Like many outdoor sports enthusiasts, I enjoy a cold beer or two after a hike, a long bike ride or a day on the ski slopes. Interestingly, a 2009 study based on a survey of about 230,000 Americans found that people who drink alcohol tend to exercise more than those who don’t, and moderate drinkers exercise more than light drinkers.
This raises a number of interesting questions. Why is there this correlation? And what effect does the combination of exercise and alcohol have on our bodies?
The aforementioned study hypothesized that both drinking and vigorous activity (particularly outdoor sports like skiing, kayaking, diving, and mountaineering) could be considered part of sensation-seeking and risk-taking lifestyles. The authors also thought that maybe drinkers were more motivated to exercise to compensate for those calaries lost.
Others have pointed to physical activity (like group sports) leading to social situations where there may be drinking or people rewarding themselves for working out with drinks, particularly as drinkers tend to drink more on days when they are physically active than days when they are not.
The effects of post-workout beers on our bodies seem to be similarly complex. They can vary based on personal factors (such as body weight, liver size and genetically determined variants of the enzymes that metabolize alcohol), behavioral factors (how quickly you drink, whether you have food as well) and factors around what type of beer you drink.
Clearly, there are many varieties of beer, from the ubiquitous light lagers to hoppy IPAs to strong malty ales like barleywines, imperial stouts and Trappist beers. The type of beer you choose will have a major impact on how it impacts your body after a workout.
An Australian sports nutritionist published studies in 2013 and 2015 concluding that beer could be a good beverage for rehydration after working out. These received a good deal of media attention, but many of these articles ignored two important factors: the beer they found to be the most rehydrating was only 2.3% alcohol by volume (ABV) and it had salt added to it.
This low-alcohol, salted beer is somewhat evocative of the gose, a straw-colored tart wheat ale from Germany that is flavored coriander seeds and salt, typically 3–5% ABV. Unfortunately, gose doesn’t seem to have really caught on in Japan yet, but keep a lookout for it as a refreshing and tasty “recovery beer.” Until then, you might try adding a pinch of salt to your pint, particularly a tart saison like Yo-Ho Brewing’s Boku Bīru, Kimi Bīru (5%).
The new style of “session IPAs” (that is, light-bodied IPAs with ABVs under 5%) seems well suited to the post-workout setting. Not only are they refreshing and contain lower alcohol, but also the anti-inflammatory properties of hops (rich in polyphenols) theoretically might mean that one of these beers might help your body recover better than a similar beer with lower hop content (although heavy drinking can override this positive effect). Look for one of Shiga Kogen’s lower-alcohol offerings like Kasumi IPA (4.5%) or Coedo’s Mahihana Session IPA (4.5%).
Another option that’s probably the best for your body is to go for a non-alcoholic beer. There’s a reason why Germany’s Olympic athletes at Pyeongchang drank 3,500 liters of non-alcoholic Krombacher and why Erdinger markets its non-alcoholic wheat beer as a “sports and fitness drink.” German studies have shown that regularly drinking non-alcoholic beer significantly reduces inflammation and prevents respiratory infections. I haven’t found a tasty non-alcoholic beer in Japan yet, but here’s hoping our brewers catch onto this trend!
However, if after a day on the slopes you crave a stronger malty beer (which has rich flavors and warming qualities that perfectly complement winter nights), try to sip it slowly, accompany it with salty food and water to moderate the alcohol’s dehydrating effects, and consider a lighter (or non-alcoholic) option if you have a second. The next morning, when the powder is dumping and you’re racing to the lift, you’ll thank yourself.
- Jan 11–20 Furusato Matsuri, Tokyo
- Jan 25–27 Japan Brewer’s Cup, Yokohama
- Feb TBA Sapporo Winter Beer Festival
- Feb TBA Beer1 Grandprix Festival, Tokyo
- Mar TBA Snow Monkey Live, Shiga Kōgen (Nagano)