Working out is typically an invigorating, cathartic experience and after winding up and sweating your guts out, many enjoy winding down with a cold beer and a gym buddy or two.
So when headlines started circulating that a post-workout beer could be good for your gains, it brought to mind the same sorts of reactions we’ve seen when articles claim that spicy food burns fat or coffee helps with weight loss. “You mean my guilty pleasure is good for me?”
Let’s take a closer look.
Why Is Beer Meant to Be Good Post Workout?
As is often the case with exciting, bias-confirming ideas, most of the hype comes from one lone study — and this one wasn’t even published. While many outlets, including The Telegraph, reported one Manuel Garzon’s paper that found that the hydration effect of beer was better than that of water, the paper was never actually published and the author said that its conclusions were “taken wrong by journalists.”
One study that did get published in 2011 also got a lot of press for finding that the polyphenols in beer reduced post-workout inflammation, but that study was done on non-alcoholic beer.(1) One more that you might see cited here and there found that beverages with about 2 percent alcohol weren’t significantly worse for rehydration after exercise, though 4 percent and above did “tend to delay the recovery process.”(2) Other research has also found that if you lower alcohol content to around that level and add some sodium, it might help with rehydration.(3)
Finally, one crossover study published in 2015 in The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that one beer didn’t adversely affect hydration — when followed by as much water as participants wanted to drink.(4)
This is not a very convincing body of evidence.
[Learn more: The Surprising Benefits of Sodium for Athletes.]
Why It’s Probably Not True
Exercise damages the body. That’s the point: it puts tiny tears in the muscles, it depletes the body of electrolytes, it increases stress hormones like cortisol. Exercise is hard for a reason (lots of them, actually) and what it needs once it’s over is to recover properly, to rebuild broken down muscles, and to return to homeostasis.
Alcohol screws with that. For example, a 2014 study concluded that it interferes with protein synthesis and suppresses the anabolic response, and while that study did feed the athletes twelve standard drinks post workout, other research has also found medium consumption to impair skeletal muscle recovery and glycogen resynthesis.(5)(6)(7)(8)
But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should never, ever drink alcohol. In fact, some studies have suggested that if you keep your dose to half a gram of alcohol per kilogram of bodyweight — maybe three standard drinks for a 180-pound person — it’s unlikely to seriously impair recovery.(7) But does that mean drinking is useful for recovery? That it can be a secret sauce for the thirsty gym-goer? No.
Put simply, getting drunk after a workout will be worse for recovery than having one or two drinks. The same rule applies for drinking over a longer period of time: one study found that low doses of alcohol every day for three weeks straight caused a negligible 6.8 percent drop in testosterone, but high doses caused a drop of up to 40 percent and growth hormone dropped by about 70 percent.(9)
Sure, beer contains some carbs and a little potassium, but it doesn’t seem to be worth what it takes to break down the alcohol.
[Learn more in our complete article: How Much Alcohol Affects Strength Training?]
Low levels of alcohol won’t exactly undo your gains, especially if it’s flanked with a lot of water and nutrients, but it’s far from the optimal post workout drink. If truly maximizing your recovery is your priority, alcohol should be off the cards — it’s not improving anything. Ignore one-off studies and hearsay and do what makes your body feel better.
The best takeaway is that you might be able to have a couple of drinks after you work out, so long as you don’t get drunk. Combined with a lot of water and nutrients, it may not be the end of the world. How much this matters depends on how serious an athlete you are, but make no mistake: it’s not improving anything.
Featured image via Ermolaev Alexander/Shutterstock
1. Scherr J, et al. Nonalcoholic beer reduces inflammation and incidence of respiratory tract illness. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012 Jan;44(1):18-26.
2. Shirreffs SM, et al. Restoration of fluid balance after exercise-induced dehydration: effects of alcohol consumption. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1997 Oct;83(4):1152-8.
3. Desbrow B, et al. Beer as a sports drink? Manipulating beer’s ingredients to replace lost fluid. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2013 Dec;23(6):593-600.
4. Jiménez-Pavón D, et al. Effects of a moderate intake of beer on markers of hydration after exercise in the heat: a crossover study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015 Jun 6;12:26.
5. Parr EB, et al. Alcohol ingestion impairs maximal post-exercise rates of myofibrillar protein synthesis following a single bout of concurrent training. PLoS One. 2014 Feb 12;9(2):e88384.
6. Barnes MJ, et al. Post-exercise alcohol ingestion exacerbates eccentric-exercise induced losses in performance. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2010 Mar;108(5):1009-14.
7. Barnes MJ, et al. Alcohol: impact on sports performance and recovery in male athletes. Sports Med. 2014 Jul;44(7):909-19.
8. El-Sayed MS, et al. Interaction between alcohol and exercise: physiological and haematological implications. Sports Med. 2005;35(3):257-69.
9. Sierksma A, et al. Effect of moderate alcohol consumption on plasma dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate, testosterone, and estradiol levels in middle-aged men and postmenopausal women: a diet-controlled intervention study. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2004 May;28(5):780-5.