It's one thing when trail runners latch onto something. Sure, we love our cult shoes that no one else has, in neon pink, if we can get them. We swear by the vegan tamales that you can only purchase from the local food truck at the abandoned gas station. We doubt that Fireball knows they're an aid station staple, but we keep bringing a box of it to every race anyway. Runners in general are notorious for quietly finding their weird, niche favorites, and never letting them go.
So you can imagine the surprise when the niche notices- and embraces - us back. That is the foundation of the ties between beer and running; breweries saw that those strange people in the woods were setting out with nothing but a pair of tiny shorts and a six pack. Instead of rolling their eyes and looking back at the baseball park customer base...they went, "Huh. Now there's an interesting market." Just like that, a one-sided infatuation became a full-blown, cohesive romance.
The runners kept chugging their beers, and the breweries started making beers just for those runners. There are brews specifically designed for the post-run experience, like Boston beer Company's 26.2, a beer geared towards Boston marathon finishers. Beyond that, entire breweries are dedicating themselves to creating endurance-minded crafts, such as Sufferfest Beer Company.
Not only did brew masters design products targeted at runners, but they also began conducting research and writing literature on the junction of malts and miles. Sure, Runner's World, Active.com, and Trail Runner Magazine have a robust collection of articles on beer and running. But cultural pieces on the same topic were written for sites like Good Beer Hunting, Hop Culture, and Bon Appetit. In early 2019, Bryan Roth even gave the relationship a trendy name- the "Ultrafication of Beer."
Being embraced by the brewery community promoted running, which enjoyed a popularity boost by association. Running was no longer "suffering for a medal and a t-shirt" or "hamstering on the track." Running had beer! Running was loose and fun and creative and rebellious (but in a nonthreatening way)! Together, running and beer enjoyed a symbiotic relationships; beer became associated with active, fit people, and running became a relaxed, accessible pastime.
But do the benefits stop at social and cultural gains? What is the actual science behind this classic combination? Sure, running and beer look good together; but are they, y'know...actually good for each other?
Practically every article that covers the nutritional science of beer start with the phrase, "IN MODERATION", and then proceeds to repeat this phrase every ten words. So, we will jump on the "don't sue us" train and make the following disclaimer:
All alcoholic beverages should be enjoyed in moderation. The definition of "moderation" varies, but generally alludes to one to three 12-ounce beers per day. Drinking while pregnant or on certain medications does not fall under "moderation." Drinking with liver diseases or conditions does not fall under "moderation." Drinking combined with other recreational substances does not fall under "moderation." Drinking while operating a motorized vehicle...you get the idea. Don't drink and dumb.
With that out of the way, we can dive into the wonderful world of science, splits, and suds.
Based on multiple studies (you can find them here, here, and here), there are some supported benefits to drinking post-run. Beer has been found to positively affect cholesterol levels by decreasing LDL (bad) cholesterol and increasing the good. Additionally, the post-run beer protects bones from thinning by increasing mineral density. Most beers also contain small amounts of protein and soluble fiber, which support a stronger recovery. Finally, based on your drink of choice, your beer may be supplying you with multiple B vitamins, increasing cell metabolism and energy levels.
Now, let's talk about the bad. The same studies as above do advocate for a post-run beer over a pre-race beer, or even drinking while running. Generally, alcohol consumption in general can lead to dehydration, and during exercise, can impair metabolic processes, which is why it is best left for finish line celebrations.
Of course, listening to solid advice has never been a strong component of running culture, leading to a slew of official races that involve beer consumption mid-race. Almost every town in America has a beer-related race, from the brewery-sponsored marathons to the hallowed Beer Mile (which will have its own article, don't worry!). La Sportiva sponsored a unique Beer Relay race in Lyons, Colorado in June of 2019, with the option for two or four person teams. The race featured a 3 mile loop; each team member drank 12 oz of beer per loop. The team that finished the most laps in four hours won the relay; the four person category winners racked up 31.9 miles, and the two person team victors totaled 29 miles. Showing off the typical runner flair, team names included "Barrel Full of Drunkies", "One and Done", and "Alcoholics Runnonymous."
If you're looking for an alcohol-themed challenge closer to home, check out Tulsa's classic McNellie's Pub Run with the added Guinness Challenge (four miles of racing that must include three Guinness beers) on November 9th. There is also talk of a collaborative pub relay designed by TOTs and Tulsa Running Club, potentially coming soon to several local breweries near you.
What is your favorite post-run beer, and what are your thoughts on drinking mid-race?
Special thanks to the team at the Tulsa Community College Southeast Campus's Writing Center for reviewing and editing this article on a slow Wednesday in the office.
In 2017, Outside Magazine posted an article with a headline that made me cringe; "Why Do Rich People Love Endurance Sports?" The article delves into the straightforward world of financing an endurance sport, such as racing triathlons or completing a marathon. But it also dives into the sociology and psychology of white collar workers choosing the pain, suffering, and long-term discomfort of an endurance sport as their after-hours hobby.
Looking around at our own Tulsa trail running community, you can see the pattern exists here, too. Our members include business owners, software developers, and mechanical engineers. So why do highly educated and well-paid office workers want to spend their free time getting lost in the woods?