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A coffee-stop midway and a cold beer at the finish line. Sounds like a recipe for a great summer ride, right? Beer is a big part of recreational cycling. But is it safe? How many beers should you have? And are there any downsides or benefits of drinking alcohol?

It’s the best post-ride reward

There are many reasons why cyclists love beer. One of them is certainly the after-ride reward. Cyclists can fantasise and look forward to it before the ride even begins. Some riders even direct their routes so they end at their local brewery. Nothing tastes better than beer when tired, overheated, and sweaty after a great ride.

Beer break
Research shows that people drink more slowly when alcohol is served in straight-sided glasses than when it comes in glasses with curved sides. © Profimedia

It’s a ritual

And the reward isn’t just about the beer itself. There’s something special about sharing a beer that you feel you’ve worked for with a group of friends you’ve just ridden with. It’s deeply human to crave that feeling of connection through a ritual of sorts. Almost every event of any significance in our lives is marked with some sort of ceremony or celebration, and almost all of these rituals involve alcohol. So, by having a celebratory beer after a ride we are simply adding significance to what we just went through.

Are there benefits to drinking beer?

You might have heard about the health benefits of drinking alcohol. But if you ask any doctor or nutritionist they always say: “If you don’t drink, don’t start.” Some research does show that drinking about one serving of alcohol per day correlates with longevity, but it’s unclear whether it’s the alcohol itself, the social aspect of drinking, or something else that causes that. And there are also real downsides to drinking, especially binge drinking. Let’s take a look at those.

What happens in the 24 hours after drinking beer?

If you end up having one too many beers you can expect a whole host of negative effects on your health. So, what happens after you binge drink?

  • Suppressed the immune system, making you more prone to illness
  • Increased risk of injury from reduced coordination and lack of judgement (especially if you continue riding a bike)
  • Reduced sleep quality. Even a single beer can make your sleep fragmented. If you want to maximise sleep quality, have your beer earlier in the day, and stick with one.

And that’s not all. There are also direct effects of drinking alcohol that influence your recovery and cycling performance.

Enjoying a Beer
If you give up alcohol for a month you can improve liver function, decrease blood pressure, and reduce the risk of diabetes. © Profimedia
  1. Reduced power if riding with alcohol still in the system.
  2. Poorer recovery from cycling if alcohol is consumed in the hours after riding. This is due to reduced muscle protein synthesis and inhibited glycogen repletion.
  3. Poor rehydration, as alcohol supresses anti-diuretic hormone, resulting in excess water loss through urine. This effect is most apparent with binge drinking (5+ drinks) but not noticeable when you stick to 1-2 beers and combine them with water.

Weight management is harder
There’s one downside to alcohol that can sneak up on you. It can add calories to your diet without you realising it. Alcohol has 7 kcal per gram, which is almost double the amount of carbs or protein. A standard beer usually has upwards of 200 kcal. That means that drinking 2 beers is close to adding an extra lunch to your daily intake. If you’re trying to manage weight, take a look at your alcohol intake first.

More likely to reach for junk food

Another hidden danger of beer drinking is that it makes junk food look more appealing. Whether it’s the reduced inhibition or the force of habit, you might often find yourself dipping into the nachos or hot wings after having a drink. The association of beer with snacking on unhealthy foods only adds to the calorie intake that beer drinking causes.

Beer garden
Do you know that craving for junk food after a beer? © Profimedia

How to enjoy it safely?

With all of those potential downsides, let’s take a look at what you can do to enjoy your post-ride beer safely.

Stick to one

This is probably the most important point. Most of the downsides described in this article don’t apply to having one beer. If you can stick to one, you’re going to be fine even if you’re riding again the next day.

Have it after your ride

Even if a beer mid-ride might sound tempting, try to save the reward for the end. The most important thing is that alcohol will impair your reaction time and judgment, which can result in a crash.

Next up in How to Enjoy Your Cycling Summer series