The benefits of cutting back alcohol consumption are pretty clear, which is why challenges like Dry January and Sober October are gaining so much traction. But signing up for a battle against your own willpower can be daunting. Are you suddenly supposed to pretend that cracking open a post-adventure water hits the spot? Turns out, you might not have to compromise at all. Enter the folks at Athletic Brewing, whose nonalcoholic craft beers are so good you might not miss traditional beer at all. Don’t take it from us, though. Self-proclaimed beer geek and professional cyclist Peter Stetina and the beer-loving professional ultrarunner Avery Collins offered up their tips on how to successfully execute a Sober October and actually have fun while doing it.
Take It One Day at a Time
You don’t run a marathon by thinking about 26.2 miles. You do it by taking it one step, one mile, or one aid station at a time. “The hardest part is the mental willpower. It’s like training, and just like with any training, you need to find tools to help you achieve your goal,” says Stetina. “You don’t look at one month. You look at a week and then another week.”
Collins did Sober October for the first time last year––it was the first time he’d gone a whole month without alcoholic beer since he was 21. “It was pretty eye-opening,” he says. “I think the challenge is really within the first three to five days. And then after that you start to see the results, and I realized that I wasn’t really craving the effect of alcohol as much anymore.”
Find a Replacement
When attempting a sober month, it’s important to replace the habit of drinking with something else. If you’re a beer-lover, stock the fridge with nonalcoholic beer. This kind of feels like cheating, but it’s not. “Beer is a passion of mine. If I gave you an Athletic beer in a brown bag, you would think it’s a great-tasting 5 or 6 percent beer,” says Stetina. “For me it’s about finding a good replacement and then just living normally.”
And if you’re not a beer fan, maybe your replacement is to make a fun mocktail or swap out your evening beverage with a nightly walk around the neighborhood.
Nerd Out on Fitness
One of the main points of doing a dry period is to be healthier. Alcohol provides empty calories and zero health benefits. In addition to not being great for athletic performance, it can be incredibly detrimental to a person’s health over time, increasing the risk of things like high blood pressure, heart disease, liver disease, and a whole flurry of cancers.
“There’s a big difference in performance for me between drinking beer and not drinking beer,” says Collins. During his Sober October he quickly noticed that his energy levels skyrocketed. The start of his runs felt easier and he could get into his groove faster. “For athletes it’s an opportunity to actually see how much you can better your results. It’s at least worth seeing, on paper, what it can do for you.”
Stetina agrees. When he’s gearing up for a race, he drinks nonalcoholic beer so he can still have his post-ride beer without putting on weight or compromising his training.
“Craft beer is probably my second-favorite passion after bike racing, which is not always the best partnership to have,” says Stetina. Beer that’s 6 to 9 percent can pack between 200 and 300 calories a can. A so-called beer belly is caused by a buildup of hard-to-get-rid-of visceral fat located in and between the organs (not super helpful when trying to perform at a high level). “People are always looking for the hack or the magic pill that will help them push harder, train faster, sleep better. I think it’s just small things, like cutting alcohol for a while, that’s an easy way to find a better version of yourself.”
Get Better Sleep
This isn’t really a tip so much as a motivating factor. Who doesn’t love a good night’s sleep? “There’s so many studies about alcohol affecting sleep quality, even if you don’t feel buzzed,” says Stetina. “The effects are massive.”
Having poor sleep is detrimental to a person’s overall health in its own right, and can lead to all sorts of problems (heart attack, asthma, depression, etc.). Alcohol certainly doesn’t help the cause. While alcohol can make you sleepy, and help some people fall asleep quickly, it doesn’t help you stay asleep. As your liver processes alcohol while you’re in bed, it causes disruptions in deep sleep and reduces REM sleep. REM sleep is super-important for the brain when it comes to learning, as well as processing and retaining memories. Cutting alcohol is worth it for the sleep benefits alone.
Collins will go out for a four- or five-hour run and not think twice about cracking open a nonalcoholic beer when he gets back––even if it’s before noon. “The instant carbs and calories are clutch. I want to get that within the first 10 minutes of getting back,” he says. “The number one thing I noticed was energy levels, but the second thing was less inflammation, and less inflammation means faster recovery.”
Stetina agrees. “I actually drink more beer now because it’s basically a recovery drink. I get home from a ride and pound a nonalcoholic IPA. Without the alcohol it’s rehydrating, there’s some electrolytes, and it’s a good hit of carbs,” he says.
Don’t Compromise Your Lifestyle
The key to success here is not having to make any huge changes in lifestyle that make this challenge even more difficult to stick with. This means being a little more prepared. Pack a cooler for the trailhead that’s full of nonalcoholic drinks you’re excited to consume. Invite people to your backyard instead of socializing at a bar with few options for non-drinkers.
“In gravel biking it’s almost a sin to say no to the post-ride beer,” says Stetina. “With nonalcoholic beer, you don’t have to sacrifice your health to have a great-tasting drink and a good time with friends.”
At Athletic Brewing Company, we are pioneering a craft revolution. We believe you shouldn’t have to sacrifice your ability to be at your best to enjoy great beer – so, we created our innovative lineup of refreshing, non-alcoholic craft brews.