Sometimes a post- run or ride beer just hits the spot. You may have heard that 1 drink/day for females and 2 drinks/day for males is generally acceptable, assuming 1 drink = 12 oz beer of ~5%ABV, 5 oz of wine, or 1.5 oz of 80 proof liquor. Various factors affect the metabolism of alcohol and determine how you also perceive its effects. Having food in your stomach will slow the speed at which alcohol enters the bloodstream and decreases the “buzzed” feeling (alcohol is absorbed more slowly by the stomach, and more rapidly by the small intestines). You will likely feel the effect of alcohol more quickly if you don’t have food with your drink, if you don’t drink often, and if you are smaller. How much will it really affect your training or recovery?
Acute studies indicate that when post-exercise rehydration is of concern, drinks containing <4% ABV appear to be more supportive of hydration and the addition of sodium to the beverage or consuming salty food with the drink may help. Beer also contains ~11g carbohydrate per 12oz and, while it also contains small amounts of sodium and potassium, beer >4% ABV can have a diuretic effect.
Additionally, chronic studies indicate that fitness, strength, power, and body composition adaptations to [HIIT] training seem to be unaffected with moderate alcohol beer consumption (1-2 drinks per day, 5.4% ABV for 10 weeks). However, research has suggested that high amounts of beer (>2 per day) can impair muscle protein synthesis, possibly negatively influencing body composition.
Non-alcoholic beer has also become more popular and one study shows intakes of 1-1.15 L of NA beer taken for a 5 week period around a marathon race decreased incidence of upper respiratory tract infection and reduced post-race inflammation, attributed to the antioxidant and antiinflammatory properties of the polyphenols found in the NA beer. It is not clear, however, if the same beverage containing varying amounts of alcohol would have a similar benefit or more drawbacks.
Ultimately, context matters. Alcohol, regardless of the type, can impair the recovery process by decreasing glycogen replacement in the absence of carbohydrate, can delay rehydration, and decrease muscle repair and synthesis. Long term excessive alcohol consumption can interrupt normal sleep patterns, lead to weight gain, and increase injury risk.
Our suggestion: When possible, choose a light beer ~ 2-4% ABV and consume a salty carbohydrate-based snack or add an electrolyte drink containing sodium. Or try one of the many NA versions available, even beer lovers approve! .