Beer for rehydration

Athletes often have it drilled into them to live a healthy lifestyle to get the best out of their bodies. Get plenty of sleep. Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Avoid alcohol. But lets be honest here…..after a long, hard training session or day of competition, who doesn’t enjoy sitting down with a nice cold glass of beer? I know that I do! Is it really that bad though, or can a beer actually be beneficial?

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When we exercise, our bodies lose fluids. The rate of fluid loss can vary greatly depending on exercise intensity and duration, as well as environmental conditions…..we can lose between up to 2-4 litres of water every hour in extreme circumstances. Obviously, staying hydrated is fairly important.

Understandably, we usually rehydrate our bodies with water. But is beer a good alternative? A quick internet search will show many news sources referring to a study which claims beer is good for rehydration, such as this article in the Daily Mail. The theory is that the sugars, carbon dioxide and salts in beer can help somebody rehydrate more quickly.

This goes against logical thinking, as alcohol actually has a diuretic effect on the body; meaning it causes the body to pass fluids more rapidly than usual.

Bayern Munich's midfielder Bastian Schwe

Personally, I cannot find the actual study these articles refers to. But a small Spanish study with similarly described methods showed that a moderate amount of beer (up to 660ml), in addition to water, had no negative effects on hydration. Or more specifically, it didn’t actually show any benefit!

Another study from 2010 showed similar results. Basically, the researchers found that a small amount of alcohol, in an already dehydrated individual, showed no negative effects on rehydration when compared to water. But in a normally hydrated person, fluid loss increased after drinking beer……suggesting that when the body is in a dehydrated state, the diuretic effects of small volumes of alcohol are blunted.

A study from Costa Rica went a little bit deeper with their research, comparing regular strength beer, low strength beer and water. In this study, the participants were asked to rehydrate with one specific beverage, with no additional water. The results actually showed that regular strength beer did in fact have negative effects on the body when compared to low strength beer or water.

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However, a Griffith University study showed that manipulating the electrolyte content of beer is more important than the alcohol concentration itself. By adding varying amounts of sodium to both light and mid-strength beer, researchers found that a higher sodium concentration in light beer resulted in better fluid retention when compared to lower sodium concentrations. But…..this study did not compare the results with water; so it can’t be said that adding sodium to beer actually makes it better for rehydration!

So, is beer a good alternative for rehydration? Ultimately, probably not. It’s not any worse than water alone, but the research doesn’t show any benefits of drinking beer instead of water. If you feel like having a pint with dinner, go for it! But just remember to drink some water as well…….and keep the beer to a minimum! While a small amount of alcohol is okay, larger amounts will definitely have negative effects on the body!

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