Monday, March 12, 2012

Dear Ramblings: Why is that post-run beer so satisfying?

For our latest installment of "Dear Ramblings", Becca Pledger, who shares her fresh perspectives on running and motherhood at The Finish Line, asks:

"My husband and I both like to drink a beer after our long runs (not immediately after, but within 1-2 hours). I can't think of anything more refreshing, relaxing, or stomach-settling than a delicious ale, post 8+ miles. What are the effects of drinking beer after a good, long run? Is there any evidence proving that this is really a good thing, or is it just in our heads?"

There's plenty of evidence for the therapeutic effects of beer after a long run, given that the bars and brewpubs around the finish of any marathon or half-marathon are full of gimpy runners celebrating with a post-race brew.  But as Becca wisely asks, does beer have critical ingredients the body needs to recover from a long run?   Or are the positive effects runners perceive from a post-run beer more psychological than physiological?

To find the truth, I exhaustively researched the facts of the matter, which as you know means I Googled the phrases "effects of beer after running" and "is beer good for you after a run" and spent five minutes looking to see what turned up.

Both Runner's World and Running Times weigh in on this matter and come to nearly identical conclusions.  Both point out that alcohol delays injury recovery and beer is not a particularly good source of badly needed carbohydrates after a long run.  Neither suggest runners should avoid the post-run beer, but suggest making sure you're properly hydrated before partaking in a post-run beer and to avoid it if you're suffering from any injuries.

Now there was the curious study in 2007 by Professor Manuel Garzon of Spain's Granada University, which found people that beer had a slightly better hydration effect after exercise than water, which excercise psysiologists immediately called into question, given the diuretic effect of alcohol.  Dave Munger in his blog Science Based Running could not find any peer reviewed article by Garzon on the subject, suggesting that Garzon's findings did not pass scientific scrutiny.   But Munger did find a scientific article from 1997 which found that drinks containing 2% or less percent alcohol had no significant diuretic effect on recovery, while there was a slight negative effect on re-hydration on drinks containing 4% alcohol.   Virtually all beers, with the exception of low alcohol beers, contain more than 4% alcohol. Lagers, pilsners, Kolschs and other "lawn mower" thirst quenching beers typically check in at about 5% alcohol per volume.

Now my own theory of the positive effect of the post-run brew is the alcohol in beer tends to mask post run soreness, so it feels better to drink beer after a long run, even though if anything, it is slightly worse for you than water or electrolytic drinks.  But perhaps the mental reward of a beer after a long hard run makes the overall experience more pleasurable, and makes you want to do it again, so beer could be in fact a training aid.  You could probably say the same thing about a bowl of ice cream after a run as you could about a beer.

So while you're probably better off consuming something other than a beer after your long run, as long as you are well hydrated, go right ahead and have one.  After all, you deserve it.

Got a question about running, racing, training, or how beer relates to it all? Submit it to Ramblings of a Beer runner via e-mail.  I'm not a doctor, licensed therapist, or coach, nor have played one on TV.  But I have run for over 30 years, competed in high school and college, and had a few beers along the way, and like helping fellow beer runners out.   So take my advice for what that's worth.


  1. Thank for taking my question - I have often wondered if the goodness of a post long run beer is more psychological than anything, but you are right - It is sometimes the small mental rewards that are the best training aids, in which case, it does become physical.

    Thanks to Tide for the super awesome odor blocking workout bag, travel laundry bag, and huge sample of Febreeze odor eliminator laundry detergent!

  2. Thank you for great info. I say beer :)