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Do You Crave A Beer After Exercise or a Game?

Do You Crave a Beer after Exercise or a Game?

There is a medical reason for this desire.


In the summer I play two baseball games a week and one of the most satisfying parts of the contest is going with my teammates to the bar after the game having a cold refreshing beer.  Sports teams and training partners celebrate victories, bemoan defeats and mark the end of training sessions with a beer or two or three. Beer, in fact provides a substantial portion of some exercisers’ fluid intake after workouts.

Lately there has been a discussion as to whether exercise encourages people to drink or whether drinking encourages people to exercise.

Now two new studies suggest that exercise may well influence when and how much people drink. Drinking may even affect whether people exercise, and the findings suggest the interplay between exercise and alcohol could be a good thing.

In the past studies have shown that people who exercise tend to be people who drink and vice-versa. In a typical study from 2001, researchers found that men and women who qualified as moderate drinkers, meaning they drank about a drink a day, were twice as likely as non-drinkers to exercise regularly.

But most of these studies were inaccurate because they relied on the ability to recall their exercise and drinking habits, for example, of the previous year. The study rarely took into account the ages of the participants or their gender which definitely affect how much people exercise and drink.

The other problem in the study was whether the exercise and the drinking went together. Maybe they exercised on Thursday and went out drinking on Friday night. They still would be categorized as an exerciser who drank.

To better understand the relationship between drinking and exercise, researchers at Pennsylvania State University, in a very scientifically ambitious study used a group of 150 adult men and women between the ages of 18 and 75 who were already enrolled in a long-term health study at the university.

These volunteers visited the lab and filled out extensive questionnaires about their lifestyle and then were provided with a simple smartphone app that could be used to record a day’s drinking and exercise.

The app would automatically send each day’s report to the researchers. The volunteers agreed to use the app for 21 consecutive days. Over the course of about one year, covering different seasons, each participant completed three of the 21 day reports.

When the researchers collected and compared the data from their volunteers, they found for the first time, an unequivocal correlation between exercising on a given day and subsequent drinking, especially if someone exercised more than usual. The study was published in Health Psychology and the scientists concluded that “People drank more than usual on the same days they engaged in more physical activity than usual.”  This relationship held true throughout all seasons, and regardless of sex or age.

The data also showed that exercise did not cause or worsen problem drinking. Only very rarely during the study did anyone report drinking heavily which the researchers defined as more than four drinks for a woman and five for a man. (Most of these incidents were in the 18 to 25 year age group).

Now that the researchers had the facts, the question remained; why should exercise and drinking be associated at all? This prompted a second study to review all the past experiments.

In the review, published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, the authors pointed out that in laboratory rodents, both exercise and alcohol had been shown to increase activity in parts of the brain associated with reward processing. The animals seemed to get a kick out of both exercising and drinking.

But while the animal’s brains responded similarly to the two activities, they did not respond identically.  There are aspects of reward processing related to exercise that differ from reward processing related to drinking alcohol and those differences may help to explain why, if given the opportunity, animals will avidly engage in both running and ethanol sipping. The resulting neurological high appears to be generally more pervasive and lasting then with either activity alone.

In a new review, Dr. Leigh Leasure, an associate professor at University of Houston, felt that humans were not the same as rodents when it came to combining exercise and drinking. She felt that feeling a slight buzz after a workout or a sporting contest, we may seek to intensify that feeling with a beer, a glass of wine or a cocktail.

She concluded that we are more complicated in our behaviour than rodents so we may drink after the workout or game in a celebratory manner or we may burn the calories associated with drinking, meaning that for some people drinking drives exercise behaviour.

I know that for myself, social bonding plays a major role in the two activities. The camaraderie created on the baseball diamond is continued on in the bar after the game. Even teammates who do not exercise will consider the game a form of exercise and this an excuse to have a beer after the game.

But while the available evidence from these studies suggests that exercise may encourage people to drink, it does not indicate that this relationship is necessarily worrisome for the vast majority of people. A moderate drinker will always be a moderate drinker, regardless of how much exercise they do.

So the next time you go for your workout at the gym, play hockey, baseball or golf with your friends, enjoy that beer. It is an integral part of your exercise regimen.                     [print_link]