"Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy!" Benjamin Franklin

Beer is often quaffed in the aftermath of a day of sports in the fellowship of friends and neighbors. Unfortunately, while it may pick up the spirits and increase the celebratory feeling, the dehydration associated with alcohol consumption can lead to tiredness and cramping muscles. A new study by a group of Australian Public Health researchers shows that many of these ill effects can be lessened by adding a pinch of sodium to your beer.

Beer is arguably the oldest prepared drink of mankind, dating back to the Early Neolithic and the domestication of grains. While long being considered a refreshing drink, the cruel truth is that beer, together with all forms of alcohol, serves to dehydrate the human body. Despite its oft-touted nutrients, a good beer is probably the last thing one should be imbibing after a good course of exercise.

For most forms of alcohol, this doesn't present a problem. Very few people seek a fine glass of Chateau d'Yquem after a good game of soccer, or a selection of single malt whiskies to finish up a day of digging garden trenches. However, the social connection between exercise, groups, and beer cannot be denied. It is as much a part of our shared heritage as is the sacred right of any person to make a fool of themselves.

Now, the constant march of technology has finally entered into this most treasured arena. A group of public health researchers at Griffith University in Australia have determined that many of the ill effects associated with beer, particularly following exercise, can be alleviated simply by adding electrolytes to the brew.

A cohort of seven male volunteers exercised on stationary cycles until losing about two percent of their initial body weight. At this point, they were given (randomly) about two and a half pints of one of four combinations to drink:

  • Light beer (2.3 percent alcohol)
  • Light beer/sodium (25 millimoles/liter sodium, or about 1.5 g of salt per liter)
  • Beer (4.8 percent alcohol)
  • Beer/sodium (25 millimoles/liter sodium)
  • At the end of four hours, the researchers found that the subjects consuming the light beer with sodium had the best fluid balance, having lost only about one kilogram (2.2 lb) of fluid over the course of the experiment. The addition of sodium did not offer much protective effect for the full-strength beer, which caused an overall loss of about 1.6 kg (3.5 lb) of fluid in both cases.

    The conclusion of the researchers, slightly paraphrased, is that if you are going to do this silly thing (drink beer after exercise), then at least do it right by adding a bit of salt to a light beer to reduce dehydration. Oddly, the authors of the study have no public comment about the effects of added electrolytes on hangovers, or on the possible benefits of adding sodium to stronger drink. Curious minds want to know.