Four Findings From a Systematic Review About Beer and Exercise
After a grueling sports match or a brutal workout, there's often nothing more refreshing than a nice cold beer... But what about the drink's intoxicating effects? When the human body requires recovery after strenuous exercise, will downing a beer actually backfire?
Patrick B. Wilson, an associate professor in exercise science at Old Dominion University, and Jaison Wynne, a PhD student in the Department of Human Movement Sciences at Old Dominion explored this, and a variety of other questions in the first systematic review of beer's effects on exercise performance, recovery, and adaptation. Here are four key takeaways:
1. Athletes are much more likely than non-athletes to drink beer. Numerous surveys suggest that athletes from the collegiate level to the elite level are more likely to drink beer than non-athletes. This seems counterintuitive, as one might think that people who need their bodies to operate at peak performance would drink less. Not so.
2. Beer isn't great for hydration after exercise. Wynne and Wilson found two studies where the researchers asked subjects to strenuously exercise, then drink beer. The exercise prompted the participants to profusely sweat, leading to an average 2% reduction in body mass from water loss. Afterwards, the researchers gave subjects water, nonalcoholic beer, ~5% alcohol beer, or a sports drink to replace all the fluids they lost. Subjects given beer retained fewer fluids, urinated more, and had worsened fluid balance a couple hours after exercise. These differences disappeared after a few more hours, however.
3. Moderate drinking the night before a competition likely won't impair performance. A study that had athletes consume between zero and six beers the night before a test of muscle strength and endurance found that drinking two beers or less did not impact performance. However, drinking four or more was detrimental.
4. Regular drinking doesn't seem to hinder athletic gains over many weeks of exercise. In one study, subjects were prescribed ten weeks of high-intensity interval training along with drinking either vodka, water, or beer after their workouts. There was no difference in physical outcomes between any of the groups – they all got fitter to the same degree. In another study, participants took part in a vigorous aerobic exercise program while drinking six 750-mL bottles per week of either 0.9% or 5.0% beer. Both groups' cardiorespiratory fitness increased by the same amount, although the low-alcohol beer group enjoyed other metabolic benefits that the high-alcohol group did not, such as lower blood pressure and lower blood lipid levels.
Overall, Wilson and Wynne found that moderate beer consumption after exercise was generally harmless.
"Chronic changes in body composition, as well as muscle performance, adaptation, and recovery, seem largely unaffected by moderate beer consumption," they wrote.
Source: Wynne JL, Wilson PB. Got Beer? A Systematic Review of Beer and Exercise. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2021 Jul 20:1-13. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.2021-0064. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34284350.