Af­ter you hit the gym, is a stop at the bar your next move? If so, you’re not alone. Re­search sheds some light on the cor­re­la­tion be­tween drink­ing and work­ing out.


IF YOU’RE FROM Milwaukee, drink­ing is prac­ti­cally part of your DNA, and swill­ing beer is vir­tu­ally a civic duty. What else would you ex­pect in a city that’s been brew­ing beer for about 180 years and used to av­er­age one tav­ern for ev­ery 40 res­i­dents?

In some twisted logic that only makes sense in Brew City, ex­er­cis­ing and con­sum­ing al­co­hol are part­ners in crime. (As proof, check out our side­bar on beer runs, at right). Turns out that’s not such a bad thing: A post-work­out beer can ac­tu­ally be a boon for the ath­let­i­cally in­clined.


Maybe there’s a rea­son why marathon run­ners and pro­fes­sional ath­letes tend to cel­e­brate vic­to­ries with co­pi­ous amounts of beer (whether poured over their heads or down their gul­lets).

Re­search from two stud­ies (from 2011 and 2015) draws a com­pelling link be­tween beer con­sump­tion and ex­er­cise, even sug­gest­ing a sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship. The lat­ter study found that par­tic­i­pants drank more on days when they upped their phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity. The ear­lier one noted that the cor­re­la­tion be­tween mod­er­ate con­sump­tion of al­co­hol and ex­er­cise was stronger in men.

Sci­en­tists have long known that peo­ple who ex­er­cise of­ten also tend to drink reg­u­larly. A 2001 study pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Stud­ies on Al­co­hol and Drugs found that mod­er­ate drinkers were nearly two times as likely to work out as their non­drink­ing coun­ter­parts.

While this re­search may help jus­tify your post­gym cock­tail crav­ings, it also begs the ques­tion: Why are the two con­nected in the first place? “It could be phys­i­o­log­i­cally based,” says Ann Swartz, a Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin-Milwaukee prof who spe­cial­izes in ex­er­cise phys­i­ol­ogy. “These be­hav­iors both pro­vide re­ward­ing stim­uli to the brain and may lessen anx­i­ety.”

Swartz also sug­gests spe­cific mo­tives that might help de­mys­tify the cor­re­la­tion, in­clud­ing the “work hard, play hard” the­ory. “When you ex­er­cise hard and per­form well in your sport, you can then play hard – or con­sume al­co­hol,” she

says. Then there’s the psy­cho­log­i­cal com­po­nent. Run­ner’s high – a euphoric feel­ing caused by any aer­o­bic ac­tiv­ity – is sim­i­lar to the buzz brought on by mod­er­ate al­co­hol con­sump­tion. Those who thrive on one might thrive on the other.


Lo­cals don’t need much more than ready ac­cess to a cold one to en­tice them to drink. The idea that im­bib­ing could be ben­e­fi­cial to your health – stip­u­la­tion: con­sump­tion within rea­son – is ic­ing on the cake. Re­searchers from Penn State to the Univer­sity of Alabama at Birm­ing­ham have been busy ex­am­in­ing the con­nec­tions. For in­stance, a 2016 study at Penn State con­cluded that mod­er­ate beer drink­ing led to the slow­est de­cline in lev­els of high-den­sity lipopro­tein (HDL) – that’s the “good” choles­terol – and there­fore a lower risk of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­eases. But be­fore you or­der an­other pitcher, know that the out­look fades when the con­sump­tion in­creases.

“We know clearly that a cer­tain amount of al­co­hol can cause tremen­dous health haz­ards, in­clud­ing heart fail­ure, ac­ci­dents, obe­sity, liver fail­ure, psy­chosis, among other prob­lems,” con­firms Dr. Christopher We­ber, an in­ternist with Columbia-St. Mary’s.

But We­ber agrees that mod­er­ate al­co­hol con­sump­tion can have health ben­e­fits, al­though he em­pha­sizes that mod­er­ate means one serv­ing per day for women and two serv­ings per day for men. “You can­not save them up and drink all on the week­end or af­ter a race,” he says, adding that the harm out­weighs the ben­e­fits.


But is a pint a healthy way to end a work­out? While there’s no con­clu­sive ev­i­dence that post-work­out beers are ben­e­fi­cial, most ex­perts agree one beer (or two, for males) won’t hurt you. “Af­ter a work­out, it is prob­a­bly not detri­men­tal,” says We­ber. “My sus­pi­cion is that drink­ing beer af­ter a marathon or hard work­out is much more of a so­cial or psy­cho­logic event and not some­thing phys­i­o­logic.”

That said, the im­por­tance of psy­cho­log­i­cal re­wards should not be un­der­es­ti­mated. So if the prom­ise of a drink gets you to the gym, then cheers. ◆

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