Sorry, Norm, beer is not better than water for rehydration

Posted by Dave on June 24, 2011 | 6 Comments

Beer Tent

Beer Tent at the Marine Corps Half Marathon (Source: Run Marathon Man)

The other day on Facebook someone put up a link to this article on something called either abcactionnews or nbcactionnews, depending on where you look on the page. The proposition: Beer is better than water for rehydrating after a hard workout.

The article cites study results “published in the British newspaper The Telegraph.” This “news” already has at least two red flags, and we haven’t even gotten to the study itself: It’s reported in a sketchy online outfit, and the original research was published in a newspaper rather than a scientific journal. So I searched the Telegraph’s web site and found the original 2007 report there: Beer after sport ‘is good for the body’. This article at least gives us a little more information, but also raises more flags:

In a rare piece of good news for those who like a pint, Spanish researchers say beer can help someone who is dehydrated retain liquid better than water.

Prof Manuel Garzon, of Granada University, also claimed the bubbles in beer help to quench the thirst and that its carbohydrate content can help to replace lost calories.

Prof Garzon asked a group of students to do strenuous exercise in temperatures of around 40ºC (104ºF). Half were given a pint of beer, while the others received the same volume of water.

Prof Garzon, who announced the results at a press conference in Granada beneath a banner declaring “Beer, Sport, Health”, said the hydration effect in those who drank beer was “slightly better”.

Apparently the Telegraph wasn’t reporting on published research, just a press conference. This is not how science is done, people. In order for scientific research to be accepted, it must be subjected to peer review from scholars in the field. This appears to be a case of a researcher with a taste for both beer and publicity.

Undaunted, I tried to see if Garzon did manage to publish any of his research in a scientific journal in the intervening four years. Unfortunately, a pubmed search revealed no beer hydration research published by Garzon. Most likely, this means that when Garzon’s work was actually subjected to peer review, it didn’t pass muster.

So is there any evidence that drinking beer or other alcohol after a hard workout can actually help you rehydrate faster than good old water? Sadly, no. The closest thing I could find was an abstract for a 1997 study that looked at the effect of alcohol on rehydration. They did find that drinks with up to 2 percent alcohol did not appear to affect hydration, but drinks with 4 percent alcohol were detrimental. How much alcohol does beer have?

If there is a god, he/she surely blessed the internet, because among its many wonders is a website entirely devoted to the alcohol content of various beverages, including beer. I spent a good 20 or 30 minutes examining this table, and found that nearly all beer that doesn’t advertise itself as low- or no-alcohol, indeed has more than 4 percent alcohol.

What does this mean for you? Based on all available evidence, despite what abc/ says, beer is not better than water for rehydration. There are probably worse things to drink than beer after a hard workout, but from a health perspective, beer is almost certainly not the best thing you could be drinking.


6 Responses to “Sorry, Norm, beer is not better than water for rehydration”

  1. Mark Haub, PhD
    June 25th, 2011 @ 3:52 am

    I thikn Dr. Ron Maughan’s work several years ago investigated this issue. I recall his group reporting that up to 3% beer was as good as 0% alc water at rehydrating post exercise. So, there is scientific evidence to support beer post-exercise for hydration. Obviously, safety is needed so as not to alter blood alcohol levels beyond levels an individual can safely function.

    Here’s the study:

    J Appl Physiol. 1997 Oct;83(4):1152-8.

    Restoration of fluid balance after exercise-induced dehydration: effects of alcohol consumption.

    Shirreffs SM, Maughan RJ.

  2. Dave
    June 25th, 2011 @ 3:43 pm

    Thanks for the full reference, Mark. I do mention that article in the story, but according to the abstract, it’s only 2% alcohol, not 3% that’s roughly equal to water. Not many beers go that low in alcohol content.

    From what I can tell, the consensus is basically that a relatively low-alcohol beer (quite a few are in the 4% range) probably isn’t terrible, but it’s certainly not *better* than water.

  3. Paul T
    June 29th, 2011 @ 10:25 pm

    In the Maughan study the participants consume over 2000 mL of beer at the various strengths. That’s more than four pints. I would be interested to see how a single pint of 4% (or more alc.) beer followed by three of water would go.

    You’d get less alcohol than four pints of 2% beer, plus the benefits of the salts and minerals.

  4. Tom D
    July 6th, 2011 @ 12:43 am

    Would/could there be any other effect from beer as an post-run drink? Muscle Relaxant? Do the nervous system depressant effects have any positives for recovery?

  5. Is Beer Really Better Than Water For Hydration? | laurajpersonaltraining
    August 25th, 2011 @ 3:22 pm

    […] kink in the puritanical argument that water is holy and all alcohol is the work of the devil. Also, as noted by some detractors in the scientific community, was that the study seemed a little sloppy, as perhaps the researchers spent a little too much time […]

  6. Luis F. Aragon
    June 7th, 2014 @ 1:13 pm

    We just published a new study on this topic (Applied Physiology Nutrition and Metabolism) 10 days ago, and confirmed that beer is indeed NOT better than, and not even as good as, water for rehydration post exercise.

    Flores-Salamanca, R. & Aragón-Vargas, Luis F. (2014). Post-exercise rehydration with beer impairs fluid retention, reaction time, and balance. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism.

    DOI: 10.1139/apnm-2013-0576.