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Turns out booze-free beer is basically Deutschland's answer to Gatorade

Tim Nelson
Updated: February 21, 2018

Though Pyeongchang may be half a world away from where many Winter Olympians reside, many of them can still enjoy the comforts of home in the Olympic Village. For Germany’s athletes, that means having thousands of liters of Krombacher beer on hand. Surprisingly, however, this stockpile is less for celebration and more for preparation.

As a New York Times story shows, Germany’s endurance athletes simply love non-alcoholic beer and have made it a staple of their training process. While most of the world thinks of low or no-ABV booze as a placebo useful only to fraternity pranksters or designated drivers, it enjoys a reputation as a workout recovery beverage in Germany. The country as a whole consumed three times as much of the stuff as traditional sports drinks in 2016, and Heineken 0.0 vending machines can be found in McFit Fitness, the country’s largest chain of gyms.

More than just a way to get in touch with the country’s brewing heritage without a hangover, there’s scientific evidence attesting to non-alcoholic beer’s sports nutrition benefits. A study co-authored by Johannes Scherr, who serves as the team doctor for Germany’s Olympic skiers, found that marathon runners who consumed non-alcoholic beer in the weeks before and after the 2009 Munich Marathon dealt with much less inflammation and upper respiratory infections than those who drank a placebo. A separate peer-reviewed study published in 2016 concluded that Chilean soccer players who drank non-alcoholic beer before working out stayed hydrated better than those who drank water or alcoholic beer.

Scherr points to polyphenols, the chemical compounds found in the plants used to brew non-alcoholic beer known for their ability to fortify the immune system. His countrymen also attest to its role in their training regimen. “It’s isotonic,” Alpine skier Linus Strasser told the Times, alluding to the fact that it contains salt and sugar in a similar concentration to what’s found in the human body. “That’s why it’s good for us sports guys.” Simon Schempp, who came agonizingly close to a gold medal in the men’s biathlon 15-kilometer mass start, refers to it as “a really good drink directly after training or after competition.” 

That helps explain why non-alcoholic beer is a common sight at Germany’s marathon finish lines and even in its gyms. But despite the mounting body of evidence, it hasn’t quite caught on beyond the country’s borders. Maybe the fact that Germany currently has 23 gold medals in Pyeongchang finally cause some of the world’s other skiers and speed skaters to swap out their sports drinks for a St. Pauli NA as they prepare for Beijing in 2022.

I’d argue that Olympic curlers should be given an unlimited supply of high-alcoholic beer, though, because who wouldn’t want to see them fling those stones around after a few IPAs?

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