Is Drinking a Beer After Running a Bad Idea?

Does beer after running help or hinder recovery? Read the full article to learn more!

Recently, a podcast listener reached out with a question: is beer actually a recovery beverage, or is that misleading marketing? So many events and running groups now provide beer after a marathon or other distance, and some beer brands even sponsor races and elite runners. Why do runners drink beer after a race, and is beer good for dehydration? This article will delve into the science around drinking beer after running, including how the beverage can impact recovery and performance.  

Importantly, this article will discuss the impact of beer on recovery. Most studies normalized beer as 4-5% ABV. Other alcoholic beverages such as cocktails and wine have higher alcohol content. The interactions of higher ABV beverages on recovery markers such as HRV, hydration status, and sleep may be different. 

Effects of alcohol on recovery

Several factors impact your body’s ability to repair and adapt after exercise. Sleep, cardiovascular responses such as HRV, glycogen resynthesis, and rehydration are all important for post-run recovery. So let’s dive more into the impacts on beer consumption with those recovery factors. 

As with any use of alcohol, the dose makes the poison. You may be able to have one beer without recovery impacts, as the literature reveals. However, if you consume several beers, you will likely notice an impact on your sleep, HRV, and overall recovery. 

Some individuals report a consistent and direct impact of alcohol on their sleep. Others may not notice any disruptions after one beer. It’s important to understand your own patterns and how alcohol impacts your sleep. If you notice even one beer causes sleep disruptions, then alcohol may not support adequate recovery for you individually.

HRV Response to Beer After Running

A 2022 randomized controlled trial published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health looked at the impact of a single serving of beer after moderate aerobic exercise. The sample size included 17 men and 15 women. All participants were physically active, habitually drank in moderation, had BMIs under 25, and had resting heart rates under 100 beats per minute. The study used a crossover design to compare blood pressure, heart rate, and heart rate variability (HRV) when drinking beer compared to water after 30 minutes of aerobic treadmill running. The researchers found that one serving (300 mL) of beer did not significantly alter HRV or cardiovascular measures of post-exercise recovery. 

Based on this study, one beer theoretically will not impact your autonomic nervous system and cardiovascular recovery after exercise. However, it is well established that heavy alcohol consumption does impact HRV. 

Beer and Glycogen Resynthesis 

Many runners claim beer is a recovery beverage because it contains carbohydrates. While beer is made from malts and barley, which contain carbs, it is not necessarily an ideal source of post-run carbohydrates. 

Large quantities of alcohol intake can impair glycogen resynthesis. As discussed in a seminal 2003 study in the Journal of Applied Physiology, glycogen storage is most affected by alcohol replaces carbohydrate intake. For example, if you fill yourself up on two pints of beer instead of eating enough carbohydrates after a run, your glycogen stores will not replenish as much. 

Likewise, beer does not contain significant amounts of protein, another key macronutrient for post-run recovery. If you rely on only beer for your post-run recovery intake, you are missing out on a key piece of recovery. 

After an intense training session, such as a long run or hard workout, it is recommended that you first consume carbohydrates and protein before having any beer. As discussed below, fluids with sodium should also be consumed before ingesting alcohol. Once you have refueled and rehydrated, then you can imbibe. 

Not sure how much protein and carbohydrates you should eat after a run? Reference this article on recovery nutrition.

Is beer good for dehydration? Understanding alcohol and dehydration

Will drinking a beer help you rehydrate after a run? After all, many races provide complimentary post-race beers. 

The body of research is clear on this interaction of beer and recovery: beer does not provide adequate post-exercise hydration. 

A 2016 double-blind, randomized controlled trial published in Nutrients compared beer, non-alcoholic beer, and water on fluid and electrolyte balance in athletes after 45-minutes of treadmill running. The athletes drank each beverage before treadmill running. Alcoholic beer negatively impacted electrolyte and fluid balance, including lowering serum sodium levels. Theoretically, alcoholic beer does not provide enough sodium to raise electrolytes levels after exercise. Interestingly, non-alcoholic beer did maintain better electrolyte levels during exercise

A 2019 study in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism had a similar conclusion. In this study, researchers found that sports drink (containing carbohydrates and sodium) promoted better fluid balance than a low-alcohol beer. This conclusion aligns with the above-cited 2021 review. 

Alcoholic beer simply does not provide enough sodium to optimize post-exercise rehydration. Sodium-containing sports drinks promote more cellular-level fluid retention after exercise. This effect allows fluid balance to return to normally more rapidly after exercise. While sodium can be added to beer, the 2021 review reported this approach lacked palatability. 

If you want a post-run beer, just know that you may want to sip on a sports drink to rehydrate fully. 

Impact of alcohol on performance 

Running after drinking alcohol just a few hours prior is not recommended. Acute alcohol consumption will cause performance impairments. Alcohol alters the release of certain neurotransmitters, such as GABA, leading to suppression of the central nervous system. Additionally, it also can reduce your power output, via the inhibition of calcium ions in the muscle contraction process. Alcohol is a diuretic and vasodilator, which has clear negative effects on thermoregulation and fluid balance. Metabolically, alcohol inhibits the normal changes in serum glucose (blood sugar) for substrate availability during aerobic exercise.

In short, consuming beer or other alcoholic beverages in the hours before a run has no benefits, only detriments. 

The next question is: how does chronic alcohol consumption impact performance? Chronic consumption includes having a beer in the day after running earlier in the day. Of course, if you are hungover, you will not perform your best the next day. But let’s look a bit more broadly, at how moderate beer consumption could affect your training. 

According to a 2021 review in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, chronic moderate beer consumption has minimal impacts on both aerobic and strength adaptations. (The NIH defines moderate beer consumption as no more than one 12-oz regular beer for women per day and no more than two per day for men.) However, these studies were relatively short-term (ten weeks); it is not understood if effects could occur on longer time horizons or if elite athletes would experience any different impacts.

As best as current research demonstrates, alcohol’s main effect on performance is related to its impact on recovery. If you consume alcohol in moderation and support your recovery with appropriate recovery measures, alcohol should not impair your adaptation and performance. If you drink enough that your sleep and ability to consume enough carbohydrates and protein post-run is affected, and you do that consistently enough, then your adaptation – and therefore performance – could suffer. 

What to drink after running: Alternatives to a post-run beer

As mentioned throughout this article, non-alcoholic beer may be better for post-exercise recovery than alcoholic beer. Non-alcoholic beers have advanced over the past few years, and taste significant better than they used to. 

In addition to its hydration benefits, non-alcoholic beer may offer antioxidants and polyphenols, without the detrimental effects that alcohol can have on inflammation. This article from Outside Run shares a registered dietitian’s detailing of the benefits of non-alcoholic beer. Notably though, non-alcoholic beer still does not contain enough protein or carbohydrates to constitute a post-run recovery meal. 

My favorite non-alcoholic beer – and a favorite of many of my athletes – is Athletic Brewing. Athletic Brewing offers multiple varieties, from non-alcholic IPAs to German-style lagers. (This article shares more options for non-alcoholic craft beers.)

Drinking beer after running, recapped

In summary, one beer after a run will not impair your recovery – especially if you also eat some carbohydrates and protein with it. However, beer itself is not a recovery beverage, as it does not provide ample sodium, carbohydrates, or protein. 

If you like beer, enjoy it in true moderation and rest assured your running will be okay. Be mindful of the alcohol content, as some craft beers contain two to three times the ABV of regular beer. If you feel your best with a sober lifestyle, embrace that. Abstaining from beer does not mean you are missing out on any special recovery benefits. 

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