Runners Who Love Beer

Runners Who Love Beer

In a dark corner of the 2nd Street Brew House in South Philadelphia, where the food menus are laminated and the chalkboard draft list lit by white Christmas lights, David April stood on a bar stool and called for attention. After thanking the 70 or so runners for joining him that night, he lifted a full pint above his head and gave a hearty yell: “To the Professor!”

Mr. April is a co-founder of the Fishtown Beer Runners, one in a long line of clubs that celebrate the joys of running and beer drinking. Others include the Hash House Harriers (started by British soldiers stationed in Malaysia in 1938, with many chapters now around the world) and the Beer Milers (four beers in four laps on the track — vomit and you’re penalized).

The interest in running and beer isn’t just about dulling postrun pain or keeping the runner’s high going. That’s where “The Professor” comes in: Dr. Manuel J. Castillo, a professor of medical physiology at the University of Granada School of Medicine in Spain who has studied the effects of beer on athletic performance.

Dr. Castillo isn’t a runner, but a skier and a tennis player, who came to the topic after his brother challenged him about the wisdom of having a beer after a morning of strenuous skiing in 2006. When he couldn’t find any research to back him up, he did his own.

In his study, he had 16 physically active men run on a treadmill for an hour in a heated room, then either drink water or 660 milliliters of beer (about two cans) with a standard 4.5 percent alcohol content. The result: A moderate amount of beer after exercise didn’t adversely affect these young athletes’ recovery.

“We found that this amount of beer is as effective as water to recovery from exercise,” he said of the study, which he presented at the 2011 European Conference on Nutrition.

A recent study published in The International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism provides some further reassurance. Researchers at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, had seven men exercise vigorously until they lost about 2 percent of their body mass. Afterward, they had one of four fluid replacements: light beer (2.3 percent alcohol content), light beer with added salt, standard beer (4.8 percent alcohol content) or standard beer with salt. The salt was added because of the known benefits of electrolytes for rehydration.

beer frosty

The researchers found that drinking the light beer with added salts produced the greatest benefits and didn’t put athletes at great risk of further dehydration, something that can occur with higher-strength beers.

“The point is not to get nondrinkers to drink beer, but to provide beer drinkers with a healthy alternative,” said Ben Desbrow, an associate professor at the School of Public Health at Griffith University and lead author of the study. He says this is an example of harm minimization: because some athletes drink beer after exercising, the point was not to prove that beer plus salt was a better rehydration liquid than water or a sport drink, but to help athletes choose a better way to drink beer afterward. Adding salt to your beer might sound silly, but it’s not hard. Or, says Dr. Desbrow, have a salty snack with that beer.

Indeed, nonalcoholic beer may be a better option for athletes who insist on having the beverage, as a 2011 study of marathon runners in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found. Runners who drank two to three pints of nonalcoholic beer after running in the weeks leading up to and after a marathon were less likely than those who drank a placebo beverage to suffer respiratory ailments and had less inflammation, an effect the researchers postulated may be a result of the rich mix of polyphenols found in beer (with or without alcohol).

Of course, nonalcoholic beer is not the beverage of choice for most members of the Fishtown Beer Runners, who meet every Thursday at either Mr. April’s house in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia or at a location in the Bella Vista neighborhood close to Center City. The group has chapters in West Philadelphia and Gettysburg, Pa., as well as in Montreal, and also inspired a series of beer runs that kicked off in Spain last year with six events around that country that drew more than 5,000 participants.

“Beer running combines two actions: running and being social,” Mr. April said. “You have the serious solo runner who needs socialization, and the guy who drinks too much who needs exercise. Being social encourages more people to be consistent.”

Matt Hotz, a 38-year-old business analyst who lives in South Philadelphia, runs with the Fishtown Beer Runners occasionally. He is training for the Philadelphia half-marathon in November and, while he usually runs alone because of his schedule, he joins the group runs when he can.

“It’s a reverse causality,” he said while drinking a Dark Horse Crooked Tree I.P.A. after one recent Fishtown run. “Loving beer comes first. Finding something that I like that made me not get fat came next.”

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