There has been a lot of research about the helpful cardiac benefits of drinking in moderation. A daily glass of wine is included in the Mediterranean diet that many doctors recommend to patients as a healthy way to eat. Some studies have even looked at beer as an alternative kind of sports drink (the nutrients in the hops and the sugar can work if sodium is added and the alcohol content is lower).
The research about the positive benefits drinking beer might have on the body while exercising, however, is not as well documented. One theory may be that alcohol and exercise both work on the same pathways in the brain.
"There are a lot of parallels in terms of how the brain responds to exercise and alcohol," said Leigh Leasure, an associate professor and director of behavioral neuroscience at the University of Houston.
Putting your body through the strains of exercise depletes a lot of important vitamins, hydrating electrolytes, and carbs. That’s why athletes chug Gatorade or coconut water and eat fruit after an intense workout—they’re all full of good sugar and nutrients that replenish your body. Beer’s got some of that good stuff, too: sugary carbs, a hint of electrolytes, and a few helpful plant-based nutrients that come from the hops, yeast, and barley. But the main drawback—and it’s a doozy—is that alcohol pretty much screws up everything.
Not only does alcohol leave you dehydrated, but a recent study suggests that it can also hinder your muscle recovery after exercise. So, in order for you to get any of the good stuff out of beer, you’d have to take out the one big ingredient that makes it enjoyable in the first place.
But maybe the benefits of drinking alcohol during or after a tough workout session isn’t found in the health properties of the drink. As some scientists hypothesize, it the advantages might be the chemical changes that affect your brain during the scenarios in which you decide to drink.
Think about it: a lot of people grab a drink or go to the bar to celebrate, commemorate, or unwind from a day at the office. Often, we have coworkers or buddies along with us to share in the fun and enjoyment. Some studies suggest that dopamine, the chemical in your brain responsible for pleasure, is born from stimuli common to both drinking and exercising.
“The brain releases dopamine and endorphins with both. "It does make you wonder if people are feeling good when they exercise, and people feel good when they have a drink, maybe they continue to seek out that experience,” Leasure says.
Of course, this is all operating under the assumption that one drinks in moderation. While we here at Mind Rewards enjoy a cold one after a hard day’s work, we suggest anyone who pairs leg day with a beer to drink responsibly.