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Alcohol-free beer as a recovery drink: better than what?

February 26th, 2011

Way back in October, I got an e-mail from Glenn, a running coach at Concordia University in Montreal, wondering whether alcohol-free beer might make a good post-workout recovery drink. He made a pretty convincing case for it, and I promised to look into it and get back to him with my take…

Fast forward to February (with his e-mail still in my to-do list), and there’s a big flurry of articles about Bavarian brewer Erdlinger’s “Alkoholfrei” beer being promoted as a sports recovery drink:

Promoted as a “sports and fitness drink,” Erdinger began targeting athletes in 2001 in Europe with an advertising campaign featuring a pair of triathletes. Its popularity quickly grew in Europe, where it’s often distributed for free in the finishing area of sporting events.

Sure enough, if you go to the Alkoholfrei website (“100% regeneration”), they have profiles of all the triathletes and biathletes that they sponsor.

So is it justified? Well, it depends on what you’re comparing it to. Most of the articles I’ve seen line it up against sports drinks — the equivalent of classic Gatorade. And actually, in that context, it doesn’t do too badly. It’s a drink with some carbohydrates in it, and not much else. But is anyone really recommending that athletes should pound some Gatorade after their workouts? In fact, as Glenn pointed out in his e-mail to me, a better comparison would be with chocolate milk, which is often touted as an “ideal recovery drink” because it contains protein in a roughly 1:4 ratio with the carbs it contains.

Here’s how some of these options stack up, in grams per 100 mL:

Carbs Protein Fat Calories
Alkoholfrei 5.3 0.4 0 25
low-fat choc milk 10.4 3.2 1.0 63
Original Gatorade 5.8 0 0 21
Gatorade Recover 2.9 3.3 0 25

Now, there are some other details like electrolytes, and Alkoholfrei likes to point out that it has vitamin B12 and so on — but to me, these are irrelevant details. When you’re recovering after a workout, you need fluid, carbohydrate and protein. If you get that, it’s highly unlikely that you’re NOT going to get the electrolytes you need.

So the verdict: Alkoholfrei looks a lot like plain old Gatorade — primarily carbs, though it does have a bit of protein. As a recovery drink, it’s not bad, as long as you’re also eating some food to give you some protein. But it’s not “complete” in the way chocolate milk is hyped to be. I guess the conclusion is sort of like those breakfast cereal commercials: alcohol-free beer is “part of a complete, balanced post-workout recovery protocol.”

(Last thought: of course, calories matter too — and that depends on how vigorous your workout was. Unless it’s a particularly vigorous workout, you really don’t need any recovery food/drink at all beyond whatever meal is coming up next — or at least, you certainly don’t need 500 mL of chocolate milk or three alcohol-free beers!)

[Thanks again to Glenn for putting the topic on my radar.]

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