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Nutrition

Malty Beverages Have a Special Place in Many Runners’ Hearts

Beer and running. It seems to be the latest rage, but it's neither recent nor exclusive to the sport of running.

Beer and running. It seems to be the latest rage, but it’s neither recent nor exclusive to the sport of running. Runners are not, of course, the only sporting community that claims a special affinity for beer. Hockey players have been known to down a few Molsons or Labatts, eh? Mountain bikers seem to enjoy their extra-skunky microbrews, and some adult softball leagues make the Hash House Harriers (a tradition started by British expats in Southeast Asia that combines drinking games with running) look like an abstinence program.

Many humans the world over enjoy the alcoholic drink made from yeast-fermented malt and flavored with hops, as they have for millennia. (It should be said that for some people, particularly those with certain diseases or a family history of problems with alcohol, imbibing beer or any other form of alcohol is a really bad idea.) The running community is, more or less, part of the human race and therefore beer has been adopted into many of our own traditions.

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Is beer’s significance to runners a good thing or a bad thing? The answer you receive will certainly depend on who you ask. Rod Dixon, the gifted and versatile Kiwi who won Olympic bronze in the 1500 in 1972 and won the New York City Marathon in 1983, once said, “All I want to do is drink beer and train like an animal.” On the other hand, Frank Shorter, who won Olympic gold in 1972 and silver in 1976 (both times in the marathon) has written about the abuse he suffered at the hands of his alcoholic father.

Beer has both good and bad qualities, it would seem. Here’s a short list of some of the upsides and downsides from a runner’s perspective.

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The Good

Much has been written about the health benefits of moderate red wine consumption, but some of that praise can be directed to beer as well. The ethanol in beer has been shown to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol. Beer consumption may also reduce the risk of kidney stones, and it provides a respectable dose of B vitamins, including folate, niacin and riboflavin.

(Cue the “Mmm…riboflavin,” murmur from Homer Simpson.) Drinking beer is also associated with higher bone density, perhaps because of the high silicon content.

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The OK

Downing a cold one immediately after a hard run or race isn’t the best idea if you’re looking for optimal recovery. Multiple studies suggest that alcohol impedes tissue repair and decreases the amount of glucose your aching muscles will absorb. However, most beer isn’t as dehydrating as you may have feared. A typical pilsner-style beer contains 4-6 percent alcohol, which means there’s a lot of water to counteract the diuretic effects. One recent study found that athletes who rehydrated with a moderate amount of beer after running for an hour in a heated room showed “no deleterious effects on markers of hydration in active individuals.” Does that mean you should rehydrate only with beer? Probably not.

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The Ugly

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are major risk factors in human health. Remember that everyone’s physiology is different—so a few post-run beers (preferably chased with some water) might be an enjoyable celebration for one runner, but it might be a beer too much for somebody else, and for another person even one drink could be a disaster. One drink is usually equal to 12–16 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits. Know your limits, and strive for a healthy, moderate approach to alcohol consumption.

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