If the phrase “fitness beers” sounds like a contradiction, you just haven’t heard of the trend yet. The non-alcoholic (NA) and low-ABV beer markets are booming, giving rise to workout-beer combos fueled by community and recovery.
The market for non-alcoholic (NA) beers is expected to grow by nearly 9 percent every year between 2021 and 2025, according to January 2022 data from Research and Markets. New players like Athletic Brewing Company brew alcohol-free IPAs, lagers and stouts for a fit audience of people who want the post-run beer without the hangover. They’ve hosted virtual fitness classes and opened a taproom/gym in Austin. Even classic beer brands like Michelob Ultra have hosted running challenges and sponsored marathons. (Related: Fitness challenge ideas that will keep clients engaged every day)
This trend is more than a marketing strategy, though. Some formulas are infused with electrolytes or are lower in calories. Studies also show that beer can boost recovery after a workout.
But is there really any benefit to this fitness trend, or should you and your clients just drink responsibly at your local brewery when the craving calls? Wix Fit spoke to industry experts and a sports dietitian for the details.
Why beer and workouts often team up
People were throwing back post-workout pints long before brands starting launching so-called fitness or wellness beers. (See: cyclists everywhere.)
Since August 2014, Dirk Manley, owner of KegFit in Boise Idaho, has been hosting events that combine this classic pairing. Attendees sweat together through circuits using empty kegs at a local brewery, then crack open cold ones to raise a glass to a workout well done. “The ‘recovery beer’ was an added bonus after the circuit,” he says.
Beyond being a way to cool off after a hard workout, it’s also a way to build community. “What better way to bring people than getting their heart rate up and being social after?,” Manley adds. “As we get older, it can be hard to make new friends. Adults want to hang out with old friends, meet new friends, and have a beer, wine or cocktail. Being social is so necessary for humans, and sometimes it's hard to find a ‘third space’ that’s less intense than meeting new people at a bar.”
That's why North Carolina-based Mel Fox launched Work for Your Beer in 2016 to promote ale/exercise events. The Instagram account has since amassed more than 30,000 Instagram followers. “Breweries are always looking to build community—not just brew beer—and fitness classes are a great way to get folks out on a regular basis,” Fox says. She echoes Manley’s sentiments about the social benefits. “It's tough to make friends as an adult, and attending a brewery fitness event means you already have two things in common with everyone there: enjoying beer and fitness. There’s also the element of the beer tasting slightly better when you work for it a bit.”
That said, More Americans are forgoing alcohol in the name of their physical and mental health, which is where these alcohol-free options come in. Or, as Fox says: “Sometimes you want a beer without wanting a beer.”
So is beer a healthy post-workout drink?
Beer is usually brewed from grains, hops, yeast and water. Each can or bottle delivers a moderate amount of carbs (about 13 grams, equal to half a banana or one slice of toast).
“Beer contains carbs, which will help replenish glycogen stores after a workout,” says Natalie Rizzo, M.S., RD, a registered dietitian in New York City. “But drinking an alcoholic beverage after a workout doesn’t have more benefits than drinking a sports drink or protein beverage.”
Alcohol has some downsides for the fitness crowd. “The alcohol in beer can increase the risk of dehydration,” Rizzo says. Anyone who’s waited in line for a restroom at a bar can confirm any sort of boozy beverage can make you need to pee more than usual.
That’s what makes these low-or-no-alcohol options so appealing. One of the first scientific reviews in this arena found that low-alcohol beer (below 4 percent ABV) and sodium-infused beer may be more effective at rehydration than traditional beer. Any beer with less than 2 percent ABV shouldn’t negatively impact hydration status, another small study reported.
As for the beers with added electrolytes: “These wellness beers may not have a nutrition facts label, so it’s difficult to know exactly what's in the can. Is it enough electrolytes and fluid to help with recovery? I’m not sure,” says Rizzo. “If you’re dehydrated from an intense workout and you need electrolytes, you may be better off with a sports drink,” where you can peek at the nutrition facts panel to be aware of carbohydrate, calorie and micronutrient composition.
That said, you probably don’t need to overthink it. If you and your clients enjoy a post-exercise beer, savor one alongside at least that many ounces of water, and enjoy. If you’re working out for longer than 60 minutes, switch from water to a sports drink with carbs and electrolytes, Rizzo suggests.
Emphasize community over calories
The main benefit of merging fitness with happy hour is that clients will engage with each other outside of the workout. This is important for your fitness business because community is one of the best ways to increase gym member retention.
“These NA and wellness beer trends are fun for our audience because it gives them additional options to choose from, and I think everyone loves having options that can be slightly healthier for them,” Fox says. Meaning, everyone can participate, regardless of whether they want an alcoholic beverage.
Of course, happy hour isn’t the only way clients can interact outside of the gym. Wix Fit user Sweat FXBG, a gym in Virginia, encourages community engagement by heading to a smoothie shop nextdoor, and Upside Aerial does so with community events. Planet Fitness famously does the same with a monthly pizza party.
“Your heart and muscles will get their workout, but my heart also craves community and social interaction,” Manley says. These fitness-focused happy hours offer exactly that.