How Much Beer is Too Much Beer | Alcohol and Sports Recovery

by | May 27, 2024 | Sports, Bike, Nutrition, Run, Running Training Insights, Training, Training, Training Insights

How much is that post run or ride beer really affecting our ability to recover properly, if at all?

Sipping on a cold draught after finally crossing the finish line of that 100 mile gravel race or simply to cap off another good weekly group run is another reason for many of us why we love our sport. A good beer can be so refreshing after a big race or solid exercise session and there is certainly a strong communal and social component to sharing a drink with friends, or strangers that are soon-to-be friends. What could be the problem then with a post-exercise beer? Well, it depends on how seriously you want to be taking your recovery.

It may have crossed your mind that alcohol, which has some well known negative side effects that are the catalyst for many great stories, might not be the ideal recovery drink to be had after the hard work you’ve put into increasing your fitness. The questions, is it a case of any beer (or other alcohol of choice) at all is too much, or does drinking in moderation avoid the potential negative effects of the beverage? That is what we are going to find out.

Beer And Its Effect On Sports Recovery
Few drinks refresh quite like a cold draught. (c) Pexels / Bohle Media

How might beer harm our recovery

In order for our training to be effective our bodies need to recover from and make adaptations to the load that we put on them so that we can be stronger, fitter, faster next time around.

According to a study done by Evelyn Parr et al. in 2014, high doses of alcohol post-exercise (even alongside protein intake) can impair muscle protein synthesis which will compromise your body’s recovery and ability to make adaptations to your training. This is one strike against the post-run (or cycle) beer, or other alcoholic drink.

The athletes in this study were made to consume a fairly large dose of alcohol, 1.5g per kilogram of body mass (roughly 12 units). This is much higher than the average person is likely to consume in moderation after an afternoon run or cycle but is not an unreasonable amount for the truly dedicated drinkers among us to put away after the group ride.

Rebeca Salamanca and Luis Vargas concluded in their 2014 study that post-exercise rehydration with ±4.6% alc beer had a negative effect on fluid retention, reaction time, and balance, relative to consuming water or a low alc. beer option. This is partly due to beer being a diuretic (increases urine excretion) which works against the rehydrating process. 

Are there any benefits to having a beer after exercise

It isn’t all doom and gloom from our beloved lagers though. These are some upsides to cracking a cold one after a tough session on the road or trails. Ghiselli et al (2000) found that drinking beer increased one’s plasma antioxidant capacity. This is considered a positive health effect that may have benefits for performance and recovery.

Interestingly, this antioxidant effect is more prevalent with higher alcohol content beers (> 4.6%). Thus low alcohol beer has a smaller positive effect in this regard but on the contrary is not as harmful on the aforementioned downsides as higher alcohol beers.

Beer And Its Effect On Sports Recovery
Some carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores and an antioxidant boost, maybe a couple beers aren’t all that bad after a big ride? (c) sani2c / Kelvin Trautman

How do we avoid the downsides

The negative effects of a couple beers post-exercise are not catastrophic. They aren’t about to derail your training regime and undo all your hard work, unless you are regularly racking up a really hefty tab at the bar.

By simply limiting your consumption to 1 or 2 units post-session you’re going to be doing very little (if any harm) to your exercise gains. By sipping on a low alcohol brew you’ll be further reducing those potential downsides but maybe missing out on some antioxidant benefits, but that’s nothing a handful of berries or a banana won’t cover for though.

To really understand the effects of alcohol on our recovery, more studies will need to be done on bigger populations and with a greater range of intake volumes but logically we can see that any alcohol is not going to be beneficial in the long run. Therefore it is reasonable to say that limiting our consumption should have a net positive effect.

So how much is too much beer? For the average guy or girl who enjoys one or two cold ones after a trail run or group ride, you’re not likely to be doing yourself much harm. Just make sure to be getting your protein in as well as some water alongside the beers to rehydrate effectively and give the body the building blocks it needs for a comprehensive recovery.

Non alcoholic alternatives 

If you’re wanting to cut down on your alcohol or beer consumption post-ride or run, here are some alternative options for you next order at the bar:

  • Fresh fruit juice of your liking will deliver sugars to replace your glycogen stores.
  • Kombucha can offer a gut health boost.
  • Chocolate milkshake or a smoothie, known for their good doses of sugars and proteins to kick start recovery.
  • Or a tasty non alcoholic beer of which you can now find a wide range to suit your palate!

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