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“Should I have a beer after my workout?” is a question we’ve all asked ourselves. The authors of “Sports Nutrition Handbook: Eat Smart. Be Healthy. Get on Top of Your Game.” break down alcohol and its effect on athlete performance below.
Alcohol is ever present in our world, even among athletes. Long ago, it was credited for improved performance in sports, and it even replaced water in some athletes’ mid-race fueling. But alcohol is not beneficial to physical performance. Numerous studies have shown that alcohol does not improve motor skills such as power, strength, speed, and endurance. What’s more, after even small amounts of alcohol are consumed, a person’s reaction time and ability to concentrate is reduced, and vision can become impaired. About 0.18 grams of alcohol per kilogram of body weight reduces dexterity after 25 minutes: That’s one typical 12-ounce beer for a 180-pound male. The American College of Sports Medicine has identified many effects of alcohol that significantly reduce the physical fitness of the body. Alcohol is known to do the following:
- Reduce psychomotor capacity (connection between brain and muscle)
- Cause problems in circulatory and respiratory functions and limit oxygen intake
- Weaken or damage the regulation of body temperature during prolonged exercise, especially in cold environments
- Have a toxic effect on the liver
- Cause hormonal dysfunctions and decrease testosterone concentration in plasma
- Prompt a change in the body’s fat metabolism
- Intensify epileptic disorders
Absorption and Digestion of Alcohol
Alcohol is immediately absorbed by the digestive tract and quickly enters all tissues of the body. This happens faster than alcohol can be metabolized. Therefore, its concentration in the blood and tissues initially increases because there is no place in the body where it can be stored, and the only way to reduce its concentration is oxidation. After one drink, the alcohol concentration in the blood reaches peak values in about 40 minutes. This time varies depending on a person’s genetic predisposition, the intensity of physical activity, and the presence of other foods in the digestive tract. A small amount (less than 10 percent) can be removed with the urine and through the lungs. Alcohol metabolism takes place in the liver, where it can be oxidized at a rate of 100 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per hour; a person weighing 175 pounds can oxidize 0.8 grams of alcohol per hour. A typical serving of beer or wine has about 14 grams of alcohol.
Q: Should I have a beer after my workout?
Especially among amateur athletes, beer is often celebrated as an ideal post-workout drink. But be careful: There are drawbacks to a beer even though it has benefits, too. Each half liter of beer consumed causes the loss of 700 milliliters of water. The alcohol in beer does not aid in recovery, but the hops and barley are indeed beneficial for the body, so a nonalcoholic beer can be a good post-workout drink. Keep in mind, though, that nonalcoholic beer is not completely free of alcohol: It may contain up to 0.5 percent alcohol.
Beer has a strong antioxidant offering. It contains antioxidant enzymes (for example, catalase, superoxide dismutase, and glutathione peroxidase) and many nonenzymatic compounds with antioxidant effects—mainly phenolic compounds. The hops, depending on the variety, cultivation method, and the conditions for drying and storage, might contain 2–8 percent polyphenols, a group of antioxidants. Other ingredients are beneficial, too. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, one can of unpasteurized beer—and many commercial beers are indeed unpasteurized—contains vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, folic acid, B12, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and zinc, although not necessarily in high quantity. Pasteurized beer has a lower vitamin and mineral content.
Athletes can afford to have a nonalcoholic beer from time to time after a workout; it will supplement liquids, electrolytes, and vitamins and will fight free radicals, which are abundant after physical activity. You’ll likely see beer—nonalcoholic or not—at events like marathons and 5Ks, in fact. They’re there, in part, for their beneficial ingredients.
A Snapshot of Alcohol Consumption in Sports
A study of athletes’ drinking habits uncovered trends in professional and amateurs around the world. Among elite Scottish squash players, the consumption of alcohol was about 12 grams per day, providing up to 3 percent of the daily energy demand. (One “standard” 12-ounce beer contains 14 grams of alcohol, as does a 5-ounce glass of wine.) Alcohol consumption was more prevalent in other sports. Australian soccer players consumed 20 grams of alcohol daily, or two standard drinks, according to Australian guidelines.
Alcohol consumption varies among sports. The greatest amount of alcohol consumption is found in soccer, rugby, cricket, football, and golf. About 80 percent of athletes in these sports drink alcohol. Compare those high rates of consumption to other sports: In cycling and tennis, 30 percent consume alcohol.