German athletes, among the leaders for the most gold medals at the 2018 Winter Olympics, are saying some of their success is due to something you might not expect: nonalcoholic beer. The New York Times spoke to some of the athletes as well as scientists about the athletes' choice of nonalcoholic beer over sports drinks during training and recovering.

The science

runner blowing nose Runners, particularly marathon runners, are prone to inflammation that can cause upper respiratory infections. The polyphenols in nonalcoholic beer reduce inflammation. (Photo: Lopolo/Shutterstock)

Drinking beer after strenuous exercise is supported by science, including drinking alcoholic beer, as I learned when I wrote about the Fishtown Beer Runners for Drink Nation. A study at the University of Granada concluded that in "healthy, young adults, beer in moderate amounts is as effective as water for rehydration and recovery after exercise."

The evidence that alcohol-free wheat beer is beneficial for more than just hydration in athletes is compelling. A study at the Technical University of Munich by the Department of Preventative and Rehabilitative Sports Medicine found that runners were less likely to develop colds or upper respiratory infections after a race if they drank nonalcoholic wheat beer in the weeks leading up to it.

The compounds in nonalcoholic beer credited with producing these benefits are polyphenols, the same compounds found in red grapes that give Champagne its ability to stave of memory loss, dark chocolate the ability to possibly help keep you slim, and some fried foods more health benefits after they're fried.

One of the researchers associated with the German study is Johannes Scherr, the doctor for Germany's Olympic ski team. He told the Times that most of his athletes drink nonalcoholic beer while they're in training. In fact, the consumption of the alcohol-free brew is so common that the German brewery Krombacher supplied the German athletes' village with almost 1,000 gallons of it.

It's not just for Olympians

toasting with beer Overall beer consumption in Germany is declining, but the consumption of nonalcoholic beer has risen significantly lately. (Photo: Syda Productions/Shutterstock)

United States breweries make only a handful of nonalcoholic beers, and they aren't big sellers. When Budweiser debuted its nonalcoholic Prohibition Brew, it did so in Canada. The growth for low-alcohol and nonalcoholic options in the U.S. hasn't been substantial, according to Business Insider.

But in Europe, lower-alcohol and no-alcohol beverages are gaining in popularity. In Germany in particular, consumption of beer has gone down, according to the Times, but between 2011 and 2016, consumption of nonalcoholic beer rose 46 percent. Germans can now choose from over 400 nonalcoholic beers, and they drink more of it than any other nation except Iran. In Germany, nonalcoholic beer isn't just for athletes.

Beer without booze as a training beverage hasn't quite caught on with other countries. But if the Germans take home a lot of gold, athletes and trainers everywhere may start looking into the benefits of nonalcoholic beer.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.