Why Does Beer Quench Your Thirst (And Does It Actually Hydrate You?)

It’s popular for biking and running clubs to meet at a pub or brewery after a ride or run for a beer. Even some yoga studios include a brew on the mat. But does beer actually quench your thirst?

The water content of most beers is high enough to satisfy thirst – at least temporarily. Research indicates beer with low ABV and non-alcoholic beer can hydrate better than water under specific conditions. However, alcohol is a diuretic, and beers with a 4% or higher ABV will increase urine output, ultimately leading to dehydration.

Continue reading to find out why beer quenches your thirst and whether it has the ability to help you hydrate following a workout. 

Can beer actually quench your thirst?

What does it mean to ‘quench your thirst’? The simplest definition is ‘to relieve or satisfy with a liquid.’ Beer is obviously a liquid and one whose water content can be as high as 95%, depending on the style. 

A cold, lighter-bodied beer can certainly quench your thirst, especially if you’ve been doing something strenuous like working out or mowing the lawn on a hot day. However, a heavier beer under these conditions is likely to make you feel weighed down and leave your thirst unsatisfied.

Satisfaction is subjective, though. While most people would likely crave a pilsner or Kolsch following a 5k, there will always be someone that wants nothing more than an imperial stout. 

Does beer hydrate you or dehydrate you?

Beer has the ability to hydrate you, but only under specific sets of circumstances. One small study suggests that moderate beer consumption following a run, bike ride, or that last namaste has no negative effects on hydration.

The natural ingredients found in beer — barley, water, hops, yeast — could make it a better beverage choice than a highly-manipulated sports drink when it comes to maintaining hydration. 

Most studies have shown that drinking beer with a 2% or lower alcohol content post-exercise can hydrate even better than water. However, this comes with a few conditions:

  • Very low ABV beer with an addition of sodium hydrated better than the beer alone
  • The vast majority of beer on the market is above 5%
  • These studies were only performed on men

The sodium helped reduce urine output, meaning the body had time to process that small amount of alcohol before losing fluids. While Americans tend to get more than enough sodium in their diets, most beer on the market is above 2% ABV.  Replicating the studies in a real-world environment may prove difficult if you cannot find such a low alcohol beer regularly. 

Additionally, all of these findings are specific to men, so women may require a different rehydration strategy due to differences in body composition.

How much beer is okay for rehydration?

If beer can be used to rehydrate after a hard day of work or hitting the gym, how much are we talking about?

The amount of beer that is suitable for rehydration is dependent on a couple of things:

  • Alcohol content – The lower the ABV, the better for hydration. A high ABV brew will quickly dehydrate you (whether you just finished a workout or not).
  • Rate of consumption – This is one of the caveats to drinking that low-ABV beer. Guzzling a six-pack of 2.5% beer in an hour is also going to be detrimental to hydration!

When was the last time you had water, or at least a water-rich food or beverage that didn’t contain alcohol? Alternating beer and water can help with hydration but keep in mind the diuretic effects of alcohol (more on that in a moment!). 

As a reminder: The Mayo Clinic recommends two beers daily for men and just one for women. So while it’s a delicious, satisfying, and thirst-quenching end to a strenuous workout, it is always best to drink in moderation. 

Does beer count as water intake?

Does drinking a beer count toward those eight glasses a day? Yes and no.

To start, researchers have disputed the long-held guidance of drinking 64 ounces of water every day, arguing the recommendation came about due to a misunderstanding. Instead, scientists have found that consuming water-rich foods and beverages assists in hydrating the body. A great deal of our water consumption comes from sources other than multiple glasses of water per day.

That’s good news for beer drinkers! Most beer is made up 90-95% of water. So yes — a moderate amount of low-ABV beer counts toward water intake.

The bad news is that the majority of beer is above 5%. At this alcohol level and higher, beer acts as a diuretic, meaning you’ll urinate more frequently. That negates the hydration a beer can provide.

What’s the best beer to drink when you’re thirsty?

When you’re thirsty, and only a beer will satisfy you, you do have some options. You can choose a very low ABV beer which may even have the ability to hydrate you better than an equal amount of water. 

Here are a couple of great options for a thirst-quenching beer:

  • Mispillion Brewing War Llama – Some breweries have hopped on to the post-workout beer craze and are developing beers specifically to pair with crossing the finish line. This beer is classified as a ‘Sports Berliner,’ and comes in at 5% alcohol with added electrolytes. 
  • Dogfish Head SeaQuench Ale – This is a 4.9% sour whose ingredients include black limes and salt, both of which are intended to prevent dehydration. It has even been compared to some sports drinks.
  • Athletic Brewing Company Upside Dawn Golden Ale – With only a .5% ABV, this beer is technically classified as non-alcoholic. This refreshing golden ale is worth a look because of its hydration and thirst-quenching capabilities.

While these kinds of beers marketed toward athletes can serve to replace electrolytes lost through exertion and sweat, they cannot aid in recovery or assist in performance.