Water Vs. Beer: What's Better For Post-Workout Hydration?

Oftentimes, nothing sounds better after a long, sweaty workout than an ice-cold beer. However, many people opt for water to hydrate after pumping iron or hitting the hiking trails on a warm day. Because muscles are mostly made of water, drinking the stuff can be a great way to replenish lost H2O, prevent cramps, and regulate body temperature.

But there is some research that says beer is actually good for you (sort of), and that grabbing one or two bottles of your favorite low-ABV brewski after sweating it out might not be such a bad idea. The study, published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, says that low-alcohol beers with an ABV of 4% or lower are ideal for rehydration, while higher ABV beers should be paired with a non-alcoholic beverage for best results. Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D., told Men's Health that "Beer has carbohydrates and some sodium where water does not, which could be beneficial post-exercise."

But hydration isn't the only alleged benefit to drinking beer post-workout. The study also found that non-alcoholic beer can help prevent respiratory infection during intense physical training thanks to its high polyphenol content. Even better? Add some salt to your beer to help boost the rehydration effect and limit fluid losses (there are even beer salt products on the market to help with this). But does that mean that beer is actually better than water when it comes to post-workout hydration? Not necessarily, though side-by-side comparisons are hard to find.

The caveats

If you're a fan of high-ABV beer, stick to water. While the carbohydrates, electrolytes, and antioxidants in beer can theoretically help you recover after intense workouts, the alcohol pretty much erases those benefits. University Hospitals points out that beer isn't a "good" carb; the carbs from alcohol can actually inhibit muscle growth, and also inhibit the production of testosterone and growth horomone. Alcohol consumption can lead to diuresis (frequent urination, which can flush your system of essential nutrients), and another study found that "alcohol ingestion suppresses the anabolic response in skeletal muscle and may therefore impair recovery and adaption to training" (Plos One). Basically, alcohol makes it harder for your muscles to recover after working out.

The American Council on Exercise says that water is your best bet for hydration during exercise. Endurance athletes are recommended to have an electrolyte solution two hours prior to activity, then switch to water before and for the duration of the workout. For workouts lasting an hour, "water is all that is needed." After workouts lasting 90-120 minutes, electrolytes and carbs need to be replenished (like with this three-ingredient sports drink you can make at home), and after two hours, you'll need more protein, too. The Mayo Clinic says research suggests a post-workout protein smoothie is best — no mention of beer— because they have protein, carbs, and fluids all in one. A low-ABV or nonalcoholic beer won't ruin your workout results, but it's not some holy grail of post-workout hydration.