Fact or Fiction: The Recovery Beer

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This story originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of our print edition.

recovery beer training rock climbing

There have been some fairy-tale claims from sports medicine research that beer is actually a good recovery beverage, which definitely seems too good to be true. We all know that six beers isn’t going to help you send the next day and one beer shouldn’t hurt, but how exactly do those delicious brews affect the recovery process?

  • According to Dr. Matthew Barnes, a top researcher of alcohol and its effects on exercise recovery at Massey University in New Zealand, alcohol negatively affects your body’s ability to absorb glycogen from carbohydrates and its ability to synthesize protein in your muscles, which helps heal and grow muscle tissue.
  • A study published in February 2014 in a medical research journal concluded that when an alcohol and protein or alcohol and carbohydrate mixture was ingested after a workout, muscle growth was impaired compared to ingesting protein or carbohydrates alone.
  • Dr. Barnes suggests that about 0.5 grams of alcohol for every kilogram (2.2 lbs.) of a person’s body weight is fine to drink over the course of an evening and will have little effect on dehydration. This equates to about 2.5 drinks for a climber weighing 154 pounds. According to the CDC, a drink is defined as 1.5 ounces of liquor at 40% alcohol content, 12 ounces of beer at 5% alcohol content, 5 ounces of wine at 12% alcohol content, and 8 ounces of malt liquor at 7% alcohol content. Each drink contains about 14 grams of alcohol.
  • Barnes’ research also shows that consuming a healthy amount of protein and carbohydrates before consuming alcohol gives your body time to absorb the nutrients and begin its healing process before being stunted by alcohol.

Prognosis? A post-send beer won’t help you recover, but it shouldn’t hurt much either. Mitigate harm by eating a carb- and protein-rich dinner and consuming food before a second beer. Keep in mind that it may negatively affect your recovery compared to forgoing alcohol altogether, and beers with higher alcohol content will have more impact. Drink at least eight ounces of water after each beer to prevent dehydration, and limit yourself to a reasonable amount for your body weight using the guideline above. Night before a rest day? Feel free to get tanked!