Men worldwide were ubiquitously in high spirits (ridiculous pun intended) over a Spanish study that showed that post exercise beer was better for hydration than plain water. Other than in the UK, where beer is almost a religion, the press and scientific community pretty much left this alone. The blog-o-sphere, however, went nuts (tangential pun intended), championing one small study as the most important science since the Dionysian era with subtle headlines such as “There is a God: Beer Hydrates Better Than Water (Seriously).” But, seriously, does it? Let’s take a critical look.
Professor Manuel Garzon, of Granada University, had a group of students to do strenuous exercise in temperatures of around 40ºC (104ºF). Half were given a pint of beer, while the others received the same volume of water. Conclusions showed those who drank beer hydrated “slightly better.”
While not exactly a testament for a pint it does put a kink in the puritanical argument that water is holy and all alcohol is the work of the devil. Also, as noted by some detractors in the scientific community, was that the study seemed a little sloppy, as perhaps the researchers spent a little too much time researching down at the pub to be bothered with dotting i’s and crossing t’s. But regardless of nitpicks a beer-positive was clear, and with more analysis it makes complete sense.
carl , this bud’s for you.
He added that he had long recommended barley drinks to professional sportsmen after exercise.
After sport is the key to all of this, especially vigorous sport in hot weather because it makes us sweat more. And sweat, as most of us know, contains body salts referred to as electrolytes. And beer has more of these than water. Furthermore, it has energy (kilocalories or just “calories” if you’re American) in a macronutrient ratio of mostly carbs, a little protein and virtually zero fat. Those of you well versed in the science behind athletic “recovery formulations” know that the above ratio is preferred for quick muscle recovery. This means that beer is closer to Recovery Formula than is water and, thus, it makes sense that it should rehydrate you better after sports.
In fact, a lot of things would probably beat plain water in a post-activity study because your nutrients needs are completely different then when you aren’t active or haven’t exercised–when water is almost always the best choice. Unfortunately for most of the “there is a God” crowd, it means that beer will beat water for hydration after playing football but it’s going to have the opposite effect if all you’re doing is watching football. Sad, I know, and I am sorry.
When you break it down beer has an excellent post-sport resume for quick recovery. Its ingredients—German law until recently—are simple: water, barley, hops, and yeast, all of which are quite healthy, containing electrolytes and a great phytonutrient profile along with the aforementioned macronutrient base. The fermentation process, which we know is how alcohol is made, also has positive effects such as making foods more bioavailable and enzymatically active.
Unfortunately, large American brands are an affront to traditional brewers and use rice as a base, along with various extracts and things sold off from the country’s over production of genetically modified corn and soy—meaning Michelob Ultra should not be your recovery drink of choice no matter how much a certain athlete hypes it.
To further tame the party limits on volume must be discussed. Garzon gave his subjects one pint, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 calories. The post-exercise hydration equation is all based around how quickly your body can put nutrients to work. In the first hour post exercise you will absorb nutrients much more rapidly because your system is depleted. This is why carbohydrates are preferred and fats, which digest very slowly, should be shunned (studies in the 90s showed a 4 to 1 ratio of carbs to protein, with little or no fat, was most effective). Anyway, what you need is energy that can be put to quick use. Your body can only turn around (digest and put to use) somewhere between 200-300 calories in a given hour. So anything more than 300 calories in the first hour (250 is a more accurate for most of us) will slow nutrient absorption and reduce the effectiveness. This means one beer, or maybe two smaller beers, are the maximum you can consume for a net positive recovery effect.
I’ve yet to discuss alcohol, which is a diuretic, meaning that it would naturally hurt hydration. But because beer is mainly water if you follow the above volume limits it’s not much of a factor and if you’re interested in nitpicking there are better options available.
While not as effective as Recovery Formula, a pint of real beer after hard exercise will outperform water, and many other things, for recovery. Cheers.
pic: ben and i, clearly worried about micronutrient replenishment and enzymatic activity somewhere around hour six of a ride.