Food & Drink

The Best Post-Workout Beers to Celebrate Your Gains

post-workout beer
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

Can a post-workout beer actually be good for you? Look, as much as I wish I could wholeheartedly cheers your post-workout 12oz curl, there's little scientific evidence to actually support any benefits linked to a post-workout "recovery" beer. Beer is great for social lubrication, but it's not exactly a performance-enhancing recovery drink... no matter how loudly you inform the bartender you're ordering your beer to "help you rehydrate." It's just not so.   

And yet, here's the thing: Maybe post-workout drinking isn't all about recovery. Maybe it's about enjoyment and bonding with your exercise buddies. And maybe, just maybe, all the studies pointing to the case against a post-workout beer (like ones indicating it's dehydrating, interferes with muscle protein synthesis, and ultimately increases recovery time) aren’t as big a deal as they seem. Because unless you're drinking to oblivion (which you really shouldn't be doing anyway), and unless you forego water and food completely (also ill-advised), a beer or two after breaking a sweat probably isn't going to hurt you that much, and it may just bolster your exercise habit.

If you're exercising responsibly and drinking responsibly, perhaps the case for the post-workout beer lies in a single word: enjoyment.

It's good for bonding and motivation

There's no question that alcohol is a social lubricant -- it loosens people up a little, gets the conversation flowing, and helps turn a standard workout into an event… or an event into a party.

Just take a look at all the races that now offer beer to participants at the finish line (Tough Mudder and Spartan Race are just two of 'em). Race directors know that finishing a tough event is celebratory, and that participants want to hang around with other racers to talk about the experience. Offering beer at the finish line is a way to encourage people to stick around, to cheers one another, and amplify the celebration. And if people end up having a good time, they’re more likely to sign up for more races.

The concept doesn't just apply to races themselves, though. Casey Wetjen, a dedicated runner, points out, "My husband and our group of [running buddies] felt that a beer after a training run was a must." She joked the decision was based on the need to carb load, but really, it was more about turning the pain of a tough workout into an enjoyable social event. It offered a reward at the end of a grueling experience.

If a cold beer and bonding time after a gym session make people more likely to exercise, I'd say it's a pretty fair trade-off.

It's just not that big of a deal unless you're training for something crazy

There are certain situations where I'd advise you to avoid alcohol after a workout. For instance, if you're a hardgainer trying to put on significant muscle mass for a bodybuilding competition, you probably don't want a beer or two to interfere with muscle protein synthesis. Likewise, if you’re a high-level athlete who needs to recover quickly between a series of back-to-back competitions (say, during basketball season), it’s probably not worth the buzz if a post-workout beer will delay your recovery time.

But if you're just someone who likes to work out regularly as a way to stay healthy? A beer or two after a workout isn't going to hurt you, especially if you follow the advice of a 2014 review study published in the journal Sports Medicine that suggests you consume less than .5g per kilogram body weight after a workout. For those of you who hate math, that's roughly two 12oz beers for a 150lb person. In other words: Drink in moderation. And while you're at it, eat some food and drink some water, too. It's good for you. 

For all of these reasons, we tapped Zach Mack, beer writer, certified cicerone, and owner of the Alphabet Beer Company in New York City, to recommend the best post-workout beers.

The best post-workout beers

These days, there are enough options out there to appeal to an audience of drinkers whose interests may go well above and beyond sitting in barstools and ordering flights. And if the current boom in low-cal, low ABV, modified ingredient breweries is any indication, the fitness world has bought into brews in a big way.

In today’s world of working out, runners’ clubs finish their routes at local taprooms, breweries sponsor CrossFit competitions, and it’s never been easier to find an athlete-friendly beer to crack after getting your heart rate up. There are beer drinkers who are as into collecting medals as they are Untappd badges. If you’ve ever wondered exactly what a good post-workout beer might taste like, we’ve done some research so you can cap off your next sweat session with a freshly cracked can. Cheers...You’ve earned it!

Dogfish Head SeaQuench Ale
4.9% ABV
If you’ve done your own research on “popular beers for the active set,” it’s more than likely you’ve come across Dogfish Head’s foray into the post-workout refreshment category: After all, they’ve won plenty of accolades by now from all over the industry. By working with a flavor profile that’s naturally appealing to anyone who’s coming off a sweat session, SeaQuench Ale was developed as a session sour three-way mashup of a crisp Kölsch, a salty Gose, and a tart Berliner Weiss brewed with black limes, sour lime juice, and sea salt. The resulting beer is both as refreshing as a post-jog Gatorade (which is kind of the point here) and lower ABV at just 4.9%. The bright lime flavors also make this very popular with the “I’m usually more of a margarita person” crowd as well.

Sufferfest Brewing FKT Pale Ale
5.5% ABV
You might expect a company that was born out of the “earn your beer” mantra to be pretty good at making a post-workout beer. In the case of California’s Sufferfest...You’d be right! Besides developing recipes that appeal to fans of styles all across the spectrum, they’ve also managed to incorporate ingredients that do more for you than your average brew. “The best ingredients for the perfect post-workout beer are actually the ones you think of —typically found in your favorite bar or smoothie already, like lemon peel, salt, coconut, cayenne, honey, yerba mate, coffee and more,” says Caitlin Landesberg, CEO and founder of Sufferfest Beer Co. “We've just perfected the right mediums and dosages to introduce these select ingredients into the beer.” Want to try it for yourself? Pick up the FKT Pale Ale, which has 96 mg of salt (ideal for electrolyte replenishment) balanced by the softly sweet flavor of black currant.

Köstritzer Schwarzbier
4.8% ABV
Say it with us: Not every beer you drink after a workout has to be light in color and flavor. In fact, some of the most refreshing brews can come in the form of a black lager such as Köstritzer Schwarzbier. The fact that this brewery is considered to be something of a gold standard of the style may have already put this brewery on your radar, but it remains a woefully overlooked option that is very much capable of providing the kind of roasty post-run refreshment you never knew you wanted thanks to its light-bodied texture and dry, biscuity finish that’s so much more thirst-quenching than you’d ever believe. Trust us on this one!

Athletic Brewing IPA
>.5% ABV
You can’t talk about the overlapping worlds of fitness and beer fandom without bringing up the explosive growth of the non-alcoholic beer sector. And even though we’ve professed our admiration for them a few times in the past, it bears repeating that Athletic Brewing stands as an early front-runner for a fan favorite of the subcategory that every brewery seems to want a part of these days. Naturally, the athletic crowd finds plenty to like about these delicious booze-free beers that won’t hamper their Ironman training or HIIT routines. Their Run Wild IPA, in particular, has quickly developed a devoted following of fitness enthusiasts who are in search of something bright, hoppy, and malt-balanced to take down as they train for their marathons...And at just 70 calories, there’s even more for the sporty set to love.

Jack’s Abby Post Shift Pils
4.7% ABV
Close your eyes and picture yourself reaching for a beer in the fridge after walking back into your kitchen after a long run. What does it look like? If you said “light, bright, and refreshing,” you’re far from alone in your craving an easy-drinking beer like a pilsner. That’s why Jack’s Abby’s insanely popular Post Shift Pils feels like a natural post-workout refreshment. “After breaking a sweat, there’s nothing quite like a bright, crispy lager-like Post Shift to celebrate a body in motion,” says Eric Sadovnick, noted Thrillist contributor and Los Angeles-based beverage professional. “Style points for anyone limbering up outside and catching a view!” 
 
Anderson Valley Tropical Hazy Sour
4.3% ABV
Coming up with a truly good kettle sour can be a difficult feat. If you’re Anderson Valley Brewing, on the other hand, it’s kind of just what you do every time you show up to work. Their lineup of fruited goses and sours have pocketed medals and acclaim since well before brewing tart beers became in vogue, and their newest offering, Tropical Hazy Sour, seems to be continuing the tradition. This time, they’re using real guava and passionfruit and leaving the beer hazy, resulting in an aromatic, hazy, refreshing beer that stands out even in their catalog for a few reasons. “Through an enormous exercise of skill and wit, the brewery kept the beer low-calorie and low-carb so now — as a bonus — the active, outdoor lifestyle folks out there have something new and meaningful to sweat for,” says Kevin McGee, owner of Anderson Valley Brewing Company.

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Zach Mack is Thrillist's contributing beer writer, the owner of Alphabet City Beer Co. and Governors Island Beer Co. in NYC, a Certified Cicerone®, and absolutely nothing else. Follow him @zmack.
Laura Williams is an exercise physiologist and fitness writer whose biggest health goal is to enjoy a balanced lifestyle, which sometimes includes post-workout beer(s). Check out her book, Partner Workouts, on Amazon, and connect on Twitter @girlsgonesporty.