Beer: A Marathon Recovery Elixir?

How good old wheat beer can help your body bounce back after a workout

For many people, it's like a dream come true: a new study indicates that wheat beer reduces post-marathon muscle inflammation and respiratory illness.  

The study, which was called "Be-MaGIC" (Beer, Marathons, Genetics, Inflammation and the Cardiovascular system), looked at 277 marathoners who each drink 34 to 50 ounces of either non-alcoholic wheat beer or a placebo drink with the same amount of calories and carbs every day for 3 weeks leading up to the 2011 Munich Marathon, and for two weeks following the race.

After the marathon, the researchers measured the participants’ muscle inflammation and tracked signs of respiratory illness.  What they found might surprise you: the beer drinkers were more than three times less likely to experience upper-respiratory infection, and their markers for inflammation were 20 to 32 percent lower than the placebo group’s.

What's the cause of this good fortune? Polyphenols, which are are class of chemical found in many plants and fruit. These compounds contain an antioxidant, which in turn are a kind of compound that captures free radical molecules that are produced during exercise, and which can cause damage as they bounce around muscle cells. By capturing these free radicals, antioxidants such as those found in polyphenols limit the damage that they cause. Thus, the polyphenols can help fight a virus, regulate the immune system, and they help reduce inflammation and stress.  

Beer, as luck would have it, contains lots of polyphenols. Wheat beer in particular contains many different types of polyphenols.

There are other products available that can reduce inflammation, such as over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS), a class of drugs that includes aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium. But these drugs can cause stomach upset and, in some cases ulcers.  Drinking beer can cause many things, but generally speaking, moderate consumption of beer doesn't lead to these problems. More importantly, according to the latest research, polyphenols can be more effective than NSAIDs at reducing inflammation

Perhaps you're convinced by this point about the finer qualities of beer, but you would still prefer to not get hung over. What to do? Non-alcoholic beer also contains polyphenols, as do fresh fruits, vegetables, whole wheat, and legumes. But regular alcoholic wheat beer contains double the polyphenols of non-alcoholic wheat beer, so for best results, it's recommend that you don't skimp on the product.

I suspect that many runners already considered beer an important part of their training, even if they didn't know the scientific names of the valuable compounds found in beer. After all, one of the true joys of running is to share a few beers and pizza after a hard workout or race. The difference now, however, is that when you're ordering up the next round, you can assure your running pals that you're doing so for their own good.