Press Release: Running the Marathon? Try Drinking a Beer

The idea of drinking a beer before and after each session of your London Marathon training schedule seems just wrong. And if someone dared to tell you that drinking beer aids better training and faster recovery, you might get the urge to call your local rehab. But drinking alcohol-free  beer might just be the latest trend in sports nutrition.

April is marathon season and London will be a hot spot for the marathon with thousands of spectators and runners passing through. Lots of athletes might celebrate the end of their gruelling training and race with a frosty beer. But how many know that drinking a non-alcoholic  beer will in fact help them recover faster and stave off illness after the race. It may be tempting to crack open a well-earned beer post-race, but alcohol is likely to increase the chances of catching a virus or further weakening an already battered body.

Amongst the host of new alcohol-free beers recently arrived on the market is the perhaps oddly named Fitbeer. The words ‘fit’ and ‘beer’ don’t usually go in same sentence, let alone the same word. However, Fitbeer’s new craft lager boasts isotonic properties, heaps of B vitamins and is only 66 calories.  It also claims to have a genuine beer taste.

Training for a marathon punishes the body causing muscle fatigue and inflammation. The gruelling task of running 26 miles also weakens the immune system, making participants susceptible to colds and other illnesses in the weeks after the event.

To study the matter Dr Johannes Scherr of the Technical University of Munich examined 277 healthy runners, before and after the 2009 Munich Marathon. Dr Scherr asked the runners to drink 2-3 pints of alcohol-free beer beginning 3 weeks prior to the race and continuing for 2 weeks after. Only half the group received the non-alcoholic beer whilst the other half got a similarly flavoured placebo.

The researchers collected blood samples several weeks before the race as well as immediately before the start, at the finish line and on select days afterwards. They monitored the levels of various markers of inflammation in the blood to see if beer helped reduce some of the immediate damage from running. The test subjects also reported any symptoms of colds or other respiratory ailments that developed during that time.

The subjects drinking the alcohol-free beer reported far fewer illnesses than the runners drinking the placebo beverage. “Incidence of upper respiratory tract infections was 3.25-fold lower” in the non-alcoholic beer drinkers, the scientists reported in the journal ‘Medicine and Science Sports Exercise’. They also showed significantly less evidence of inflammation and lower counts of white blood cells than the placebo group, an indication of overall better immune system health.

Dr Scherr wrote in an email “These effects matter...because if a marathon runner’s body is less sore and inflamed after a race and they don’t develop the sniffles, they can return to training and recover (faster)…it can be speculated that the training frequency could be higher (with shorter brakes after vigorous training sessions)…in those drinking alcohol-free beer”.

Fitbeer Founder, Becky Kean explains it like this. ‘Obviously, a beer isn’t normally the best idea for your body after a heavy work out…but once you take the alcohol out, there are lots of good things in beer that come from the natural ingredients.  It’s different to, say, sugary sports drinks that are a lot more processed. With a Fitbeer you’re getting all the natural goodness that comes from the hops, barley, water and yeast - and nothing else…alcohol free beer is nature’s way of replenishing your body.’

Becky Kean