We've rounded up everything you need to know about non-alcoholic beer: why it's the best recovery drink EVER, how to leverage a sober-curious lifestyle into enhanced performance, and the pro-athlete take on ditching booze for max gains. Plus, our all-time favorite option for N/A beer that tastes just like the real deal. (Because it is!)
With a New-Year-inspired fresh start at our doorstep, now is the ultimate time to take a break from booze and recommit to your fitness goals for 2022.
Why? Drinking alcohol — both frequently and infrequently — can derail your training efforts. In addition to delayed recovery times and reduced muscle-protein synthesis, alcohol impairs your mental acuity, disturbs your sleep, and messes with your metabolism, among a plethora of other negative side effects, according to a recent study in the journal Nutrients.
Boozing while training often causes heavy inflammation and produces a lethargic attitude which won’t get you far, says Spartan CEO Joe De Sena. “You tend to recover slower, and make stupid choices when it comes to your training commitments,” he says. In short, drink less to make 2022 your power year.
The Benefits of Exercise and Sobriety
A sober-curious lifestyle, especially among endurance athletes, has been taking off like wildfire these past few years. Several Spartans including Alyssa Hawley, OCR pro and full-time fitness coach, and Nicole Mericle, Spartan World Champion and Trifecta World Champion, have adopted the drink-less, win-more approach to training. They both agree steering clear of booze helps them sleep better, make quicker training adaptations, and hone their mental game to reach that podium. In 2019, Spartan Elite Slyvie Manaigre quit drinking completely for a whole year and won the Canadian National Championship. The point is: dialing back on alcohol only does your body good.
The Sober Curious Definition As Applied to Performance
Being “sober-curious”, a term coined by wellness author Ruby Warrington, leaves much room for personal interpretation and individual rule setting around when, how, or if at all, you choose to consume booze. But in general, it means: “those who are becoming more mindful about how alcohol intake is making them feel and discovering how changing their alcohol intake affects their life,” says Hayden James, RDN, CD, CDCES.
As De Sena says, the Spartan values of cultivating determination, perseverance, grit, and total-body wellness also apply to creating healthy habits around alcohol use, just as you’d avoid junk food and eat a high-protein, healthy-fat, complex-carb diet.
Over the past two decades, there has been much research published about the detrimental effects of alcohol on performance, but little proof, beyond anecdotal evidence, that cutting it out has a direct correlation to getting fitter and faster. It’s mostly the tangential benefits of cutting back on (or cutting out) alcohol, like better sleep, quicker recovery, smarter nutrition, and improved mental focus that indirectly — but undoubtedly — affect performance for the better.
N/A Beer: A Solution for Serious OCR Athletes Who Want to Make 2022 A Next-Level Year
“Depending on the timing of intake, alcohol, even in small quantities, can impact training (such as prior to exercise!); however, in most cases, the occasional beer poses very little risk for an individual,” says Corinna Coffin, MS, RD and Spartan Elite Pro Athlete. “However, when it comes to alcohol, navigating the waters of ‘occasional’ and ‘moderate’ alcohol consumption can be tricky for some. This is where N/A beer comes into play, offering the perfect solution to enjoying the refreshing taste of beer without the negative repercussions of alcohol.”
Non-alcoholic beer, Coffin says, is packed with carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores in your muscles after tough workouts, and electrolytes to support your body's hydration demands and optimize your metabolism. Johannes Scherr, the team doctor for The German Olympic Ski Team swears by the health benefits of N/A beer saying nearly all of his athletes drink it while training.
And it’s not just athletes who want non-alcoholic drinks. A recent report from Global Market Insights predicts the demand for N/A beer and wine in North America will quadruple by 2025. Companies like Athletic Brewing Company — who use top-tier technology to craft their brews — are leading the charge.
Here’s the thing: not all N/A beer is created equal. Large corporate breweries who make 0.0% drafts often brew a real beer to completion. Then, they strip the alcohol at the end, which corrupts flavor. Brewers at Athletic, on the other hand, engineer their beers much like a regular craft brew, but tweak the process nearly a dozen times along the way to achieve fully-fermented beers under 0.5% ABV. Beyond beer, Athletic also recently launched a line of hopped sparkling waters to up the ante on cocktail-like options for non-beer lovers.
Spartan pros, especially, love it. Mericle, who is an ambassador for the company, often drinks Upside Dawn Golden Ale because it’s gluten-reduced. She prefers to pair it with a protein-rich snack after a workout to get a “beer fix” without risking alcohol-related training setbacks.
The Takeaway: Embracing a Sober-Curious Lifestyle Can’t Hurt As You Reach for Big Fitness Goals
Cutting back on the booze (even a little bit) will indirectly revolutionize your performance. There’s no doubt that your body makes quicker training adaptations from deeper sleep when unimpaired, and your mental game benefits from clear-headed focus necessary to power through intense workouts.
The 31-Day Dry January Spartan Challenge
We get it: giving up booze “forever” may feel too final. That’s the beauty of a sober-curious lifestyle. You can tweak your consumption habits to make positive changes to your nutrition game that work for you, little by little. And thanks to tasty, refreshing N/A options, you don’t have to give up the “drinking” experience entirely. You can still enjoy N/A options and engage in social experiences without feeling like you’re missing out.
Start small with Dry January. As a personal challenge to up-level your training game, decide that for 31 days you’ll stick to N/A options instead. Keep a journal to track how you feel throughout the month as you build awareness, detox from the holidays, and nail your workouts like a champ. Celebrate little wins, like reaching for N/A beer instead of regular brew on Friday nights, or opting for non-alcoholic beverages at restaurants, concerts, work parties, and weddings. Do this, and you’ll not only feel sharper in your post-night-out workouts but also set yourself up for the most unbreakable year yet.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The term “sober curious” may not apply to people with alcohol use disorder. If you feel you struggle with your alcohol consumption, ask your medical healthcare provider for more information on how to change your drinking habits.