The Craft Beer and Exercise Phenomenon

Trendy workout drinks and supplements have always claimed to be the missing ingredient of your workout routine. Advertisements swear that if you sip a sports drink or sprinkle the right  supplement, you can run faster and lift heavier. But today’s exercise mavens are brewing up a new twist on workout nutrition — one that is drawing mixed opinions.

How about cracking a cold one while you break a sweat?

That’s right, beer has officially made it into the exercise world. Beer races, beer cycling, and even beer yoga are popping up around the country. Mostly in trendy urban centers, brew lovers are mixing their workouts with their favorite brews.

While some health experts say that the nutritional content of beer may actually do wonders for your body post-workout, others are warning that too much could be detrimental. As with everything sacred and yummy, the effects of beer drinking are not clean cut.

So, is sipping an IPA after a 5K actually a healthy option, or is it a testament to unhealthy workout practices?

Hustle And Chug: Why Americans Are Chasing Their Workouts With Beer

Anyone who has been at the finish line of a road race is familiar with the post-run beer tent. Sweaty runners stride victoriously through the end of the race, promptly moving to sip beer out of a branded plastic cup. While this practice has been a staple for decades, it’s taking on a new form to join the ranks of other fitness trends.

The rise of beer and exercise could very well be tied to the rise of beer itself. The United States is like in a golden age of beer. In fact, the Brewers Association reported 4,144 breweries in the country as of December 2015. This is the highest number of brewing operations that have been operating simultaneously in U.S. history.

This beer takeover also pairs with a dip in exercise habits. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that only 21.7% of adults are getting the recommended amount of aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise. Perhaps the introduction of beer into fitness has given sedentary Americans the boost they need to create healthier habits. Experts are citing multiple possibilities for this boozy trend:

 

  • Drinkers Move: A 2001 study published by the National Institutes of Health found that people who qualified as moderate drinkers (consuming one drink per day) were twice as likely to exercise as people who don’t drink at all. So, maybe active people and beer lovers are simply the same people.
  • Motivation: The promise of a beer at the end of your workout may be more enticing that a protein shake. Exercisers may also use their workout to justify the extra calories, seeing the moments after a workout as prime time to indulge.
  • Keep The Buzz: Some people may drink alcohol after a workout to retain the elevated feeling that comes with a satisfying sweat. J. Leigh Leasure, professor and director of the neuroscience lab at the University of Houston told The New York Times that people turn to beer, wine, or a cocktail to keep this buzz going.
  • Celebration: Many people drink beer to bond with their sports team or celebrate a workout with their fitness group. A study published in Psychological Science found that drinking moderately in groups actually eases social bonding and makes members of the group smile more. Beer drinkers can cheers to that.

 

With many possible motivations, beer drinking might just be the key to keeping your New Year’s resolution. Mike Zamzow, brewmaster and owner of Bull Falls Brewery told CNN that his brewery will be hosting a “Butts and Beers” class. Participants get a beer after their workout, a reward he says will foster community and commitment.

“There may be some who come to the class who figure out they’re not cut out for this, but when they get into the taproom, their classmates will encourage them to stick with it,” Zamzow said in a statement. “That wouldn’t happen with a regular class when you typically get done with your workout and then get right into your car.”

Rather, you complete your workout and join the others in your class for a pint. By building these relationships, you might feel extra obligation to attend next week’s class. After all, you wouldn’t want to bail on your friends, would you?

The Health Argument For Exercise And Beer

We know that people want to drink beer after they work out, but should they? Many experts argue that, yes, drinking beer in moderation can be beneficial for athletes and exercise enthusiasts. Certain types of beers can help with hydration and offer a multitude of vitamins for the body.

A study at Granada University in Spain found that athletes who drank beer after exercising were slightly more hydrated than those who only drank water. The key is to drink the right beer. Another study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise found that lowering alcohol levels and adding salt boosts the electrolytes in beer, making it a rehydrating option.

“A properly formulated beer beverage is likely to do you no more harm than you are likely to get from a sports drink,” the lead researcher of the study said, according to craftbeer.com. “In fact, it probably is likely to do you more good, because it’s got a lot of these sort of natural compounds, like polyphenols, that are actually good for your health.”

The compounds in hops and the high water volume of beer may also lower your risk of kidney stones. It also contains folate, vitamin B6, B12, and other vitamins, especially when the beer has a high malt content. Adding to this, drinking about one beer per day can lower bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol, decrease your risk of Type 2 Diabetes, and prevent gallstones.  

And of course, if beer happens to be your motivation to attend your workout, you might exercise more. In this case, your beer belly might actually look like six pack abs.

Craving A Post-Run Brew? Keep It Lite

If you are totally sold on chasing your workout with a pint, it’s important to do so in moderation. Those who condone drinking beer after your workout are not saying you should slam back a six pack. Excessive alcohol consumption can actually slow down protein synthesis and muscle growth, making your entire workout less effective.

It’s also important to note that drinking too much alcohol can dehydrate you, so beer should not replace water during or after your exercise routine.

“It might be ‘natural’ for folks to think that beer would be a good recovery drink since it contains electrolytes and carbs,” Michele Olson, PhD, exercise physiologist at Auburn University, said in a statement to Health. “However, after exercise we need to rehydrate, and alcohol can be dehydrating.”

The key is to choose a lite beer, meaning one with lower alcohol content, and only drink one or two. You should also drink plenty of water and eat a meal full of protein and carbs to nourish your body post-exercise. As long as you stick to these rules, you should be set.

“Based on my own experience, after a hard ride, if I drink an American pale ale with about a five percent ABV, I think it replenishes my muscles better than a meal,” Zorba Proteau, a Colorado brewer and mountain biker said in a statement to craftbeer.com. “But that benefit quickly diminishes if I drink more than one beer.”

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. Exercise physiologist Laura Williams writes in Thrillist that those training for high-level athletic competitions would be better off staying away from a bubbly brew after their workouts. This is especially true for bodybuilders and athletes who rely on quick recovery between intense athletic performances. A beer might just slow muscle recovery and actually do more harm than good.

But for those of us who work out to stay healthy and in shape, a brew will likely do no harm.

“On the whole, and especially if you exercise, science would advise that one or two beers is fine,” Kamal Patel, nutrition researcher, writes in Men’s Health. “In other words, unless you have a habit of binge drinking, you’ll be okay. Current evidence suggests that if the occasional beer has an effect on your gains, positive or negative, this effect is small—small enough that if a refreshing pint of your favorite beer is your way to unwind after a hard workout, then you can drink without guilt.”

Cheers to that.

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