Far be it for me to suggest that people resort to a good ol’ beer when trying to replenish their fluid and hydration levels after exercise, I mean who’d want to do that hey gents?! Joking aside though, I am most definitely NOT saying that a beer is the way forward (especially not in under 18’s) for people here, but what I am saying is that new research published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism has elucidated potential rehydration properties of beer.
Fluid loss through exercise
Hydration is one of the most commonly overlooked elements of health, exercise and performance optimisation. Sweat loss when exercising usually exceeds fluid intake, resulting in hypohydration (low fluid levels in the body) and eventually dehydration. Hypohydration is known to significantly hinder performance and perceived level of fatigue making fluid management integral to performance. A person must try to avoid a fluid loss of greater than 2% body mass, and ways to minimise this are almost solely down to fluid intake, but also electrolyte balance too. The term ‘electrolyte’ refers to sodium, iodine, potassium and calcium, the minerals we mainly lose through sweating (although amounts of each vary per individual). The regular isotonic drinks we consume contain optimal ratios of electrolytes and fluid, making them ideal for rehydration after exercise. So are researchers seriously considering beer as a possible alternative to the regular isotonic beverages on the market?
Is beer actually any good for rehydration?
No not really, but this is all because of the alcohol content and relative lack of electrolytes per serving. However, as many of you already know there are low/no alcohol beers available too, this meets the specifications for optimal rehydration a little bitter…pardon me, I mean better than regular beer. Beer has become synonymous to most sports in the sense that it is usually the first tipple a lot of amateur AND professional athletes will turn to after physical activity. This is thought to be partly because of the social aspect, but also due to the electrolyte craving many have after exercise. Beer is often consumed in large quantities after exercise, but until the study by Desbrow, Murray & Leveritt, little was known of its capacity to replace fluid losses.
Beer manipulation may improve its benefit
The EZ Fuel’s, High 5’s, Science in Sport’s, Powerbar’s, and the Lucozade’s of this world may not be best pleased with this research, but the truth is that they have little to worry about…the rehydration capability of a standard beer is countered through the diuretic effect of alcohol. This being said though, the addition of sodium to non-alcoholic beers may deliver a beverage that is 1.) desirable after exercise, 2.) great for encouraging social harmony after sport, and 3.) good at providing all the key ingredients needed for optimal rehydration. Researchers found that the removal of alcohol (i.e. no more than 1% or 2% alcohol) and the addition of sodium made beer a beverage of choice for many sports people! A beer containing 4% alcohol significantly slowed recovery and rehydration capacity, whilst concomitantly increasing fluid losses via urination.
Researchers claimed that a beer containing low alcohol, and elevated sodium concentration resulted in significantly greater post exercise fluid repletion and retention compared to drinking regular beers. They found that reducing the alcohol content of beer alone had a significant positive impact on overall fluid balance, whilst the careful addition of sodium improved this further still. It is worth noting that this study only looked at 6 participants in total, which by research project standards is dismally low meaning the validity of the study is compromised somewhat! What I don’t understand is how out of all of the research projects available, how on earth a study offering free beer only manages to get 6 men willing to participate!? For me this is the real question that needs answering!
Desbrow, B., Murray, D and Leveritt, M. (2013). Beer as a sports drink? Manipulating beer’s ingredients to replace lost fluid. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. Human Kinetics, Inc. 23: 593-600