The question of whether an ice cold beer makes a good post-exercise recovery drink has been hotly debated since marathon runners started wearing short-shorts. Here at Bug Towers we’ve always erred on the side of caution and maintained that booze is a no-go and runners should stick to electrolytes.
But then the sun came out and we decided the divisive topic urgently needed revisiting. Is the odd post-run beer really so bad? Or could it in fact enhance your performance? (We're clutching at straws here, but stay with us...)
Arguably what you eat (and drink) after an intense run is just as important as the mileage. Running burns fuel and depletes your glycogen stores, which need replenishing fairly sharpish, so refuelling after your shuffle round the park is vital.
As any seasoned runner knows, the recipe for the perfect post-run recovery meal should include plenty of carbs and protein to restore and replenish your muscles, alongside water and electrolytes to restore lost salts.
But as any seasoned runner also knows, there really is nothing like an ice cold beer after a strenuous run to cool you down...
The good news is beer contains all of the essentials including lashings of carbs, a hint of electrolytes, and even a few sneaky plant-based nutrients from the hops, yeast, and barley, theoretically making it the perfect beverage for post-run sustenance.
‘Beer contains electrolytes, carbohydrates, alcohol and of course water - remember, a 5% beer is 95% water,’ says the New World Trading Beer Guru Kieran Hartley.
‘Therefore, a beer after a run or a workout is not as bad as you may think. The electrolytes and carbohydrates will help replace any you’ve lost. But you must not forget to factor in the calories; a regular bottled beer contains about 150 calories.’
There is also evidence that beer can effectively rehydrate thirsty runners.
'If you exercise hard for a prolonged period, especially in a warm environment, you lose a lot of sweat, that means you lose water and you lose salt. If you are going to recover effectively you have to replace both the water and the salt,' says Professor Ronald J Maughan, University of St Andrews, speaking at the 8th European Beer and Health Symposium.
'So, I am interested in how we do that after an exercise period. It is difficult if you’ve lost two or three litres of sweat to drink large volumes of plain water, large volumes of cola, tea, coffee, other fluids. So, beer definitely has a place in that recovery situation if it is a drink you like to consume.'
Combined with your favourite bar snacks, Professor Maughan argues that beer could be just the ticket. 'In terms of replacing the salt, the salt content in beer is quite low, but of course traditionally people consume salty snacks, whether this is chips, crisps, nuts or pretzels, with beer so if you combine those two you get a very effective recovery strategy after exercise.
'There are some significant studies that have been done in this area,' he adds. 'We do see that if we drink alcohol concentration within the range of normal beer we can effectively restore fluid balance quite effectively.'
Everything in moderation
The bad news is the alcoholic content that makes beer so irresistible can reverse these benefits and put you on the back foot, as alcohol can leave you dehydrated and potentially hinder recovery, so moderation is key.
‘The main concern is the alcohol,’ explains Hartley. ‘One or two beers will not undo your hard work, but if you begin to creep over three or more beers then it will begin to suppress your protein synthesis and testosterone production, which isn’t good for your workouts!’
'It is often said we should avoid alcohol because it is a diuretic, which is certainly true,' agrees Professor Maughan.
'If we drink concentrated alcohol solutions, we produce more urine than the volume of water we consume in that drink. But if we drink dilute solutions, we can effectively hydrate extremely well and we know that’s particularly true if we are slightly dehydrated. So, if it’s a hot day and you’ve been active, drinking beer will not stop you from getting rehydrated.'
Low calorie beers
The solution to post-exercise beer consumption could be in the type of ale you choose to swig after your run.
'We’ve published quite a few studies and a number of other people have done very similar studies and by and large the findings all agree. Dilute alcohol solutions are not harmful to hydration,' argues Professor Maughan.
'If we want a really effective hydration drink, I think we are looking for a dilute beer, a fairly weak beer but with added sodium and it is a challenge to find out how we can do that with something that retains taste.'
But we may have found the solution. CELIA Lager, a premium Czech craft lager that is lighter than most regular ales, comes in at 139 cal per bottle, making it a ‘healthier’ alternative to regular beers, and it's also suitable for vegans and coeliacs. Visit www.celialager.co.uk to try it for yourself.
Electrolytes and low-cal alcohol aside, everyone knows the key to a healthy and happy lifestyle is intrinsically linked to mindset. If you're calm, happy, and surrounded by supportive friends, you're considerably more likely to maintain good mental health. And where is the one place this is guaranteed to happen? That's right, the pub!
So next time you finish off a sweaty run with a swift pint down the Queen's Arms, don't beat yourself up for swigging on the good stuff. Remember, bonding with pals over a nice cold beer is good for your mental health, and you deserve it. Just try not to drink the bar dry.