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Are Non-Alcoholic Beverages the Future of Post-Race Recovery?

Many runners are swapping out heady IPA’s post-run for an ice-cold non-alcoholic beer. Here’s why this switch can benefit your running.

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Imagine your favorite post-run beer, maybe a piney or grapefruity IPA. Or perhaps you prefer wine, in search of that perfect, full-bodied red or crisp chardonnay. For many endurance athletes, imbibing in these post-training drinks is a primary ritual to celebrate their work, to congregate with friends over libations after a hard session. 

But while adult beverages can be, in moderation, a healthy and fulfilling part of any endurance athlete’s diet, many runners have begun reaching for non-alcoholic (NA) alternatives instead, for several reasons. Though they still only make up a small percentage of the market, NA beverages are more widely available, and delicious, than ever. And that’s not slowing down. According to a recent market analysis, the growth of NA beer is expected to go up by 6 percent in the next decade. 

So, why the transition? Are there specific benefits to overall wellness and recovery, specifically for runners? Let’s break down the nutrition, health, and performance implications of alcohol, and look at ways that non-alcoholic options might offer an alternative.

RELATED: Alcohol and Athletic Performance

Immune System

During exercise, the body undergoes training stress which increases inflammation and risk of infection. Add in alcohol and it could spell a recipe for more cold and flu incidences. In a 2012 study on a group of runners in Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise, non-alcoholic beer consumption regularly, pre- and post-marathon, resulted in a reduction in inflammation and reduced incident of upper respiratory infections. Polyphenols, antioxidants also found in beer and wine, were attributed to the effects and suggest that non-alcoholic beverages could offer more than just a solid rehydration option for endurance athletes. Opting for an NA option might just strengthen the immune system and save runners from missing out on consistent training due to sickness. 

Glycogen Synthesis

In order to have carbohydrates available to the body for energy production when needed, the body stores some in the muscles and liver, in the form of glycogen. Faster glycogen replenishment rates are beneficial for endurance runners wanting to reduce muscle soreness and improve the ability to get back out there and train the next day. While more research is needed, current studies indicate that glycogen replenishment rates may be impaired by post-exercise alcohol consumption. While both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages provide post-workout carbs, grabbing an NA beverage could allow runners to take full advantage of filling up those post-workout glycogen stores.

Muscle Recovery

Trying to optimize post-exercise muscle protein synthesis rates (or rate of muscle repair and rebuilding) can offer benefits to the trail runner who wants to try to avoid injury and build strength to handle off-road training stressors. Alcohol can inhibit protein synthetic pathways, which has been demonstrated in strength athletes post-lifting. Instead, athletes can combine an NA beverage with a post-run protein shake for an optimal post-workout recovery option. This, along with studies on how alcohol affects heart rate variability and sleep quality, provide a strong case to incorporate non-alcoholic alternatives into any endurance recovery program. 

Here Are Some Favorite Non-Alcoholic Beverage Options: 

Gruvi Wine and Beer

This Colorado-based NA beer and wine company has a mission of giving an option for those who don’t want to miss out on social events, but also want to make choices to benefit health, wellbeing, and adventures. To brew their beer, they use a process called “arrested fermentation,” which stops the fermentation process before alcohol is produced. The wines use a vacuum distillation process to remove alcohol from their carefully chosen grape products. 

Best Day Brewing

Born in Northern California, this brewer believes in “celebrating the now,” a nod to celebrating life’s positive moments. They’ve got three tasty options, including two IPAs and a Kolsch to satisfy your palate.

Athletic Brewing

This is one of the original NA craft brew options. Athletic Brewing was born in 2017 out of a love for athletic activity and great suds. Founded by partners Bill Schufelt and John Walker, Athletic Brewing now has NA brewing facilities on both the east coast and the west coast. With over ten varieties of beer and many Special Edition brews, Athletic Brewing is at the top of the game in the NA beer world. 

RELATED: Non-Alcoholic Craft Beers For Athletes

Parch Cocktails

If you are looking for an alternative to NA beer, look no further than Parch. The company developed their NA cocktails with Southwestern and Mexican cultures in mind. Full of flavor, the beverages include a whole host of adaptogenic herbs (stress-balancing) including ashwagandha, l-theanine, and ginseng, that will satisfy any post-adventure celebration. 

Partake Brewing

With a whole host of beer options (including fruit varieties), award-winning Partake was started by Ted Fleming, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease but didn’t want to give up drinking as a social event. As a result, Partake was born. With options from a Red Ale to a Peach Gose, you will find anything to quench your thirst.

(Author’s note: This article is not meant to shame anyone and their choices, but rather provide guidance on the benefits of choosing non-alcoholic beverages post-exercise.)