Drinking Beer After Running: How to Find Your Balance
There's nothing like enjoying a beer after running, whether it’s cracking open a cold can at home or rewarding yourself with a post-run pint in your local.
Knowing that beer tastes much better when you're enjoying the company of others, many distance runners are now seeking out the companionship of other runners, bringing about the bonding that comes from team sports while enjoying a beer or two.
In this article, we meet a community running club in South London and try to better understand the impact of alcohol on the body and whether or not it undoes the benefits of exercise.
MEET THE LONDON BEER RUNNERS
Andrew Finnerty, 53, is the founder of London Beer Runners based in South London. As the name may imply, the collective consists of amateur runners that enjoy finishing their guided running sessions with a few beers at a local brewery.
Whereas Andrew initially picked breweries that were staffed by runners, the philosophy has changed and it’s now more about finding breweries that share his community spirit.
"We want to introduce people to new venues and new parts of London," says Andrew, after visiting the Small Beer taproom in South Bermondsey on an unseasonably hot and sunny Saturday afternoon in August 2022. "The rise of small breweries over the last 15 years has put a big shift on community, locality and provenance. When you visit a brewery now, you get talk to the people who make the products."
The London Beer Runners are not alone in their appreciation of balancing beer with running. In many ways, the London Beer Runners is an evolution of the Hash House Harriers, a group of socially inclined runners around the world that enjoy "adventurous non-competitive group running." In fact, the roots of the organisation pre-date World War II and according to Wikipedia, the original purpose of the group was to "to promote physical fitness [and] get rid of weekend hangovers."
The online presence of the historic group is a little sparse to say the least, but there is a website dedicated to the London Hash House Harriers. Each weekend, the group organises around 30 runners to embark on an adventurous run or "hash" through London and then enjoy "plenty of drinking and socialising."
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LOOKING AFTER YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
Mental health professionals enthuse about the benefits of regular exercise: it can reduce stress, alleviate symptoms of mental illness, and trigger what is known as a ‘runner’s high.’ When you combine this with the benefits that come from social bonding, Andrew believes "the mental health benefits are off the scale." In this sense, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re drinking beer or something different: it’s simply the conduit for socialising with others.
Andrew is involved in several other social running initiatives in South London, including organising sessions for Runhead AC and Gipsy Hill Run Club and volunteering as a running director at his local parkrun in Peckham Rye.
"It’s now easier to find running clubs that are less traditional and that embrace the community and social side," says Andrew. “When I was growing up it was quite serious.”
The London Beer Runners range from beginners to advanced distance runners. As a veteran runner himself, Andrew is only too happy to introduce people to track running or train them for marathons, but his impetus is more about embracing the social and community side of running.
Social cycling: Read our interview with beer-loving cycling crew Trash Mile
"It’s now easier to find running clubs that are less traditional and that embrace the community and social side."
Andrew Finnerty, London Beer Runners
STAYING HEALTHY & HYDRATED
If you’re watching your weight or training to achieve a personal milestone, you might have wondered whether drinking beer may prevent you from achieving your fitness goals. After all, beer is high in calories and, as it is a diuretic, it makes you dehydrated, which isn't great for your recovery.
It might seem counterintuitive, but if you’ve already burnt between 300 and 400 calories on a 5K run, Andrew believes you’ve earned yourself the right to be a little indulgent without feeling guilty about it. "After a run, I like to sit down to decompress, have a beer and some crisps," he says.
To ensure you stay healthy and hydrated, it's important to understand what your body needs after running. Endurance exercise makes you sweat, lose electrolytes and use up carbohydrates fast. To recover, you need to provide your body with the following:
- Water, which helps you rehydrate
- Carbohydrates, which replenish energy stores (known as glycogen)
- Sodium (salt) and other electrolytes
- Proteins, for muscle recovery
The good news is that as beer contains water, carbs, sodium and protein, it can be enjoyed as part of your post-run recovery in combination with food and water. Although we do need to stress the importance of moderation.
To get a little more scientific, a study published in 2015 found that "moderate beer intake has no deleterious effects on markers of hydration in active individuals." To arrive at this conclusion, half of the people participating in the study were given 660ml of 4.5% beer and water after exercising, while the other half drank only water. After testing, both groups were just as well hydrated as each other.
Need to know: Is it OK to Drink Alcohol After Exercise?
WILL DRINKING BEER AFFECT YOUR TRAINING?
While drinking moderate amounts of alcohol after running has a minimal effect on your body’s recovery, if you’re training for a bigger race - such as a marathon - you should consider how alcohol consumption may affect your training plan.
As alcohol is high in calories, it can lead to weight gain, which is not ideal for marathon training. Having a hangover is also pretty likely to put off those long morning training runs, which could seriously derail your race preparation plan.
But like most things in life, the effects of beer on running training are relative. In the excellently titled BEER-HIIT Study, a team of Spanish researchers asked people to do a 10-week high intensity interval training programme. Some of the participants drank a can or two of beer every day, while others stuck to water. After 10 weeks, all participants had improved their strength and endurance. Crucially, there was no fitness difference between the water drinkers and the beer drinkers. The point being that moderate drinking is unlikely to seriously affect your training.
Need to know: How Many Calories are in Beer?
WHAT IS THE BEST BEER FOR RUNNERS?
The best beer for runners is one that contains lower levels of alcohol. The obvious reason here is that you are consuming less alcohol, which is precisely what makes you feel sluggish. But sticking to session beers is also better for rehydration. Where as alcohol is a diuretic, studies have found that beers below 3% ABV are more hydrating than they are dehydrating. In fact, another study from 2016 found that drinking a 2% beer after a workout can help with rehydration just as well as water.
There's a reason why the London Beer Runners were keen to visit the Small Beer taproom. "People can have three of four beers and no hangover," says Andrew. "That’s a great post-run beer!"
With five beers in our range, all of them contain naturally occurring electrolytes, which are found in isotonic drinks, and as they are all brewed below 2.8% ABV, they help with rehydration as well.