German researchers recently published the results of their study of beer drinking and marathon runners in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. The NY Times covered the piece, but we’ve already been there, done that.
We wrote about this study when the authors presented their findings in June at the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual meeting.
The researchers’ conclusions: Drinking beer (non-alcoholic was used in the study) may help ward off pesky infections (ie upper respiratory tract infections) that strenuous or endurance exercise often triggers.
Endurance exercise and high-intensity grueling workouts (think Crossfit) is known to increase athletes’ risk of developing upper respiratory tract infections (ie, colds, sore throats). In fact, research has found that close to half of participants in marathons or ultra-running events develop an URTI in the weeks following completing the event.
German researchers studied 277 healthy male runners (average age 49) for three weeks before and two weeks after the Munich Marathon and randomly assigned each participant 1 to 1.5 liters (32 to 48 ounces) of non-alcoholic beer by Erdinger, daily or a placebo beverage.
Beer as Sports Drink?
Coincidentally (ha-ha), just a few months ago, German Brewmeister, Erdinger, was making news around the world because they were marketing their non-alcoholic beer as a sports drink. One that comes in one color, one flavor and with a frothy head.
The German research team collected blood samples at four weeks and one week before the race, as well as immediately, 24 hours and 72 hours after the marathon and analyzed markers of inflammation. They found that those who drank beer before and after their marathon had reduced markers for inflammation (up to a 20% reduction in white blood cell counts post-marathon) and the incidence of URTIs was reduced by more than three times, compared to those drinking a placebo beverage. Before you start buying 12-packs for recovery, the study is still considered preliminary because it’s not yet been published.
Fruits, veggies, herbs and spices, probiotics and alcoholic beverages contain hundreds of compounds that have antioxidant capacity as well as anti-inflammatory properties. Several studies have looked at supplements of vitamin C and other antioxidants for the prevention of URTIs among endurance athletes. Some studies have reported reductions in URTIs with various therapies, but the research is not conclusive.
Beer Nutrition 101
Most athletes I counsel would love to drink beer as a recovery beverage, but it’s no replacement for water or carbohydrate-containing sports drinks. If you want to enjoy a cold one (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) as part of your athletic lifestyle, fine. A regular beer packs in 150 calories, a light beer has around 100 and new ultra-light beers may have as low as 55 calories for 12 ounces. Alcoholic beers all get the vast majority of their calories from ethanol (aka alcohol) which as 7 calories per gram and very few calories from carbs. On the other hand, non-alcoholic beer gets the majority of its calories from carbohydrates (14 or more grams per bottle versus less than 5 grams in alcoholic beer). The Erdinger non-alcoholic brew used in the study has 100 calories and 22 grams carbs per bottle.
But there are other ways to avoid getting sick when you’re preparing for a major athletic event:
- Try to keep other life stress in check by planning ahead and reducing your work load, if possible.
- Eat a well-balanced diet.
- Obtain adequate sleep (7+ hours a night is recommended).
- Avoid putting hands to eyes and nose and wash hands frequently.
- Avoid sick people and large crowds, especially after your event.
- Avoid overtraining and rapid weight loss.
- Use carbohydrate beverages before, during, and after endurance exercise.