints of non-alcoholic beer every day while training for a race. (Half were given the non-alcoholic beer, and half were given a beer-tasting placebo.)

The results: The runners drinking the non-alcoholic beer didn’t get sick as often, and their muscles and joints were less inflamed. Both effects can help runners recover from workouts faster, potentially making for a more effective training regimen.

The why: Unclear. Scientists believe it might be because of beer’s “rich bouquet of polyphenols, chemical substances found in many plants,” which can suppress viruses and boost the immune system. The carbohydrates in beer were also thought to benefit the carb-depleted runners post-workout.

Diuretic Effects in Beer?
The Munich study has apparently inspired one non-alcoholic beer brand to market their product toward endurance athletes.

But why make a non-alcoholic beer? Can’t real beer convey the same health benefits? The biggest downside to real beer is the diuretic effect of alcohol. Mary Ellen Camire, a University of Maine nutritionist, is quoted in a Huffington Post story about Erdinger Alkoholfrei, the non-alcoholic sports-drink-beer. She says non-alcoholic beer is the ideal choice: “a regular beer has alcohol and that would dehydrate you further.”

But some scientists disagree. Manuel Garzon, a professor at Granada University, studied the effects of beer post-exercise. He found a moderate amount of beer was more effective than water for rehydration. A rundown of the study in the Telegraph had this to say:

Previous studies have shown most alcoholic drinks have a diuretic effect – meaning they increase the amount of liquid lost by the body through urination.

Dr James Betts, an expert on nutrition and metabolism at Bath University, said a moderate amount of beer might be just as good as water at helping the body retain liquid, but that he doubted it could be any better.

Dr Betts said: “If you are dehydrated to start with following exercise, a beer, as opposed to a spirit, probably does not have a high enough concentration of alcohol to induce a diuretic effect.”

Well Dr. Betts, if you’re going to twist my arm, I guess I’ll drink a beer — but only because it’s healthy.

Then again, there are studies like this one, which says found that beers above 4% alcohol “tend to delay the recovery process.”

The science appears to be still hashing out the details re: beer after exercise. Just like eggs, beer might be good for you, or it might not. Regardless what scientists discover, however, the main consideration about this business is that beer feels good when you drink it. It makes you feel like you’re replenishing all your body needs, which is all that matters.