Real fitness comes from years of puritanical self-denial, the kind of stark existence that molds body and mind into a steely machine capable of stunning physical feats. Oh, and it also takes a few pints of good beer. It turns out that beer and fitness really do go hand-in-hand, despite the beverage’s bad reputation (beer bellies, dehydration, public drunkenness, bar brawls, frat boys, etc.) The delicious brew is chock-full of natural antioxidants and vitamins that can prevent heart disease and even help rebuild muscle, and we're going to let you in on precisely why beer and fitness belong together.
So go ahead and knock back a cold one. It’s good for you.
Good Beer vs. OK Beer
When it comes to health, some beers are better than others. Generally, dark beers pack more of an antioxidant punch than light beers (antioxidants help reverse the cellular damage caused by oxidizing compounds that naturally occur in your body).
Researchers at the University of Washington, bless their souls, found that dark beers —specifically Guinness — had greater health benefits than light lagers. Ironically, the old Guinness slogan was “A Guinness a day,” a thinly veiled promise of the beer’s health benefits. However, the company was forced to abandon the phrase decades ago.
Microbrews also tend to harbor more of the good stuff than mass-produced brews. For example, Men’s Health found that Avery Maharaja Imperial India Pale Ale contains 80 times the hops of big-brand lagers. Hops contain polyphenols, compounds that help lower cholesterol, fight cancer and kill viruses. So if you want maximum health benefits, spend a little more on the brew you imbibe.
Ounce-for-ounce, beer has one of the highest energy contents of any food or drink. Only pure fat can top it. So keep that in mind when you guzzle three or four at the local pub. Your average beer has about 120 calories, and four have as many calories as a Big Mac. That many calories can have dire consequences if you’re trying to lose weight. One beer after work probably won’t tip the scales in either direction, though. Drink beer in moderation and you won’t hold on to all those extra calories.
If you’re looking for an energy boost, beer is definitely not the answer. Alcohol is pure caloric fuel, but it does funny (and fun) things to your physiology — it makes you tired and sluggish. Beer and fitness do complement one another — as long as you're not trying to enjoy both at once.
Work your muscles and they’ll start to fall apart. Your body rebuilds them, makes them stronger and gets them ready to face the next workout. Protein, carbs, vitamins, and specifically antioxidants help put things back together. The latest research has found that beer has almost as many antioxidants as red wine, which is saying something. So how do beer and fitness go together at the recovery stage? A dark beer a few hours after a workout can deliver a good dose of antioxidants. Still, you’ll probably want to reach for water and a healthy snack — like fruit and yogurt — immediately following your routine at the gym.
Think that the alcohol in beer will dry you out? Think again. Researchers at the Granada University in Spain have found that beer can provide better hydration than water in some instances, like after a workout. Professor Manuel Garzon, the head of this study on beer and fitness, asked students to sweat it out in 104 degree weather. Then he gave half of the students water and the other half beer. He found that the students who had a pint were slightly more hydrated. So does this mean that you should slam a cold one after a run? Probably not. While beer is 93 percent water and appears to hydrate you better than H2O alone, it’s not the best thing after exercise. Drink water and have a piece of fruit instead. However, don’t pass up a pint the night before a big workout for fear of dehydration — seems that some beer won’t dry you out as much as you thought.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” Whether you’re religious or not, you can probably agree that beer is proof of some sort of positive force in the universe. It makes you feel great and helps heal a broken body (and, sometimes, a broken soul). Drink beer in moderation — too much of a good thing, even beer, can be very bad. Alcoholism can lead to liver problems, kidney disease, heart disease, and a shattered social life. However, it turns out that beer is good, even if you’re a fitness nut.