A new study shows that the best way to avoid becoming sick after a marathon is to knock back a couple of beers before a race.

The study, created by the Department of Preventative and Rehabilitative Sports Medicine of the Technische Universitaet Muenchen in Germany, found that runners who consumed non-alcoholic wheat beers in the weeks leading up to a race were less likely to develop colds or upper respiratory infections after the race.

Using 277 test subjects from the 2009 Munich Marathon, the researchers examined runners for three weeks before the marathon and then for two weeks after.

The "active" group consumed 1.5 liters of non-alcoholic Erdinger wheat beer a day while a second group consumed equal amounts of a placebo beverage produced especially for the study.

Erdinger was selected because of its high and varied polyphenol content. Polyphenols are credited with having health-improving and cancer-preventing properties, and the study's designers used the opportunity to test some of these claims.

Athletes who participate in marathons often experience intensified inflammatory reactions, what doctors call an "open window" for infections. The polyphenols are believed to reduce inflammation chances and encourage a more balanced immune system.

Those in the "active" group displayed less inflammatory reactions, a stronger immune system, less susceptibility to colds. The subjects who did develop colds had milder or briefer infections than those in the placebo group after running in the Munich Marathon.

"The potential for foods containing polyphenols to have a positive effect on athletes' health has already been suggested in several articles," said Dr. Johannes Scherr, who directed the study.

"Nevertheless we were ourselves sometimes surprised at how clearly evident this was in the results. We now have scientific confirmation of those assumptions for this test beverage, with its particular combination of polyphenols, vitamins and minerals."

The study will be published in the January printed edition of the professional journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.