A New Study Finds That Hitting The Gym Makes You More Likely To Hit The Bottle As Well, And This Shocks No One

In what I’m calling “not at all surprising, guys,” a group of researchers determined that “on days when people exercise more -- typically Thursdays to Sundays -- they drink more alcohol, too.”

A group of researchers at Northwestern University had 150 people track their physical activity and alcohol intake on a daily basis for 21 days at a time, at three different times during the year.

What they found will not shock you.

In what I’m calling “not at all surprising, guys,” this group determined that “on days when people exercise more -- typically Thursdays to Sundays -- they drink more alcohol, too.”

I mean, that makes sense to me.

Lead author of the study, David E. Conroy, isn’t sure why this occurs, but suspects “rewards” and “human interaction” may have something to do with it:

“Perhaps people reward themselves for working out by having more to drink or maybe being physically active leads them to encountering more social situations where alcohol is consumed -- we don’t know,” Conroy said. “Once we understand the connection between the two variables we can design novel interventions that promote physical activity while curbing alcohol use.”

Why do you hate fun, Conroy?

I’ve always assumed that this finding was kind of a given. Not necessarily that people drink more when they exercise intensively, but that after a lot of activity they are likely to “reward themselves” with some sort of tasty treat. If you like beer, that treat is probably going to be beer.

If this study had found that physically active people drink more overall, I would be more concerned, but they didn't find that:

“We zoomed in the microscope and got a very up-close and personal look at these behaviors on a day-to-day basis and see it’s not people who exercise more drink more -- it’s that on days when people are more active they tend to drink more than on days they are less active,” Conroy said. “This finding was uniform across study participants of all levels of physical activity and ages.

I just fail to see the problem.

If you’re the type who works within a calorie or point allotment for the day, exercising gives you more calories or WW points to “spend,” so to speak. But even if you don’t track calories, it makes sense that you would want a cold beer after a tough workout because cold beer is delightful.

The marathon runner with whom I share a desk was not surprised by the study findings. When asked to comment, he said: “Yeah, it tastes good and I just did a hard thing. I want something that tastes good and makes me feel better. Sometimes I want pancakes.”

Correction: He always wants pancakes.

In terms of “social situations,” it might dismay Conroy to know that there are entire social groups created for the express purpose of working out and then drinking. Sure, there are groups that meet up and exercise without the drinking after, but there will still probably be that one guy who brings a cooler of something a little stronger than Powerade.

Is booze the best recovery drink you could grab after pumping iron or running in a circle or whatever? No. Because it’s a little to very dehydrating, depending on the ABV and how much you consume, but if you can’t have a few beers (with a few waters) with your running friends after all the running then frankly I want no part in any of this because I only get that “runner’s high” after the race is finished and my free beer is in my hands.

I can’t speak to all exercise subcultures, but the endurance sport people I know seem to be pretty into drinking -- especially beer –- and why shouldn’t they be? If the promise of beer at the end of an event helps someone complete a half Ironman, I think that beer is doing more good than harm.

Besides, you could do worse than beer. According to Hal Koerner in his book “Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning: Training for an Ultramarathon from 50K to 100 Miles and Beyond” (pithy title, Hal), beer isn’t your best option, but it isn’t your worst:

Although beer doesn’t get a high ranking as far as hydration options, if you don’t overdo it, there is nothing wrong with a post-race pint. Beer will supply you with some needed carbs and has the added benefit of being a little bit numbing, which can be a welcome relief after a race. The great running guru Arthur Lydiard advocated beer for his athletes, so if it fits your persuasion, don’t feel bad for taking the edge off of a long day of training with some suds.

I pretty much never feel bad about taking the edge off of anything, but I like Hal’s attitude.

I’m all for using less-than-healthy incentives in getting people to do healthier things. Which group sounds more fun: “Running for Brews” or “Running for the Sake of Running and Maybe a Longer Life”?

I’ll answer my own question with another question: Will those extra years of life we racked up from running be filled with more running?

I look at it this way: I am going to drink alcohol at least a couple of times a week, whether I exercise or not, so I might as well tack on some physical activity to at least one of those outings. In that spirit, I have rounded up a list of fun races, routes, and groups that center around the consumption of delicious rewards. Some are alcoholic, but some are bacon:

1. Bacon Chase 5K & 0.05K

"What?" you say! "A 0.05K? That can't be right; that's like 55 yards."

Correct. The Bacon Chase gives you the option of either doing a 5K or running less than 200 feet. No matter which option you choose, your entry will come with:

  • Unlimited bacon
  • Bacon bits along the course (replacing water stations)
  • One Bloody Mary
  • A T-shirt
  • A bacon-scented race bib

I really wish they had called this "The Ron Swanson 5K," but then they'd have to have scotch stations, I guess. (Scotch stations seem like a great idea, but things could devolved quickly.) This race takes place through out the US. Check out the map and see if there's one near you!

2. Dogfish Dash

This 5K/10K is put on by Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Delaware every year to raise money for the Delaware Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. Besides the chipped-time race of your choice, the event includes food, live entertainment, brewery tours, and Dogfish Head beer.

3. Running for Brews

If you're not ready for a race, but still want to run and drink, check and see if there's a Running for Brews in your area. This Florida-based running social group is always adding new locations -- you can even start one of your own -- and is a fun way to ease into the running community if you're a little intimidated (like I was).

4. Bike Tours Through Napa Valley

If neither running nor beer are your thing, may I suggest a lovely scenic bike tour with stops at various vineyards throughout Napa Valley?

Napa Valley Bike Tours are pretty low-key, with stops every 2-4 miles and an included picnic lunch. If you want to get really fancy, your tour can include a hot air balloon or spa treatment.

If you want something a little more exercise intensive, Getaway Adventures offers the Velo 'n Vino Tour, which includes a 30-mile bike ride, followed by a shuttled tour between vineyards because your legs are so tired from the 30-mile bike ride.

5. Disney Wine & Dine Half-Marathon

Disney races are expensive, but they are fun, well-organized, and super friendly for your more casual runner. (They keep the finish line open about an hour longer than your typical races.) I haven't done one myself, but I've attended the after-parties, and the Wine & Dine after-party is a blast. Not only do they keep Epcot open until 4 a.m., they also keep a good bit of their Food & Wine Festival kiosks running so that you may sample their wares.

These are only a small sampling of the many food and/or alcohol themed events you can find. As you can see, drinking and exercising overlap quite a bit, and the trend shows no signs of dying anytime soon. This could be for any number of reasons. It could be that people feel they "deserve" a drink more after a hard workout. It could be because of social groups whose whole shtick is "working hard and playing harder." It could be because drinking is a way to celebrate, and people who accomplish physical goals feel like celebrating.

Or it could be because beer is delicious and has that "mild numbing effect." Sometimes you just need a good numbing effect.