Can Beer Improve Your Run Time?

If you've ever been to a marathon, you know there's usually a big celebration afterwards, rife with beer and other spirits. This isn't surprising—it's not unusual to find runners who are also avid beer drinkers, and it turns out, all their beer drinking may just help their athletic performance.

According to a study by researchers at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen at Klinikum rechts der Isar, the compounds found in non-alcoholic beer—and alcoholic beer—play a part in recovery and illness prevention in athletes.

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The Research and Results

The study titled "Be-MaGIC" (Beer, Marathons, Genetics, Inflammation and the Cardiovascular system) was led by Dr. Johannes Scherr and followed 277 participants three weeks before and two weeks after the 2009 Munich Marathon. The study was focused on the effects of the rich and varied polyphenols found in wheat beer—a type of beer popular with marathoners and triathletes.

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The participants were separated into two groups, the beer drinkers and the abstainers. The beer drinkers drank up to 1.5 liters of the non-alcoholic wheat beer each day, while the abstainers drank an identical amount of a placebo drink. The placebo drink looked, smelled and tasted like the wheat beer, but it lacked the polyphenols found in the true non-alcoholic beverage.

Researchers found that marathon runners experience an inflammatory response after running a marathon. This is due to the increased stress placed on the body when competing in such a strenuous event.

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The inflammatory response causes the immune system to be suppressed temporarily, leading to an "open window" for cold viruses and other illnesses to get through. Researchers found that the beer drinking participants experienced a less pronounced immune response, and as a result, experienced fewer illnesses and infections than the abstainers.

Overall, findings showed that:

  • Beer drinkers experienced a greater support for the immune system.
  • Beer drinkers experienced fewer colds.
  • Beer drinkers who experienced colds had shorter, more mild infections than the abstainers.

The Takeaway

If you're training for an intense event or you regularly put your body through the courses during strenuous workouts, don't stress about throwing back a few beers. Just keep your consumption moderate and look at your beer drinking as a training tool. If you don't like beer, consider trying wine or grape juice instead. These drinks are also known for their healthy polyphenols.

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Laura Williams writes about exercise and fitness for Exercise.com through her regular column "Exercise Science". She is currently completing her master's in Exercise Science.


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