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.
Believe it or not, a lot of people just like drinking cold bubbles after a workout. When I posed the question to my friends on Facebook, I received three different versions of the answer "Bubbles!" as to why they enjoy sipping on a brew post-sweat sesh. My sister said, "The carbonation tastes so good when you're thirsty,” a woman I used to go to church with said, "I like beer! I like carbonation, too!," and an acquaintance added, "I just want something besides water… and I like bubbles."
I take all of this to mean beer is cold and refreshing, and after a tough workout, there's something to be said for cold and refreshing.
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.
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