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Drinking 4 Beers And Running a 4:47 Mile...What?

By Adam Galuszka
February 24, 2016

This article was written by Kevin Sprouse, DO, CAQSM. Dr. Sprouse is a team physician for the Cannondale Pro Cycling Team, has a degree in exercise science, and is board-certified in two medical specialties. He practices Sports Medicine at Provision Sports Medicine in Knoxville, TN. On December 1, 2015, a very prestigious World Championship event was held in Austin, TX. This feat of speed, endurance, and intestinal fortitude resulted in the crowning of Canada’s Lewis Kent as the latest World Champion Beer Miler. He also set the world record in this discipline. Seasoned endurance athletes, do not laugh! This guy ran a 4:47.0 mile while consuming 4 cans of beer! I know I can’t run a mile in that amount of time, and I’m not even sure I could consume 4 cans of beer in less than five minutes while sitting on my sofa. Kudos to Lewis and his fellow competitors, both men and women alike. So, what is a Beer Mile and how does one prepare for such an event? According to the official Beer Mile rules, a competitor drinks a can of beer then runs a lap on a 400m track. This is repeated 3 more times, until the runner has consumed 4 beers and run 4 laps. There are regulations governing the minimum size of the beer can (12oz) and the alcohol content (5% minimum). And yes, there is the risk of “mechanical doping” in this sport. Wide-mouth cans and “shotgunning” are strictly forbidden, however most of the top beer milers use bottles because the beer flows more quickly from a bottle than it does from a can. Competitors in Beer Miles are penalized if they vomit, which seems a foregone conclusion, but apparently is not as common as I’d imagine. If you vomit at any time during the event, you must run a penalty lap. Given this stipulation, an athlete’s training must focus on both speed work and the ability to handle large volumes of alcoholic, carbonated fluids while functioning in a decidedly anaerobic state. When you’re holding a sub-five pace for a mile, there is very little blood flow to the gut! Those leg muscles steal all they can get. Preparation for a Beer Mile must be intense and calculated. Sure, anyone can practice drinking beer in large volumes. It takes a special kind of titration to balance that amount of alcohol intake with a strenuous and periodized training schedule. According to current World Champion and World Record Holder, Lewis Kent, “Drinking beer on a regular basis definitely helps stay in ‘beer mile shape’. I'll make sure to have a few beers with dinner in the weeks leading up to the race. Apart from that, I try to keep my diet as healthy as possible!” In addition to training the gut along with the legs, I imagine it might help to have a few tricks up your sleeve when the intense nausea hits on race day. When I asked Lewis about this though, he said, “I think the puking is something you've got or you don’t.” As a doctor, I can see that. There are definitely some people who just have a more highly developed “chemoreceptor trigger zone” in their brains. Lewis conceded though, “There are small things like stretching your stomach and practicing burping, but apart from that you just have to hope the stomach is happy on race day!” As with all sports, the choice of equipment can be key. I imagine that there are characteristics of some beers that make them ideal for an event such as this, and I noticed that nearly half of the twenty all-time best performances have been completed while drinking Amsterdam Blonde. This may simply be a reflection of the fact that the world’s best Beer Mile competitors are Canadian (as is Amsterdam Blonde), but I had to ask. “I have tried a bunch of different beers since starting the beer mile, and have had some good success with Amsterdam so why fix what's not broken? It's a blonde beer with a good amount of carbonation, but I'm definitely going to continue to experiment and see what else is out there,” says Lewis. (For the record, the top Americans tend to prefer Budweiser and Bud Light Platinum.) For those of us that compete in more “traditional” endurance events, there are nutritional lessons to be learned from elite Beer Milers.
  • You must aim for a generally healthy diet, and practice your race-day nutrition. You can’t show up for a marathon and wonder what gel or bar you’re going to use that day. You have to have that dialed-in ahead of time.
  • There are preparatory things to be done, but to some degree, “you just have to hope the stomach is happy on race day!”
  • In the same way that you are constantly re-evaluating your equipment, you should always consider whether a new nutrition strategy might help. This doesn’t mean you should jump from product to product, but being aware of advances is useful. In this regard, The Feed is an amazing resource for learning about nutritional advances and trying new products. Maybe they’ll start to carry Amsterdam Blonde!