The Many Health Benefits of Non-Alcoholic Beer

German Olympians are no longer the only beneficiaries of the health-promoting properties of non-alcoholic beer

Richie Crowley FollowAug 11 · 12 min read

This morning, I had a beer with breakfast. It was a 12 oz, Coffee Stout, from Athletic Brewing Company. It had 31 mg of caffeine, 105 calories, and zero alcohol. This is the 8th day in a row I’ve opened my day with this version of Coffee: Beer.

The rise in popularity of non-alcoholic beer is more than a trend. In late June Bloomberg reported on the boom of non-alcoholic beer, and in that same month, the category was introduced with the potential to deliver the next Beyond Meat.

The mocktail of Gen Z’s disinterest in alcohol, new flavorful options for the 30% of American’s that don’t drink, and the surprising number of drinkers that have embraced non-alcoholic craft beer offer an explanation for this explosion of interest.

It’s these members, health-conscious consumers, that have injected the category with the word of mouth marketing and energy needed to increase the public appeal of non-alcoholic beer.

But, is non-alcoholic beer healthy?

“We make beer for the modern adult, whether they identify as a drinker or non-drinker.” — Bill Shufelt

For decades most only knew of O’Douls or Busch NA, the flavorless beers for the non-drinker. No one had a clue that non-alcoholic beer could taste good, nevermind that it was good for you.

In 1973, German beer companies originally marketed non-alcoholic beer as the “car driver’s beer”, and more recently European non-alcoholic brands are leading with the performance-enhancing properties of their brews. Heineken’s 0.0 promotes that “there is no limit to what the human body can achieve,” and Bavarian brewery Erdinger has adopted the motto “100% Performance. 100% Regeneration.” Domestically, leading non-alcoholic brewery Athletic Brewing Company uses the phrase “Beer for the modern adult” stamping Brewed Without Compromise on every can.

Despite the accessibility of information today, when Athletic launched in 2017, American’s had yet to be educated on the health-promoting properties of non-alcoholic beer.

That was until the 2018 Olympics.

In what have become the most shared resources when investigating the health-promoting properties of non-alcoholic beer is a pair of NPR and New York Times articles documenting the training experience of athletes on the German Olympic team. Focused on reducing post-exercise inflammation, athletes on the German Olympic teams were provided non-alcoholic beer.

“Non-alcoholic beer contains an abundance of electrolytes, antioxidants, and polyphenols with anti-inflammatory properties that are great for recovery.” Chris Crowell, Craft Brewing Business

Harvard Medical School defines inflammation as the body’s natural response protecting itself against harm. As humans, we experience two types of inflammation: Acute, when you cut your finger; Chronic, a recurring response to other unwanted substances in the body. Non-alcoholic beer’s relationship to inflammation in the human body was studied and found to help athletes heal by decreasing inflammation.

Non-alcoholic beer contains phenols which are immune-boosting chemicals originating from the plants beer is brewed with. Phenol-rich diets, Appalachian State University’s David Nieman explains “tend to lower inflammation and have a very unique molecular structure that can actually regulate the genes that control inflammation.

A 2012 German Study, paid for by the Alcoholic Beer producing brewery Erdinger Weissbraeu set out to better understand this relationship. The study was the first to show that consuming 1–1.5 L·of non-alcoholic beer with polyphenols for 3 weeks before a marathon race reduced inflammation in athletes after the race.

The same study also found that the ingestion of non-alcoholic beer with polyphenols decreased Upper Respiratory Tract Infection rates in athletes during the 2-week period after the race. Together, the study proved to be efficacious that non-alcoholic beer indeed reduces inflammation and post-race URTI incidence.

This might explain why Erdinger Weissbraeu now boasts their own non-alcoholic brew, of which they handed out more than 30,000 bottles of at the 2017 Berlin Marathon, or why Kombacher Brauerei supplied 3,500 liters of non-alcoholic beer to the athletes’ village at the Pyeongchang Games in 2018 for German athletes to enjoy during competitions.

It might also explain why USA Triathlon became the first U.S. National Governing Body in the Olympic & Paralympic camp to team up with a non-alcoholic beer producer, Athletic Brewing Company.

USA Triathlon Chief Marketing Officer Chuck Menke shared his excitement in a June 2020 press release announcing that “Non-alcoholic beer is an ideal option for endurance athletes” and “USAT can’t wait to ultimately introduce them to the wider multi-sport community.

For Athletic Brewing Company founder Bill Shufelt, the idea of contributing to Olympic Gold is thrilling, “We’re definitely excited about fueling future Olympians. Ironically, we have already organically become friendly with a few future Olympians and likely Olympians — in sports ranging from running to volleyball, and welcome the opportunity to offer our beers up for any Olympians as they dial in their focus and training on 2021, 2022, or any future years.”The Alarming Effects Alcohol Has On Your Immune SystemReplacing boredom with beer and dismissing proven stress-relieving practices in favor of boozy virtual happy hours puts…medium.com

Non-alcoholic beer isn’t reserved only for the Olympian and solely promoting non-alcoholic beer on the basis of its performance attributes is unintentionally exclusionary. The same 2012 German study also found that Polyphenol-rich beverages may also prove to be efficacious in chronically inflamed groups such as the obese and in the prevention of cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Most people experience inflammation, confirming that most people could benefit from an inflammation-reducing beverage.

Before he started Partake brewing, common man Ted Fleming learned that alcohol was harming his body. Alcohol damaged the lining of his intestines and led to frequent infections that were “very painful and possibly life-threatening. When I stopped drinking the symptoms diminished and eventually went away.” Fleming credits non-alcoholic beer for allowing him to stay healthy and socialize on his terms in a post alcohol world. Partake’s customer base shares this storyline.

We have many customers undergoing cancer treatment, many suffering from a variety of autoimmune diseases, or simply people on a course of antibiotics,” says Fleming

Who should drink non-alcoholic beer for its health-promoting properties is an ever-growing list. A 2012 study found that 5.8% of all cancer deaths worldwide were estimated to be attributable to alcohol, and a 2016 study concluded that the more a person drinks, the greater their risk of developing cancer, especially head and neck cancers. In June 2020, for the first time in 20 years, the American Cancer Society updated its guidelines to remove alcohol consumption in any moderation.

Consumers now find themselves at a crossroads, choosing between a beverage backed by billions of marketing dollars masking its role as an agent of escapism and oppression, that with every sip negatively affects one’s health, and health-promoting non-alcoholic options that taste the same, if not better.

“We’re definitely excited about fueling future Olympians” — Bill Shufelt

Continuing to expose the negative health consequences of alcohol withknown bias would edge fear-mongering. The appropriate pivot then is to return to the health-promoting properties of non-alcoholic beer, like hydration.

Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of public health shares that drinking enough water each day is crucial for many reasons: to regulate body temperature, keep joints lubricated, prevent infections, deliver nutrients to cells, and keep organs functioning properly. Being well-hydrated also improves sleep quality, cognition, and mood.

Opposite to hydration is dehydration, a condition in which the human loses body fluid. This happens merely by living and some activities, such as exercise and illness, grow the deficit.

Beer with alcohol is a diuretic, a drug that increases the flow of urine to promote the removal of excess water, salts, poisons, and accumulated metabolic products from the body.

Diuretics accelerate dehydration.

Non-alcoholic beer is not a diuretic.

A 2016 Chilean study evaluated the effects of three beverages as a pre-exercise hydration strategy. Returned results suggested that the consumption of 0.7 L of non-alcoholic beer before exercise could help maintain blood electrolyte homeostasis during exercise and that non-alcoholic beer, but not alcoholic beer or water, may be an effective sports drink before exercise.

This explains why Erdinger advertises their alcohol-free wheat beer as isotonic, the state that allows for the free movement of water across the membrane without changing the concentration of solutes on either side. Isotonic states affect how much energy can be delivered and how quickly the body can absorb it into the bloodstream to replace the fluid one loses in sweat.

A silver lining for the non-alcoholic category is that soon the public will learn that isotonic drinks they are using (Gatorade, Powerade, Body Armour) have higher sugar contents, and as a 2008 Swiss paper found, many ‘isotonic’ drinks on the market today actually tend to behave more like hypertonic drinks. Therefore, non-alcoholic’s pre and post-exercise relationship to hydration is positive and health-promoting.

None know this better than domestic craft brewery Wellbeing Brewing from St. Louis, who has pursued hydration in their beer, teaming up with Buoythe hydration supplement, for their Victory Wheat release.

We’re told that electrolytes are good for us, but we’re really not told what electrolytes are. By adding Bouy to our Victory Wheat we end up with a beer that has zero sugars, low on calories, B vitamins, sodium, potassium, and .1% alcohol (which is less alcohol than in a ripe orange).” said Tom Halaska of Wellbeing Brewing, “We’re proud of this beer.”Your Corporate Wellness Program Is Bull$h*! And How To Fix ItTo spend money to supply these goods, and require an individual to be in their presences for 40+ hours per week, is…medium.com

The same way that no medals need to hang on your wall to enjoy a bowl of Wheaties, Olympians are not the only group of individuals that can access the health-promoting properties of non-alcoholic beer. Everyday health-conscious consumers are catching on.

“This wellness explosion has increased consumer awareness . As consumers, we’ve really started to care what we put into our body.” — Jeff Hollander, Hairless Dog Brewing

When Jeff Hollander founded Hairless Dog Brewing he had seen the explosion of craft beer in America and the rise of the health-conscious consumer, so he brewed a beer that tastes great for that person. Introducing them to it was the next challenge.

Surreal Brewing Founders Donna Hockey and Tammer Zein-El-Abedein’s mission was to break down barriers and create space for people to feel comfortable choosing non-alcoholic brews. “We’re non-drinkers, we know how it feels to be excluded from the craft beer scene. Which is why we’re dedicated to having an expanded line and making craft beer available to everyone” the founders said. Surreal now boasts a line of healthy non-alcoholic beer with the expected electrolytes, anti-inflammatory properties, and antioxidants from polyphenols. “All beer has these properties, but alcohol negates a lot of the positive effects,” said Donna Hockey.

To discuss the health-conscious consumer of the past decade without highlighting the gluten-free community would be almost as inconsiderate as excluding the vegan (Don’t worry, non-alcoholic beers are vegan too).

“Gluten-Free” has become a feel-good preference for some, but for others with Celiac Disease, it’s critical. Celiac disease is an autoimmune reaction initiated by the gluten fraction of the proteins of wheat, rye, barley, and related grains that results in intestinal damage and subsequent pathologies.

“Parts per million” measures the percentage of gluten in a given product. In the United States, for a product to be labeled “Gluten-Free” it must measure less than 20 parts per million of gluten.

Non-alcoholic beers won’t explicitly carry gluten-free labels, due to a mix of testing and regulation. Non-alcoholic beer is regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, FDA, and state food authorities, and although labels and advertisements for malt beverages may include truthful and accurate statements that it was crafted to remove gluten, they are legally unable to market themselves as Gluten-free.

Gluten-Free Watch Dog, an independent research group that tests gluten-free products, confirmed that beer whose labeling is under the jurisdiction of the TTB can not be labeled gluten-free.

This complicates things for the non-alcoholic category.

Despite Athletic Brewing Company’s Upside Dawn being crafted to be gluten removed and lab-tested to be under 5 Parts per million, they can’t explicitly say that due to TTB restrictions.

But the word’s gotten out.

We’ve definitely seen the gluten-sensitive part of the population embrace Upside Dawn,” said Shufelt, “It is the perfect “guilt-free” beer. Gluten-removed, organic, and only 50 calories — it’s an easy-drinking, crisp beer that fits a wide range of healthy lifestyles.

Non-alcoholic beer can also improve your sleep.

A 2012 study found that moderate consumption of non-alcoholic beer will favor night-time rest, due in particular to its hop components. Non-alcoholic beer’s plant-based ingredients also boast other health-promoting properties.

Yeast has been proved to reduce blood sugar levels and achieve significantly better diabetic control. Barley is rich in vitamins, minerals, high fiber for improved bowel function, and is food for friendly gut bacteria. The beta-glucans found in barley also lower cholesterol levels, the risk of heart disease, and protect against diabetes. Malt, used as a sweetener, is basically sprouted barely and contains Hordenine, a naturally occurring compound that has been found in scientific studies to lift your spirits, lower cholesterol, and pack more than 5 times the antioxidant power of fresh broccoli and nearly 50% more than blueberries. There are also 20 different phenols that have been discovered in substantial quantities in malt making it an agent of anti-inflammation as well.

“The barley grain, from which malt extract is derived, was a staple of Roman gladiators, called hordearri or ‘barley-eaters’.”

The first identity of my life was that of an athlete. I captained the USA Under-18 Men’s National Ice Hockey Team Team, competed for four years in NCAA Division 1, played 3 seasons professionally, and have biked 3,907 miles across America alone. Wellness is still my identity.

I’m also sober.

Non-alcoholic beer has returned me to the beach beer and the brewery Saturdays that I loved so much during my “drinking days,” and now, as I return to training for a 2021 expedition, has become a trusted training partner.

I’m also not the only former pro-athlete turned athletic hobbyist who drinks non-alcoholic beer.

I first heard Andy Ramage, founder of OYNB and TedX presenter, on theRich Roll Podcast in 2019 share his journey from pro footballer to alcohol-free adult. “I drink alcohol-free beer way more regularly than I ever drank alcoholic beer,” Ramage told me, “The Alcohol-free beers are much nicer and they don’t take away your time, energy, and momentum in life.” Athletic Brewing Company also boasts a roster of professional athletes in its 300+ member ambassador program.

“I used to ask, is there ever a bad time to eat spinach? Now, I am asking if there is ever a bad time to drink non-alcoholic beer”

Discovering the health-promoting properties of non-alcoholic beer submitted me to the category’s unrelenting and exciting grip. From within the frosted mug of an alcohol-free beer, I can unbiasedly and confidently endorse the beverage and suggest that every gym, fitness studio, locker room, training room, acai bowl, juicery, and convenience store begin reserving eye-level shelf space for non-alcoholic beer.

Why?

Because non-alcoholic beer is healthy.

I drink non-alcoholic beer after workouts, before runs, after runs, at breakfast, at tailgates, at summer BBQs, on boats, beaches, and in bed. I used to ask, is there ever a bad time to eat spinach? Now, I am asking if there is ever a bad time to drink non-alcoholic beer, convincing myself that Popeye would drink non-alcoholic beer if he were born today.

Oh, but wait, non-alcoholic beer isn’t the only health-promoting part of this category.

Seedlip, a distilled non-alcoholic spirit boasts sugar and calorie-free properties, Ghia a non-alcoholic aperitif inspired by Mediterranean Aperitivo culture is a naturally vegan product with no added sugars, Curious Elixirs has crafted a series of small-batch bottles with all the bitter and none of the sugar, Monday a non-alcoholic Gin is zero carbs, zero sugar, and zero calories, and Ritual, a 1 for 1 non-alcoholic replace of Tequila, Whiskey and Gin, is alcohol-free, no & low Carb, and Gluten-Free.

This, is just the beginning.

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