Beer may be a beverage, but many have enough calories to constitute dessert. At some point, avid drinkers have to sacrifice when it comes to their health and their vice.
So how do you stay both in shape and buzzed? We spoke with experts in health and fitness to give you tips on how to maintain your health and beer habit.
Moderation is key
Too much of a good thing can have adverse effects. With beer, moderation is key to receiving its health and stress-relief benefits, says Cat Thompson, a pilates and yoga instructor.
"Try not to overdue anything. Be mindful of how many beers you consume," she says. "If you continue to live healthy, I feel like you can always enjoy beer."
Beer shouldn't be a substitute for water, she says. Not only will drinking water help prevent a hangover, but pacing beer with water allows drinkers to enjoy a night without overdoing it.
Having a beer each night (or, let's be honest, a few on the weekend) won't cause a beer belly -- at least not on its own. Balance your hop hobby with an active lifestyle and a healthy diet, and you'll not only stay in shape, but also reap health benefits.
Science says beer is good for your health
Scientists have studied the effects of alcohol on the body and widely concluded that moderate beer consumption (1-2 pints per day) can improve your health in various ways, such as increasing heart healthiness, reducing the risk of type-2 diabetes and cancer, and strengthening the immune system, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. It also contains beneficial antioxidants, protein, silicone, B vitamins, iron, calcium, phosphates and fiber.
"Polyphenols are compounds found in beers and wines that can actually improve our health when taken in moderation," says Melissa Croyl, a registered dietitian and personal trainer. "The polyphenols in beers can help to reduce inflammation in the body and reduce risk of certain diseases."
The health benefits of drinking beer are slight, but measurable. Studies say these effects are generally stronger in women than men.
What happens to the calories?
When dieting, it's sometimes hard to justify the calories in a brewski. Sure, after a workout you've earned that 200-ish calories of beer, but how does your body process that?
"Beer has alcohol in it, which your body treats as a toxin," says personal trainer Cal Velez, "so instead of processing the calories you're ingesting, your body goes into emergency-mode and starts working on getting the poison out, vs. converting sugars into energy."
He's right -- the body goes into crisis mode when met with alcohol -- but that doesn't mean the calories you're ingesting just slide on by. Instead, the body stores beer carbs and sugars like it would fat, and tries to get rid of the alcohol. If you drink in moderation, the body should react that way for a few hours before using the stored energy from the "crisis." (Or, as we call it, happy hour.)
Eating and drinking often go together, but choosing a lighter meal with beer can lead to a better buzz and also fewer retained calories. Croyl, who's not immune to enjoying a few IPAs, suggests filling up on water and light appetizers, such as celery or carrot sticks, throughout the day to keep from drinking to your limit.
"Try a lighter-calorie beer that has a lower carbohydrate content," she says. "High-carb food and drinks can cause bloating and more rapid energy storage, sometimes leading to undesirable weight gain."
Choosing a beer for caloric content? A good rule of thumb is the sweeter the beer, the higher the calories, since less sugar was converted into alcohol during the brewing process. Stronger beers, like triple IPAs or barleywines, usually have a malty sweetness and lots of alcohol, which means more stored calories the body will use later.
"If you're focusing on fitness, it may be better to drink a kolsch or a wheat beer vs. the higher-alcohol beers like double imperial milk stouts or dessert-y beers," Velez says.
Sometimes, beer is better than water
Beer is not only a post-workout reward, it's actually been found by researchers to help rehydrate the body better than water.
Beer isn't going to ruin a healthy lifestyle, as long as you drink it in moderation. Experts say to continue eating sensibly and drinking plenty of water, but don't feel guilty about adding a beer or two to your regimen.
Mae Rock is a craft beer enthusiast, and local brewery groupie.