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  Last updated: 2/26/2021

A Performance Secret?

Are there any advantages to using beer to enhance training or athletic performance? This recent article suggests non alcoholic beer may have given the German athletes at the 2018 Olympics in South Korea a slight edge. What do we know about beer as a sports drink?

First let's look at alcohol. In the 1980s, there was short term flurry of interest in the use of regular beer (with alcohol) for marathon training as well as for a Caloric fluid replacement during an event. It was suggested that the alcohol provided more Calories (7 calories per gram of alcohol compared to 4 calories per gram for carbohydrates), and as it was metabolized via alternate energy pathways (compared to carbohydrates) it gave the athlete an extra energy boost.

That fad died out. Presumably it didn't provide a performance edge, and the negative effects of alcohol (dehydrating effect, impact on coordination) outweighed any energy benefits.

Alcohol decreases the body's production of anti-diuretic hormone which is important for fluid control (it works in the kidneys to facilitate water reabsorption as urine is formed). With less anti-diuretic hormone available, your body loses more fluid than normal. If you drink 200 ml of beer (5 % alcohol) you don't just urinate 200 ml of water per serving, you actually urinate 320 ml of water. That's a negative 120 ml in the fluid balance column. Link to reference.

Then there is alcohol's impact on coordination. In this study participants replaced their sweat losses with beer versus water. They drank an average of 1.6 liters over 1 hour post exercise. Now this was a fair amount of beer as a 12 ounce beer is about 1/3 of a liter. And it did produce the expected decrease in balance and co-ordination with a blood alcohol above the legal limit for driving (0.8%).

But as few as 2 beers will lead to a measurable loss of judgment, a decreased ability to rapidly track a moving target and a reduced multitasking ability (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Finally there are other potentially negative impacts of alcohol (I couldn't find any data on these) such as its negative impact on immuno-endocrine function, protein synthesis (thus impaired recovery from skeletal muscle injury), and a lower rate of muscle glycogen replacement.

So a pre ride, or rest stop beer, doesn't make any performance sense. And post ride? A single celebratory alcoholic beer is not going to be a big problem for any athlete. (as long as you take in additional fluids, and a few pretzels, to counteract the dehydrating effects).

How about non alcoholic beer, the beverage used by the German team? Taste fatigue with sports drinks occurs. Train frequently and you are soon looking for a new sports bar or new snack. Add in a cultural bias towards beer (the German factor) and non alcoholic beer seems an attractive option. Is it?

Pre race hydration with non alcoholic beer had no effect on performance. And did a better job than water alone in maintaining an athlete's electrolyte balance.

That suggested it would also make a good on-the-bike fluid/Calorie replacement, if you had an easy way to carry and refill your water bottle. The Calories are there - 130 per 12 ounces of non alcoholic beer which compares favorably to a sports drink such as Accelerade (120 Calories per 12 ounces) or Coke (150 Calories per ounce) and definitely better than Gatorade (which is focused on fluid replacement) at 36 Calories per 12 ounces.

And this study points out potential advantages with decreased post race blood work inflammatory numbers which, it implied, explained fewer upper respiratory tract infections. The only negatives I can think of might be GI side effects from the natural carbonation.

What are the take aways for me?


Are supplemented beers (performance beers) the new sports drink? An interesting idea I first ran across in 2021. Add electrolytes and berries to beer to aid in recovery - providing anti oxidants and minimizing the risk of dehydration. But is it true?? Can you have your alcohol AND the benefits of Gatorade or other sports recovery drinks? Runner's World seems to have joined the marketing team.

Although it nice to think you can have it all - a beer with benefits - the truth is closer to what you will read here.

All alcohol is dehydrating. A lower concentration of alcohol = less dehydrating. But you cannot counteract the dehydration effect unless you drink a few glasses of water with that beer.

To paraphrase: Just adding unusual "natural" ingredients and electrolytes doesn't tell us that it is bioavailable or what it actually does for the athlete or active individual?

Much of this is a marketing gimmick. Bottom line: If you want a beer, have a beer. And don't depend on secret additives to keep you from a scientifically sound post ride recovery program of food, electrolytes, and plain old water.

Questions on content or suggestions to improve this page are appreciated.

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