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Think a “Performance Beer” Is Going to Help With Recovery? Think Again

A growing number of companies are touting the health and fitness benefits of their new brews. But is it legit?

If you’ve noticed a bunch of new beers at the supermarket with taglines like “for the active lifestyle” and “the athlete’s choice,” you might be thinking, “well, that sounds more fun than a sports recovery drink!” More fun, maybe. But more effective? Not so fast.

“Functional” or “performance” beers have been on a rapid upward trajectory in the last few years thanks to some savvy marketing, led by a growing demand for beverages that are lower in calories and higher in things traditionally found in health drinks, like electrolytes and micronutrients.

While the enhanced ingredients have little downside, the actual payoff of drinking an electrolyte-infused lager is unclear. For starters, “any alcohol is a diuretic and therefore not something an athlete benefits from,” says Marie Spano, RD, sports nutritionist for the Atlanta Braves and lead author of Nutrition for Sport, Exercise and Health. While some of these beers have a lower ABV, Spano also cautions that the addition of “healthy” ingredients don’t tell the whole story.

“Just containing these ingredients doesn’t tell me anything — how much is in there, is it bioavailable, what does this actually do for the athlete or active individual?” she asks. That is to say, much of this is a marketing gimmick. “Beer does not hydrate anyone better than a sports drink or post-workout shake.” Not to mention water. Bottom line: If you want a beer, have a beer. But don’t pretend you’re doing it for your body, and “don’t use this as your irrational excuse to drink beer,” says Spano, because the science doesn’t back you up.

Claim Check on Popular “Performance Beers”

Sufferfest FTK Pale Ale

The claim: The company says this beer, a runner’s acronym for “Fastest Known Time,” is fermented from grains containing gluten, then designed to remove it afterward. The beer also contains black currants, and salt to replace electrolytes after a workout.

The reality: Unless you are the 1% of Americans who are gluten intolerant, there is no reason to remove gluten from your beer. Replacing electrolytes is a good thing, although you could also do it for fewer calories through low-cal sports drinks or eating a banana.

Dogfish Head SeaQuench Ale

The claim: SeaQuench contains 4.9% ABV, 140 calories, 9g carbs, 2g protein, and 0g fat per 12 oz. serving. The website calls it “a perfect pairing for an active lifestyle.”

The reality: To a certain extent, the carbs in beer can help with your post-race recovery. But consider: Sports nutritionists recommend 30 to 90 grams of carbs immediately after exercise to speed the recovery process; at 9 grams, you’re going to need a lot of SeaQuench. Moreover, the ratio of carbs to protein is an important element of recovery, a formula of either 3:1 or 4:1. Two grams is better than zero, but it’s still lacking on the protein front.

Harpoon Brewery Rec League Pale Ale

The claim: Brewed with Mediterranean sea salt, buckwheat, and chia seeds, this beer is touted as a perfect ale for recovery from a tough workout.

The reality: You can’t taste the chia seeds — which is probably a good thing in your beer. (Also, “chia is a good seed, but there are no known performance benefits to eating it,” says Spano.) As for the sea salt, “sodium is needed after a workout or race, but you can get it from sprinkling a little salt on your meal—you don’t need a beer to get salt.” Rec League’s strongest selling point may be its 3.8 ABV, a low-alcohol content that means if you don’t mind the calories, you can throw back a few without experiencing as much dehydration as your regular brew.