Opinion | Beer can positively affect runners

By Emily O'Neil, Staff Columnist

Surprise! Drinking beer may actually have positive effects for training runners. 

Runners love to run, but they also love to drink beer. It’s an interesting, albeit seemingly oxymoronic, thing, but runners love their post-finish line beers. There is mixed debate on whether alcohol is okay to drink while training. However, most researchers agree to skip the strong spirits and opt for beer or wine instead. 

Runners are very particular about what they put into their bodies, especially while training for a race. New research compiled on the healthier aspects of drinking shows runners and other athletes that they should not feel guilty about drinking while in training.

As I have seen from family members, training intensely for a race involves your whole body. My brother was a collegiate track and field athlete, and my aunt and uncle are avid runners who usually train for some sort of race throughout the year. Recently, my aunt and uncle got into nonalcoholic beer, which has similar positive effects to alcoholic beer. 

Research finds that beer can serve as an excellent pre-run brew. Nonalcoholic beer can balance your electrolytes because of the high sodium content. A 2009 study found that runners that drank around 23 ounces of nonalcoholic beer 45 minutes before running on the treadmill maintained electrolyte homeostasis better than those who drank an equal amount of water. Another study published in 2012 found that marathon runners who drank 1.5 liters of nonalcoholic beer a day had a decreased risk of upper respiratory infections and their white blood cell activity decreased by 20%, which suggests a decrease in inflammation. 

The polyphenol content in beer, both nonalcoholic and alcoholic, helps with this decrease in inflammation, reduces risks of diabetes and cardiovascular illness and helps prevent colds and viruses. The positive benefits of polyphenols occur when beer is consumed in moderation. Polyphenols, found in plants, are natural chemicals with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. 

Beer contains overlooked B vitamins, including folate, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, niacin, riboflavin and vitamin B12. Gut health is imperative for runners to reduce GI distress and boost immune functions. As a fermented beverage, beer helps improve your gut health, having the ability to benefit and grow healthy gut bacteria. 

Beer is also a stress reliever and can help improve sleep. It can reduce tension, stiffness and alleviate soreness thanks to the lactoflavin and nicotinic acid found in beer — both of which help to boost sleep. 

Although it can have benefits, beer is not a health drink, and most runners do not see it as one. Runners work extremely hard and should relax, kick back and drink a beer if they want to — just in moderation.

Moderation is key to sustaining the health benefits of alcohol and your training. Everyone’s alcohol tolerance varies depending on how often you drink, your body type and your sex. Sports nutritionists recommend that women have one alcoholic drink per day and two for men.

Morgyn Clair, a registered dietitian nutritionist, said, “During a long run in particular, the body uses up most of its stores of glycogen, which are essentially just saved-up carbohydrates the body can use for energy.” 

The main components of beer originate as carbohydrates, including grains, barley and starch. However, remember that the amount of carbohydrates depends on the type of beer and the fermentation process they undergo. The amount of good carbohydrates you have in your body is only effective with moderate consumption

The carbohydrates found in beer help runners with refueling and recovery, as there is also a small amount of protein present that aids in the recovery process. Refueling and recovery have always been the most important parts of training from my experience.

Beer contains carbohydrates that can replace these stores of glycogen after exercise. Clair recommends pairing one large beer with one large water to avoid any risk of dehydration. However, some believe that beer can serve as a decent rehydrator, as most American beers are 90% water with an alcohol by volume (ABV) of about 4.6.

I’m not sure that any alcoholic drink is a rehydrator, but I will let you decide that for yourself.

While drinking can be fun, ensuring you do it properly is important if you do not want to inhibit your training. Make sure you don’t forget to eat — foods high in carbs and protein are recommended to help recovery, and drink plenty of water before and during drinking to combat any dehydration effects of alcohol. If you are worried about the calorie effects of beer, experts recommend sticking to lighter beers. The higher the ABV, the more calories in the brew. To estimate the number of calories, multiply the ABV by the serving size in ounces by 2.5. 

Training for a race is an intense experience that puts a great toll on your entire body. A major win for the running community is that it is not massively detrimental to drink, in moderation, when going out with friends or relaxing after a long week. 

Runners in training do not need to give up their entire way of life to compete in a race. Moderating your social life is important, but receiving the support of those around you is a necessity when training continuously for months on end.

Emily O’Neil writes primarily about societal issues, politics and campus life. Write to her at [email protected].