By Dr. Mercola
Is it possible nonalcoholic beer was partly responsible for Germanyâ€™s success in the 2018 Winter Olympics? According to German ski team doctor Johannes Scherr,1 the answer is a resounding yes. Scherr says nearly all of his athletes drink nonalcoholic beer during training and some continued drinking it as a recovery beverage during the Winter Games. Research conducted by Scherr and others show alcohol-free beer fights inflammation and reduces upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs).
Nonalcoholic beer is so intertwined with German sports, the brewery Krombacher shipped 3,500 liters (about 924 gallons) of it to the athletes’ village in Pyeongchang, South Korea. German Olympic athletes such as alpine ski racer Linus Strasser and biathlete Simon Schempp are among those who routinely use beer as a recovery drink.
While it may be difficult to directly link the nonalcoholic brew with Germanyâ€™s success, the country tied for first with Norway with 14 gold medals and took second place overall with a total medal count of 31. While those results are impressive, you may be wondering about the science behind beer as a sports drink. Is nonalcoholic beer an effective rehydration and recovery drink?
The Science Behind â€˜Recovery Beerâ€™ for Athletes
According to The New York Times,2 Scherr, who in addition to his role as an Olympic team doctor is also a sports medicine teacher at the Technical University of Munich, made the discovery about â€œrecovery beerâ€� in 2009. At the time, Scherr noticed athletes who drank nonalcoholic beer suffered fewer URTIs than athletes who had received a placebo. In addition, Scherr noted athletes who consumed nonalcoholic brew also experienced significantly reduced inflammation, which enabled them to recover faster between competitions.
Scherrâ€™s double-blind study, which was financed by a brewing company and published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise3 in 2012, involved 277 healthy male runners. The men, ages 31 to 51, were participants in the Munich Marathon. Each runner consumed 1 to 1.5 liters of nonalcoholic beer daily for three weeks prior to and two weeks immediately following the race.
The placebo group received a similar foamy nonalcoholic beer with the polyphenols removed. The objective of the research was to determine if nonalcoholic beer, which contains antioxidant, antipathogenic and anti-inflammatory properties, could benefit athletes. To Scherrâ€™s surprise, the results indicated the group of beer-drinking runners, as compared to the placebo group, experienced:4,5
- A 20 percent reduction in the activity of white blood cells, a good indicator of inflammation
- More than a threefold reduction in the incidence of postrace URTIs
Given the outcome, German athletes are not the only ones benefiting from nonalcoholic beer as a recovery beverage â€” a 2016 Chilean study6 published in the journal Nutrients found soccer players who downed nonalcoholic beer before their workouts stayed better hydrated than their peers who drank regular beer and water.
Polyphenols and Beer: Whatâ€™s the Connection?
The high concentration of polyphenols contained in beer is what researchers believe delivers the powerful immune-boosting effects uncovered by Scherr and his colleagues. According to Runnerâ€™s World, â€œbeer is known to include more than 2,000 organic and inorganic chemicals, including more than 50 polyphenols from barley and hops.â€�7
One of Scherrâ€™s research partners, David Nieman, a professor in Appalachian State University’s department of health and exercise science, has studied the health benefits of phenols. He suggests phenol-rich diets help lower inflammation and curb your risk of illness. In addition to their antiviral properties, Nieman states, “[Polyphenols] have a very unique molecular structure that can actually regulate the genes that control inflammation.â€�8
To be effective as a recovery beverage, nonalcoholic beer has to be formulated properly, says associate professor and dietitian Ben Desbrow, Ph.D., from Griffith University in Australia.9 Traditional beer provides an insufficient amount of carbohydrates and electrolytes to benefit your body after exercise, notes Desbrow, who has been experimenting with formulations that will provide the beneficial properties of a rehydration drink without the dehydrating effects of alcohol.
In a 2013 study published in International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism,10 Desbrow and his colleagues found that beer with a lower alcohol content and added salt provided better hydration than traditional compositions. Given its status as a plant-based beverage, Desbrow and his team believe reduced-alcohol beer has more naturally occurring nutrients than commercial sports drinks.
“A properly formulated beer beverage is likely to do you no more harm than you are likely to get from a sports drink,” said Desbrow.11 A 2015 study,12 also involving Desbrow, reflects that making changes to the electrolyte concentration of low-alcohol beer appears to more significantly impact an athleteâ€™s postexercise fluid retention than small changes made to its alcohol content.
The History of German Nonalcoholic Beer
Although nonalcoholic beer has been around in Germany since 1973, Scherr notes only in the past decade have beer companies been more intentional about pitching nonalcoholic products to health-conscious consumers. Once the scientific research was completed, the public began to respond to alcohol-free beer. As such, according to Euromonitor International, consumption of nonalcoholic beer in Germany grew 43 percent from 2011 to 2016, even as overall consumption of beer declined.13
According to The New York Times,14 Germans fall in second place behind Iran as the nation consuming the most nonalcoholic beer. Itâ€™s no surprise then to learn that Germany has worked hard to develop brewing techniques designed to perfect and differentiate the flavor of alcohol-free brews. The work seems to be wildly successful based on the fact more than 400 nonalcoholic beers are now available on the German market. Below are a few of the tactics German breweries have used to market their nonalcoholic beers exclusively as sports drinks:15
- Bavarian brewery Erdinger touts its nonalcoholic wheat beer as â€œthe isotonic thirst quencher for athletesâ€�
- Heineken alcohol-free beer, which is dubbed â€œHeineken 0.0,â€�16 will be featured in vending machines at McFit Fitness locations nationwide
- Nonalcoholic beer is made available to runners at the finish line of most major German marathons, with Erdinger supplying 30,000 bottles of its “Alkoholfrei” beer to finishers of the 2017 Berlin Marathon
In a press release announcing its sponsorship of a 2015 marathon in Orange County, California, Erdinger had this to say about its sober brew:17
â€œBrewed under the strict Bavarian Purity Law of 1516, which requires high-quality, only natural ingredients, Erdinger Non-Alcoholic replenishes the body with essential vitamins including B9 and B12, which help reduce fatigue, promote energy-yielding metabolism and support the immune system. The brew contains less than 0.5 percent of alcohol by volume, and is low in calories with just 125 per serving.â€�
Alcohol-Free Beer Versus Traditional Sports Drinks: Which Is Better?
Traditional sports drinks like Gatorade do not have much of a following in Germany. One reason for this may be the high sugar content. Nonalcoholic beer has a lower sugar content than most sports drinks and a taste that is preferred by Germans. â€œIt tastes good, and itâ€™s good for the body,â€� said Strasser after finishing his second run in the menâ€™s giant slalom at the Winter Olympics. â€œAlcohol-free wheat beer, for example, is extremely healthy.â€�18
German speed skater Moritz Geisreiter says he drank nonalcoholic beer from the grocery store before switching to a custom sports beverage created by a nutritionist. â€œ[Nonalcoholic beer is] a nice solution for someone who doesnâ€™t want to pay dozens of euros a week for a nutrition drink,â€� he said during an interview at the Olympic speedskating oval in Gangneung, South Korea.19
Despite their increasing market share and tremendous popularity, particularly in the U.S., sports drinks are a terrible choice. They are overmarketed to children and teens and promoted as a necessity after even mild activity. In my opinion, they are among the worst beverages you can consume. If you donâ€™t believe me, take a look at some of the ingredients featured in one popular brand:
Glycerol ester of rosin
High-fructose corn syrup (Glucose-fructose syrup)
Modified food starch
Many sports drinks contain as much as two-thirds the sugar of a comparable serving of soda. In addition, as reflected above, these unnaturally neon-colored beverages are filled with toxic ingredients such as artificial flavors, artificial colors and high-fructose corn syrup. On top of that, the low-calorie and sugar-free versions most likely contain artificial sweeteners, which are even worse for you than fructose.
An additional concern is the fact the sugar content of a single sports drink (roughly 29 grams) represents nearly TWICE the daily recommended fructose allowance if you are insulin resistant, and it’s 4 grams over the suggested limit if you are noninsulin resistant! Because your liver has to process all that sugar, you put yourself at risk of chronic metabolic disease and insulin resistance when you overconsume sugar.
Unchecked, insulin resistance can progress to metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes. The metabolism of fructose by your liver also creates a number of waste products and toxins, including a large amount of uric acid, which drives up your blood pressure and can cause gout. Before you decide if nonalcoholic beer is a better choice than commercial sports drinks, itâ€™s important to consider some of the ingredients commonly found in beer.
Caution: Your Favorite Beer May Contain Toxic Ingredients
If the ingredients in commercial sports drinks not only have you concerned, but also thinking beer may be a better choice for hydration and recovery, think twice. You may be surprised to learn that most beer, particularly brands produced in the U.S., contain toxic ingredients known to damage your health, such as genetically engineered (GE) corn, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup, as well as bisphenol A (BPA),carrageenan, caramel coloring, monosodium glutamate and propylene glycol, to name a few.20,21
Based on stricter regulations around food safety as well as bans on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), European beers are typically a better choice, as are organic beers. About German beers, the Food Babe says:22
â€œGerman beers are â€¦ a good bet. The Germans are very serious about the purity of their beer and enacted a purity law called â€˜Reinheitsgebotâ€™ that requires all German beers to be only produced with a core ingredient list of water, hops, yeast, malted barley or wheat. Advocates of German beers insist they taste cleaner and some even claim they donâ€™t suffer from hangovers as a result.â€�
If you choose to use nonalcoholic beer as a recovery beverage after strenuous workouts, be sure to do your homework and choose a brand that has a clean ingredient list. Better yet, consider coconut water.
Coconut Water: Your Best Source of Natural Electrolytes
While alcohol-free beer has secured its place as a popular and well-liked rehydration beverage for German athletes, including many who competed in this yearâ€™s Winter Olympics, I believe coconut water is still the best rehydration drink on the planet. Coconut water is a well-known source of natural electrolytes and boasts an outstanding nutritional profile. Itâ€™s so well-regarded, in fact, coconut water was used intravenously, short-term, during World War II to help hydrate critically ill patients in emergency situations.
Coconut water is particularly beneficial if you engage in activities resulting in profuse sweating. You can drink it plain or add fresh citrus juice for flavor. Beyond its alkalizing effects, coconut water possesses unique nutritional qualities due to the fact coconut palms grow in rich volcanic soils and mineral-rich seawater. Coconut water is:
- A powerhouse of electrolytes and natural salts, especially magnesium and potassium
- Full of cytokinins, or plant hormones, which have antiaging, anticancer and antithrombotic effects in humans
- Light, low-calorie and low in sugar, but pleasantly sweet
- Packed with amino acids, antioxidants, enzymes, organic acids and phytonutrients
- Rich in natural vitamins (particularly B vitamins), minerals and trace elements, including iodine, manganese, selenium, sulfur and zinc
Coconut Water Is the No. 1 ‘Sports Drink’
For most amateur athletes and casual exercisers, sports drinks are not only unnecessary and costly, but also, they can damage your health. A tiny fraction of the people who consume sports drinks derive any benefit from them. Due to the number of toxic ingredients, most sports drinks do more harm than good. Fortunately, natural coconut water is free of toxins and artificial ingredients. (Watch out for bottled varieties though, as they often contain unhealthy additives.)
If you exercise for 30 minutes a day at a low to moderate intensity or engage in high-intensity interval training (HIIT), clean, pure water is the main beverage you need to stay hydrated. It’s only when you’ve been exercising for more than 60 minutes, in high heat or at extreme intensity levels, involving profuse sweating, that you may need something more than water to replenish your body.If you need electrolytes, coconut water will provide them. If you don’t need electrolytes, intaking them certainly won’t hurt you. To restore your salt balance, you might want to add a tiny pinch of natural Himalayan salt to your glass of coconut water.
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