In the spirit of Oktoberfest and post-race beer gardens, we’re going to explore the nutritional topic of beer. Of course, we remind you that moderation and responsibility apply. As fitness professionals, we strive to help our clients make healthy choices, both nutritionally and physically. But when it comes to beer, what are we to say? Some evidence supports that a glass, or two, is beneficial for overall health. Other research leads us to believe that beer rehydrates just as well as water, making a post-run stop at the beer garden a justifiable splurge. For those who are gluten intolerant, recipes are being adapted so they can enjoy the libation without gastrointestinal worry. Let’s start with some beer basic before we try to swallow some of the performance variables.
A standard serving size of beer is 12 ounces. Typically, an average beer packs 153 calories, 13 grams of carbohydrate, and 1.6 grams of protein, with 4 to 6 percent alcohol (1). Beer also supplies 10% of the Daily Value for niacin. Though beer does offer a very small amount of nutritional value, as with most alcohol, it is essentially a source of empty calories. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans for alcohol consumption states “If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation—up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men—and only by adults of legal drinking age.”(2)
Benefits of consuming a light to moderate amount of alcohol, including beer, have been associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease and stroke (3-4). This cardioprotective effect of alcohol includes an increase in high density lipoprotein levels (HDL), a decrease in oxidation of low density lipoproteins (LDL), with a decrease in platelet aggregation and clot formation (3-4). Additionally, there is an associated reduction of blood pressure, stress, and even an improvement of insulin sensitivity with light to moderate alcohol consumption (4). Let’s boldly reiterate; we are addressing light to moderate consumption. Heavy consumption (three or more servings per day) does not improve these benefits, in fact, it negates them and brings a host of other health problems.
Brewing dates back more than 5,000 years (1). At various times throughout history it was safer to drink beer or wine versus the unsanitary aspects of the water supply. But does the fermented beverage provide better hydration recovery for the exerciser? Should you, physiologically, visit the beer garden after a marathon run? Surprisingly, beers with alcohol levels under 4% may be just as good for rehydration as other non-alcohol containing beverages, whereas beers with more than 4% alcohol can actually delay the recovery process (5-6).
Does beer, or alcohol, impact athletic performance? There are definitely some interesting studies on the topic (and some entertaining research methods), and most results point to the negative impacts associated with alcohol on performance (6). These include:
- decreased muscle protein synthesis
- loss of force in strenuous eccentric exercises
- impaired glycogen re-synthesis
- impaired balance
- increased reaction time
- decreased accuracy of fine motor skills
- increased fluid loss, via urine output and sweat
So if you are looking for a competitive edge, alcohol probably won’t supply you with what your body needs, neither pre nor post-workout.
Now for the challenge question, is beer gluten-free? Traditional beers that are brewed with barley, rye, or wheat are not gluten-free (7). Gluten still remains even after the brewing process (8). With the increasing rise of gluten-free diet followers, brewers have been experimenting with alternative grains and grasses, and are continuing to improve the flavor of the brew. The gluten-free beer niche continues to expand in specialty markets and even on menus to compliment orders gluten-free pizza.
Overall, beer consumed at a light to moderate level has been associated with potential health benefits. For athletes concerned about performance and a competitive edge, consuming beer or alcohol when trying to peak has more potential drawbacks than benefits. Wisely choose the beverage that will go into the post-race mug!
- Insel P., Ross D., McMahon K., et al. Nutrition. 4th ed. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett; 2011.
- US Department of Health and Human Services and US Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. 7th ed. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, December 2010.
- Sohrabvandi S., Mortazavian A., Rezaei K. Health-related aspect of beer: a review. International Journal of Food Properties. 2012;15(2):350-373.
- Agarwal D. Cardioprotective effects of light–moderate consumption of alcohol: a review of putative mechanisms. Alcohol and Alcoholism;2002:37(5):409-415.
- Shirreffs S., Maughan R. Restoration of fluid balance after exercise-induced dehydration: effects of alcohol consumption. Journal of Applied Physiology;1997;83(4):1152-1158.
- Vella L., Cameron-Smith D. "Nutrients. Alcohol, Athletic Performance and Recovery” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 27 July 2010. Web. 16 Oct. 2013. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257708/>.
- Adams S. "A Word on Gluten and Beer." Celiac.com. 12 July 2004. Web. 16 Oct. 2013. <http://www.celiac.com/articles/798/1/A-Word-on-Gluten-and-Beer/Page1.html>.
- Sheehan M., Evans E., Skerritt J. Improved methods for determination of beer haze protein derived from malt. 9th Australian Barley Technical Symposium, 1999.