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Dear Frank : Blood, Sweat & Beers

Dear Frank Beer
Frank Strack
29 Feb 2016

Frank Strack, high priest of the Velominati and keeper of The Rules, contemplates whether beer is the cyclist's friend of foe.

Dear Frank

Like many cyclists I enjoy a post-ride recovery beer. Maybe three. Or four. What do The Rules suggest is an acceptable volume of beer consumption before I’m more boozer than rider?

Alistair, by email

Dear Alistair 

I hear you loud and clear, my friend. Beer is delicious, aids recovery and makes you irresistible to the opposite sex. However, I’m not sure it is within the jurisdiction of The Rules to judge whether you’re a boozer or not – that’s work for your doctor, your friends and your mother. 

Beer contains many of the nutrients you need to supplement your system after a hard workout (such as carbohydrates, proteins and sugars) and comes with the added bonus of including a painkiller (alcohol). The catch here is that it also contains a few things that hamper recovery, so beer is only effective as a recovery beverage in moderation.

Personally, I’m not one for moderation, I’m more the all-in or all-out sort. There was a period of time where I used coffee recreationally until the time of day when it became socially acceptable to drink alcohol. The problem with that, besides the constant caffeine headaches and hangovers, was that it worked against my principal goal of being a skinny waif incapable of any vigorous activity apart from riding my bike batshit fast. 

There are five main components to becoming a better Cyclist. Looking fantastic and being completely obsessed with your bike are the first two. I put those at the top of the list because they form the platform of motivation to get you out the door to ride your bike in the first place, in all sorts of weather, day in and day out. After that come training, diet and rest. 

The problem with alcohol – and beer in particular – is that it is highly calorific and the alcohol slows your metabolism. This means that even as you improve your diet, your weight loss will remain modest due to your body’s reduced ability to burn the calories you consume. When I got serious about my weight, I started with weighing out my food and strictly managing what and how much I ate, but I didn’t actually start losing weight until I dramatically reduced how much I was drinking. 

The most surprising thing about cutting back on booze is that it was pretty easy. I found that I was drinking more out of habit than craving, and drinking a glass of water instead of a third or fourth beer was perfectly satisfying. My training got better (it’s easier without a hangover), my diet was easier to control (less drunken binge-eating) and my rest also improved dramatically as my sleeping patterns became much more stable without the alcohol burning off at 3am and waking me with a start.

But unless you are or aspire to be a pro, there’s no reason to stop drinking completely. As recreational Cyclists, our diet and drinking habits affect our training and weight on a macro scale, and one of the advantages we have over the pros is that the exercise that comes as a part of plying our trade gives us the luxury to over-eat or over-drink when the occasion calls for it. In fact, one of the great rewards of a long ride is to kick back with friends, pint in hand, and trash-talk your way into your own mythology. 

To answer your question, how much you should be drinking really comes down to your own goals and your liver. If you’re happy with your weight and riding and you don’t have jaundice yet, then carry on. If you want to drop some weight and get better at climbing, then the easiest way to get there is to cut out the alcohol. It really just comes down to what you want from your cycling.

Frank Strack is the creator, and curator, of The Rules. For futher illumination see velominati.com and find a copy of his book The Rules in all good bookshops. You can email your questions for Frank to cyclist@dennis.co.uk

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