Beer- The future of Recovery Drinks?

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Despite all the recovery and health-based foods and drinks on the market today, there appears to be a new fad exploding onto the performance-driven market.  Gatorade, Powerade, Red-Bull, and Muscle Milk should watch out, because Beer is making a name for itself as an effective recovery drink. 

There may be some science behind beer being an aid to recovery after sporting events, but we need to be very careful in branding anything as "recovery" or "performance" related.

History


Ever since Gatorade was developed at the University of Florida, there has been an explosion of exercise and recovery drinks and foods for everyone who exercises. Originally, a researcher noted that while athletes were drinking water, their sweat was a mixture of mostly water, salts (electrolytes), and Urea (a toxin produced by the body).

Simply put, the first batch was the actual sweat of athletes with the urea removed and lemon juice added.  As you can imagine, it tasted awful.  The next batch was synthetic, not actually using sweat, but instead replacing the actual bodies electrolytes (sodium, potassium and phosphate) and also include sugars to replace the calories that are spent during exercise.

There is research as far back as this original formula on Gatorade's website that show increases in exercise performance.  Florida's football team even credited part of their endurance during their Orange Bowl performance to their new sports drink.

The perfect exercise drink is one that perfectly replaces what what leaves your body during exercise.  Most importantly- water, electrolytes, and calories (sugar) in the right amount.

Present Day

Ever since The Florida Gator's football team credited their orange bowl victory to their exercise drink, there has been an explosion of copy-cats and new formulas that promise the public the "perfect exercise drink" or "perfect recovery drink".  First, you have to distinguish the two.

The perfect exercise drink would be one that replaces exactly what is lost during exercise in the right proportions.  It maintains homeostasis, or the internal environment in the body.  For every person, and every activity, the "perfect" exercise drink would change, because different people sweat more, burn more calories, or lose more electrolytes through sweat.

The perfect recovery drink's primary function, on the other hand, is to help someone rebuild and restore what was lost during the exercise.  Usually, this means mainly replacing the carbohydrates (sugars) and Protiens (for muscle repair).  Additional recovery components could also include water, vitamins, minerals.

Chocolate milk has become a recovery drink favorite for many.  It contains water, carbs, protien, and vitamins.  However, this is not magic either.  It has a 3 to 1 ratio of carbs to protiens, and because of this, it is viewed as a good recovery drink.  The truth is, there are many foods/drinks with this same 3 to 1 ratio.   

Now, lets look at Beer.  Its pretty much got three substances that will affect your recovery- water, carbs, and alcohol.  Removing the alcohol (which plays no role in helping recovery) leaves you with two of the ingredients needed in a "recovery" drink!  You could make an argument that this is better than just water, because that only has one of the ingredients!

 The Problem

Beer is not unique.  You could take a piece of chocolate, put it in a water bottle and shake it up, and you would have something with similar nutritional quality.  It also ignores other important considerations of recovery drinks, such as protien and absorption rate (how quickly it enters your blood stream and is absorbed by your muscles). 

If the alcohol is not removed, it actually decreases one of the key ingredients of a recovery drink as well (water) through dehydration!


The Future

Soon, the definition of a recovery drink is bound to become even more vague.  Outside supplements are already being added such as caffeine, taurine, and amino acids (a subcomponent of protien). 

The truth is, the best recovery drink or exercise drink has already been developed.  Anything else we claim to "help initiate recovery" or "boost muscle growth" is propaganda meant to make you spend money on something that doesn't actually work better than a glass of chocolate milk.

Which one do you want to help you recover?  How much of this decision is based on science?
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5 Comments

As a former cross country runner I find this topic intriguing. Your post is definitely not the first time I've heard beer mentioned as a recovery drink but I believe that you give a great overview of the concept. I especially appreciate the the historical perspective you use to discuss the idea. The alcoholic content of beer makes me wary of ever using it in any aspect of training, but I do see some merit in others doing so. Indeed, I have competed in community races that predicated around beer drinking afterward; I think this was mainly a social construction rather than for any health benefit though. For further reading on this subject, I find this article by Runner's World pertinent: http://www.runnersworld.com/article/1,7124,s6-242-300--12434-0,00.html

I also am a former cross country runner. I can’t imagine beer being a good drink to drink after putting in a hard workout. Alcohol is a diuretic which means it causes the body to lose water. Extreme loss of water after intense exercising is not good for the body. When I used to run if I was not completely hydrated, I would have extreme muscle cramps especially in my legs. For this reason I personally used to mix Gatorade with water and drink that after workouts. I would mix two parts water to one part Gatorade. I think this helped me recovery after races and intense workouts.

It is hard for me to believe that beer is a good source of recovery. But when it is said that the alcohol is taken out of the beer, I don't know how viable it is to call it "beer". After all beer is an alcoholic beverage. With that being said, I still don't see this synthetic beer to be a good recovery drink after any form of exercise, be it cardio or weight training. Beer itself does contain a lot of calories, which can supply your body with energy, but these are empty calories. As I'm sure you know, an empty calorie provides no nutritional value. So what you're left with then is essentially water with a excess amount of empty calories that requires more exercise to get back to ground zero. Here's an interesting article I found that talks about the affects of alcohol on the body:
http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/swordchucks3.htm

I would just like to say that I have not heard this statement in a long time but I have heard it. Beer has been said to help with the recovery process and in body building magazines it is said that beer and peanuts are a good combination recovery after an intense workout. The reason is just as you put it beer has a good source of water and carbs that are as you said need to help you recover. Add peanuts with a high source of proteins and that would be missing ingredient. Now it is stressed that many do not misinterpret that after you workout, you should drink a case of beer and that will recover you body. It is said that one or maybe two beers is enough to help you recover.

I found this article of a Bavarian nonalcoholic beer online that European athletics re catching on too. Because alcohol is the prime reason beer is frowned upon after a workout, a company has taken out the alcohol and it is becoming a success.

http://www.fitsugar.com/Drinking-Beer-After-Working-Out-14395863

I understand how many of the componets of beer would aid in recovery, but the alcohol leading to dehydration makes it a very poor recovery drink. Along with that, I agree with Andrew that taking the alcohol out of beer would make it difficult to call it beer anymore. While beer may be better than water after a workout, there are already many companies making recovery drinks designed to be better than water as well. To take the alcohol out of beer to make it a good recovery drink seems like a lot of trouble with other recovery drinks already on the market. Alcohol does have beneficial health effects, but I feel that there are other drinks better for after a workout.

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