Can you drink a beer after your workout during COVID-19?
Can you drink a beer after your workout during COVID-19?
The sales of alcohol on online platforms is going up in several countries around the world (1) and personally I do enjoy a beer after my run or High Intensity Repeat Training (HIRT). I was however born in Belgium and we have without a doubt some of the best beers in the world so maybe I am biased. And maybe not everyone can relate, but for those of us who do, the effect is real: after working out on a hot day beer tastes like a drink of the gods.
I decided to do some research to check if beer is really a good alternative for more traditional sports drinks, water or that cold glass of chocolate milk. As recently there has been some discussion that drinking chocolate milk after a hard workout is a great way to help you recover.

Logically, you'd expect water to be the beverage you want most. But I do know quite a few people who long for that beer. Especially after long endurance efforts. Why is this? Well, it's partly psychological: If you already enjoy a beer from time to time, you probably associate beer with happy occasions. And finishing a hard race, workout or run presents a fantastic opportunity to celebrate. During these lock down times that beer somehow reminds you of happy times.

But there's even more to it. In fact, there's a scientific reason why you prefer it over water. A 2016 study from the Monell Chemical Sciences Center in Philadelphia (2) found that cold and carbonated beverages quench your thirst more effectively than flat, room-temperature beverages. So when choosing between that lukewarm bottle of water and that cold pint the choice is made fast.
The reason is that these two qualities, cold and carbonated, combine to make your body aware that you're filling it with liquids, says the study's co-author, Paul Breslin, Ph.D. Your 37-degree stomach goes on a high alert when you fill it with a 5-degree beverage. And carbon dioxide—the source of beer's bubbles—adds a biting sensation, which causes harmless irritation as it passes the tissues in your mouth and throat. "That's a hyper-signal that you're filling up your stomach," says Breslin.

But could a real, alcoholic brew really be a viable workout recovery drink?

The paradox here is that beer is actually less hydrating than water. It contains carbohydrates, which displace a small amount of H2O, and alcohol, which acts as a diuretic. But the combination of ice-cold temps and effervescent bubbles make it indeed feel like the ultimate thirst-quencher. This is especially true for lagers, which are highly carbonated and designed to be served super cold.

A 2014 research paper (3) is however clear. They "conclude that alcohol ingestion suppresses the anabolic response in skeletal muscle and may therefore impair recovery and adaptation to training and/or subsequent performance". There was some hope in a 2014 academic report (4) that notes that alcohol can inhibit muscle growth and recovery, but at levels lower than 1 gram of booze per 2 kg of body weight, no such effects are likely. A standard 5-percent beer delivers about 14 grams of alcohol per 33-cl serving, so a 80-kg person can handle nearly 3.5 cans of beer before recovery suffers. But this study was later retracted so we have basically no real evidence to justify that beer. The general consensus seems to be it does impact recovery.

More important, when we look at binge drinking, 4 or 5 drinks or more, it is clear that this can also disrupt the body's "ability to mount an adequate immune response to a stressful situation, such as impeding a healthy response to the coronavirus (5). So in this study the verdict is that 1-2 drinks/day would be ok.

So the overall conclusion is not really black and white but basically comes down to this. You can dink 1-2 beers/day related to not impacting your defence for COVID-19 but when you take intensive sport activities into account it is a clear no. It does seem that those sport beverages have a role to play when working out. They contain "carbohydrates and electrolytes to help maintain blood glucose concentration, provide fuel for muscles, and decrease the risk of dehydration and hyponatremia". (6) Maybe you can still alternate with that chocolate drink but beer simply doesn't seem to be a good idea.

What needs further investigation is alcohol free alternatives which do not have the diuretic or immune impacting effects and also do not impact the immune system. At least as far as I know. So it not only feels like you are quenching your thirst, your body is indeed also hydrated in a more optimal way. I think. Need to do some more research. Skol!


Note: Anyone with medical problems of any nature should see a doctor before starting a diet or an exercise program. Even if you have no health problems known to you, it is advisable to consult your doctor before making major changes in your lifestyle.

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Founder and inspirational leader in G-Lab. The founder of the Gladiator Race — the most extreme obstacle race in Russia (11 races, 10 000 participants). Crossfit level 1 coach. Karathe and Muay Thai awards winner. Australian amateur football championship participant. A lifelong athlete since 8 years old.
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Head of content in G-Lab. Co-founder and CMO of Gladiator Race — the most extreme obstacle race in Russia (11 races, 10 000 participants). An obstacle race blog founder.
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