Does beer help to wear off muscle soreness?

Consumption of alcohol is associated with lots of controversial and confusing beliefs. On the one hand, there are false convictions that already symbolic doses of ethanol would ruin your health while other theories show a variety of benefits of moderate consumption of light liquours. For example, it has been proclaimed that beer helps to wear off the so called "post-workout muscle soreness" which appears several hours after you leave the gym. It is worth considering whether this assumption has got any justification.

What is "muscle soreness"?

What we usually refer to as muscle soreness is a kind of pain in muscles which appears several hours after physical workout and lasts sometimes even 3-4 days (or even longer if the workout was done after a longer break). Ancient theories claim that this ache is related to accumulation of lactic acid in muscles. In fact, the situation is a bit different. The cause for the above mentioned disruptive symptoms is not lactic acid, but microdamages and accompanying inflammation which results from large physical effort. The correct name of this state is DOMS: Delay Oneset Muscle Syndrome.

Beer and sores muscles

According to a popular belief, a bottle of beer shortly after the gym would help to reduce the severity of soreness or even completely prevent it. It is supposedly associated with the fact that beer's ingredients (mainly ethanol) help to release lactic acid and reduce its accumulation in muscles. Is this theory true? Well, since we already know that DOMS has nothing to do with accumulation of lactic acid, but is caused by muscles' microdeformations and inflammation, it is easy to arrive at the conclusion that the whole theory is groundless. Perhaps there is another reasons for the suggested dependency, then?

Sadly, we lack proper scientific research that could verify whether consumption of beer may actually alleviate the discomfort associated with muscle soreness. There is, however, evidence that ethanol itself has analgesic properties, and beverages such as beer and wine can show anti-inflammatory qualities. If you bear these facts in mind, you could really suppose that a pint after your training could actually be not a stupid idea, especially if you want to get rid of sore muscles. Before you try this, though, you should remember about three important aspects. First, if you build speculations on such doubtful knowledge, they can be burdened with a large mistake. In other words, the anti-inflammatory and analgesic action of beer may be too weak to evidently reduce DOMS. Second, even if beer's properties are strong enough in this respect, it may entail a risk of reduction of a workout's positive consequences: there are studies indicating this is exactly what happens in the case of NSAIDs like ibuprofen. Third, indeed there is evidence that alcohol consumption after physical effort reduces anabolic response of the body. This issue was interestingly described by Maciej Sulikowski in this article:

To sum up

On the basis of the above information you should realise that there is no evidence that consumption of beer helps to reduce muscle soreness. However, there are reasons to believe that alcohol drunk after workout may weaken anabolic response of your organism.