Beer is a popular alcoholic beverage enjoyed by many people around the world. One of the most common questions that people ask about beer is whether or not it hydrates the body.
The answer to this question is not as simple as a yes or no.
With water being one of the four key ingredients of beer (malt, hops, and yeast are the other three) and making up nearly 95% of the total beer, you would have thought beer was a very good source of hydration.
In the past, sailors were given beer to keep them hydrated while on long voyages at sea as safe drinking water was scarce. Even in ancient times, beer was seen as a healthier alternative to water by many.
But it’s the other 5% of the beer volume which can be the problem when talking about beer’s value as a source of hydration. Most of the other 5% of liquid will be made up of alcohol or ethanol, which can have many different effects on the human body.
Let’s start by looking at the science behind it before seeing how we can safely hydrate with beer or stay hydrated when drinking beer.
The Effects of Alcohol on the Human Body
For many years we have known alcohol can have countless effects on the way our bodies function.
Too much alcohol can lead to changes in our mood, our cognition (seeing double sometimes, sound familiar?), and in extreme cases our balance (that feeling of the world spinning or maybe staggering on the way home from the bar!).
The effects on the human body also include issues around fluid and hydration.
We all know that feeling of being at the bar and constantly needing to “break the seal”, as your friends may joke when you keep heading to the toilet. Alcohol is a diuretic, ie it makes you need to pee more.
But do all alcoholic drinks have the same effect or is it just beer?
Is Beer a Diuretic?
Yes, the alcohol in beer means it will have a diuretic effect on the body but maybe not as much as some other drinks such as wine or spirits.
The diuretic action of a beverage is directly linked to the alcohol by volume content or ABV of the given drink. Most modern beers on sale today, especially the domestic lagers, have an ABV of somewhere between 2% and 4% ABV.
Although some beers such as stouts, IPAs, or Imperial beers can often reach over 10% ABV, a recent study found drinking a typical strength beer made very little difference regarding urine output compared to a non-alcoholic beer or even water.
The stronger drinks do have a short-term diuretic action and so are potentially dehydrating.
The higher levels of alcohol in full-strength beers will cause an increase in urine production which may lead to dehydration if you don’t drink enough water.
Fortunately, most beers have quite a high water content compared to spirits of stronger alcohol content, which can provide some of the hydration the body needs.
Although many beer drinkers would argue that this excess water, especially in lighter beers, is one of the reasons they need to empty their “tank”, just like when drinking too much water.
Several other studies have come to the same conclusion and even suggest beer may have an adequate hydration effect on the body.
They argue that stronger beers are likely to have more dehydrating short-term effects and also that beer shouldn’t be considered as good a source of hydration as drinks containing the essential electrolytes needed for hydration.
Generally, the type of beer consumed can also affect hydration levels.
Light beers typically have less alcohol content than dark beers, and therefore may be less dehydrating. It’s also worth noting that beer also contains a significant amount of carbohydrates, which can also have an effect on hydration.
Can Some Beers Hydrate You?
Some brewers have been working on beers that can actually be better for hydration than the standard pint of beer you normally consume.
Although most doctors are unlikely to recommend beer drinking, scientists testing the intake of beer along with proper hydration with water after exercise found no negative side effects after exercise.
A crossover study even showed that adding electrolytes such as sodium can be a good way of improving the effect a beer has on hydration, effectively making beer a good source of hydration after exercise. If you don’t deserve an ice-cold, refreshing beer after a race, then when do you?
However, it’s not all good news when it comes to beer and the hydration of the body after exercise.
The hydrating effects of beer only seem to apply to beers below 4% ABV. If a beer has more than 4% alcohol it will actually cause you to urinate more water than the actual water content in the beer.
This water comes from the stores within your body such as the muscle cells, fat cells, etc. Drinking too much higher ABV beer will slow down your muscle recovery and lead to a water debt in your body.
The advice to drink extra water in between each glass of beer does help to some extent.
Low-strength beers or low-alcohol beers do not produce a diuretic effect. As it creeps up to 4%, beer may have a slight diuretic effect but it will generally be outweighed by the water content of the beer.
So if scientists have shown beer has very little effect on the markers of hydration in the human body, why does beer get such a bad rep for making you dehydrated?
The Science Behind Why Beer May Dehydrate You
Again, it’s the alcohol that causes dehydration, not just the beer itself. Some alcohol-free beers can have just as good a hydrating effect as many isotonic drinks.
Alcohol is widely believed by experts and scientists to exert a diuretic effect from its suppression of a hormone in the human body known as vasopressin, or ADH (the Anti-Diuretic Hormone).
Vasopressin is the hormone that causes the kidneys to store water instead of passing it out of the body as urine.
Vasopressin is released when your body feels that it is becoming dehydrated. As alcohol suppresses this hormone, your body will not receive the messages to prevent you from urinating and so you will pee more even when already dehydrated.
Can Beer Hydrate You in Hot Weather?
If it’s possible beer can help hydrate you after exercise, then can beer hydrate you in hot weather?
Drinking an ice-cold beer in the summertime may help you cool down, but, again, whether it helps keep you hydrated can come down to several factors:
- Were you hydrated before you started drinking?
- What percentage of alcohol is present in the beer?
- How much beer do you consume?
- How much water loss is your body experiencing due to the heat?
Although low-alcohol beers under 2% will generally help with your fluid intake, most craft beers popular in the summer months, such as IPAs or Blonde Ales, will be around the 5% effect and may lead to an increase in dehydration.
Sunburn or sunstroke can be a major concern in the height of summer but you should also always be wary of the dehydrating effects of a beer down at the beach.
More suitable ways of cooling down can include drinks that add to your daily water intake such as:
- fat-free milk
- fruit juices
- iced tea
- soda (both diet and regular)
- Ginger beer (non-alcoholic)
- Low-ABV beer (with added sodium)
Each of these options will hydrate you more efficiently than regular beer but, with the exception of water, will also provide additional calories, especially sodas, as they often contain excessive added sugars.
You should also be wary of drinking too much of a beverage that contains caffeine as this has a mild diuretic effect and other negative impacts on the body, as well.
If you are feeling dehydrated in the heat then water is definitely your best option.
There are even waters now produced with added hops if you’re missing the hoppiness of your favorite summer ale or IPA.
Sierra Nevada now makes their own brand of hop water and, looking at online retailers like Amazon, you can easily stock up on a wide variety of hop-flavored waters which contain all the health benefits of hops along with the aromas & flavors, but without the diuretic effect of alcohol.
- Whirl Focus Functional Sparkling Water: Bravus Brewing Company’s take on better-for-you sparkling water. Packed with adaptogens, nootropics, and Amarillo & Citra hops, Whirl Focus keeps you hydrated, relaxed, and nourishes your mind & body to help you get through a stressful day.
- Whether you’re gearing up for a meeting, or getting over a work slump, you deserve a great-tasting, no-nonsense adaptogen and nootropic boost. Delicious and refreshingly crisp sparkling water with lemon, ginger and hops flavors.
- Healthy Alternative to sugary and caffeine-filled beverages, Whirl Focus Sparkling hop water only contains 5 Calories, 1 carb, and 0 Sugar per serving. Contains zero caffeine allowing you to avoid the buzz & crash.
Does Dehydration Make a Hangover Worse?
Without a doubt, yes!
If you ever experienced the dreaded hangover from hell after a heavy evening of beer drinking, you will know exactly what I’m talking about.
There just doesn’t seem to be enough water in the world to quench your thirst when you are feeling the after-effects of a good night out. A fuzzy head, furry mouth, and stomach cramps can all be a sign of dehydration.
An imbalance in electrolytes, dehydration, stomach disturbances, low blood sugar, and interrupted sleep are all markers recognized as the way alcohol contributes to the symptoms of a hangover.
When you are hungover, you may sweat more, vomit occasionally, and suffer diarrhea, all of which will add to the dehydration of your body. Increased fluid loss due to the diuretic effect of alcohol will add to the electrolyte imbalance in your body and cause more dehydration.
Even that splitting headache you may feel the morning after a heavy drinking session can be partly blamed on the dehydrating effects of the alcohol.
Although the headache may be caused by the way alcohol dilates and constricts your blood vessels, the lack of fluids in your cells will make it seem much worse.
In the case of a hangover, very little is going to beat water for hydration or, better still, an isotonic drink packed with essential electrolytes.
Many beer lovers swear by the “hair of the dog” when hungover, which, in moderation, may boost your hydration in the short term, but if your body is already feeling dehydrated the last thing you should really be doing is drinking a beverage which is known to have a diuretic effect.
How to Avoid Dehydration When Drinking Beer
Although we have seen that beer can have a hydrating effect when drunk in moderation and lower strength beers, there are several steps you can take to get the full hydrating effect of beer and avoid your body becoming more dehydrated, hopefully preventing those dreaded hangovers.
The best advice, many would argue, is to drink a glass of water in-between beers. Not only will this boost your fluid intake but can also slow down your alcohol intake and decrease the chances of intoxication.
Drink lighter beers, like many of the fine Session IPAs now available, or low-alcohol beers during the summer months when you are likely to be losing more water due to the hot weather.
Healthy beers, such as beers with kombucha, can also be a great way of boosting your hydration, and they offer many health benefits too.
High-alcohol beers may temporarily hydrate you but, in the long term, will cause more dehydration than the water intake from the beer alone.
Does Beer Hydrate You – Final Conclusions
In conclusion, beer can provide hydration to the body but it is not the best way to hydrate yourself.
Beer is best enjoyed in moderation, and it is always a good idea to drink water alongside beer to help keep your body hydrated. Remember to always drink responsibly and stay within the safe limits of alcohol consumption.
It is important to note that drinking beer in moderation can be part of a healthy lifestyle, but it should not be used as a primary source of hydration.
The American Dietetic Association and the National Hydration Council recommend that people drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day to stay hydrated.
If you choose to drink beer, it is important to also drink water to help keep your body hydrated. Remember the one beer, one glass of water rule, especially in the hotter weather of those summer months.