Monday, August 8, 2011

Running, Beer, Incomplete Science, and Sensational Journalism

This weekend a friend sent me the article Can Beer Improve Your Run Time based on a 2009 study Be-MaGIC" (Beer, Marathons, Genetics, Inflammation and the Cardiovascular system) from  Instinctively I figured - yes beer does improve run times.  Fits nicely and it would justify years of my own behavior.  I grabbed a six pack to celebrate as I read the article.

Half a beer into the article I stumbled across the following paragraph:

The participants were separated into two groups, the beer drinkers and the abstainers. The beer drinkers drank up to 1.5 liters of the non-alcoholic wheat beer each day, while the abstainers drank an identical amount of a placebo drink. The placebo drink looked, smelled and tasted like the wheat beer, but it lacked the polyphenols found in the true non-alcoholic beverage.

After reading this I spit out my beer.  My head was spinning in disbelief.  This was only half of a study on beer and running.  Did you see the key word?  The study used non-alcoholic beer.  This study is incomplete, where is the second half that introduces alcohol?  In all fairness the team that did the study never advertised it as more than what it was but the author of the article did.
I finished off my beer and started a second one to get over the anguish of this realization.  I was still looking for answers about shaving time off my pace by way of beer drinking.  Then I thought how much beer is in 1.5 liters?  Answer:  About 50 fluid ounces or four 12 oz bottles of beer.  But wait this study was about non alcoholic beer.  How does alcohol counteract the beneficial effect of polyphenols?  Does the introduction of alcohol reduce the permissible volume?

The article concluded without answering my questions or even the title of the article itself, Can beer improve your run time?  The article did conclude the polyphenols in beer fight inflammation and help to prevent illness like cold and flu.  I suppose this could help improve running times if I can train instead of being ill.  Maybe recovery is faster too?

Here is my take on beer/wine/liquor and training established over years of careful study and trial and error.  I have always described beer and wine as a natural Ibuprofen.  Timing is very important.  I have Beer or wine later in the day, following a workout.  I always get real food and water in me first and feel recovered before drinking alcohol.  Beer wins out for me over wine and I have never felt beneficial effects from hard liquor.  Sometimes beer is what my body is craving and I feel better for having one.  Diminishing and negative returns add up quickly though so I stick to the low side of 10 - 24 oz of beer per 100 lb of body weight.  Heavy drinking has no benefit, no matter the timing, and takes a long time to recover from and can set training back weeks.

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