What Are Isotonic Non Alcoholic Beers? Do they rehydrate you?

There is a growing marketing push for some non alcoholic beers to be marketed as “isotonic”. My guess is that most of the general population doesn’t really know what this means but they see it on various sports drinks.

The connection with sports drinks makes you think it must be good for you or is going to show how rehydrate you but what does it actually mean and how are they working?

Isotonic drinks and isotonic beers contain similar concentrates of sugar and salts that exist in the human body. The logic is that these drinks quickly replace lost salts from sweating and boost carbohydrate needed for energy production during or after sport.

This certainly sounds good but what does it mean and why should my non alcoholic beer be isotonic?

What does isotonic mean?

Isotonic drinks and isotonic beers contain similar concentrates of sugar and salts that exist in the human body.

The logic is that these drinks quickly replace lost salts from sweating and boost carbohydrate needed for energy production during or after sport.

According to the European Food Safety Authority, the osmolality of isotonic beverages is in the 270 to 330 mOsmol/kg range.

This is somewhat misleading as the human body has an osmolality of around 290 and too much outside of that range isn’t really isotonic.

Is being isotonic good for you, does it rehydrate you?

Studies show that isotonic drinks do a good job at rehydrating you. In theory they should replace the lost salts and water in equal concentrations and be absorbed faster.

However the carbohydrate load can make the transit through the stomach a bit longer than say, plain water.

It is also worth noting that previously in the isotonic sports drink world, not all “isotonic” drinks were as billed. In 2008, a study found that the osmolality of drinks were sometimes very far from the range they needed to be to be considered isotonic.

Athletes can also complain that too much isotonic drinks can bloat you or give some stomach upset. This can be in part due to the relatively high carbohydrate load of 6-8%.

How are isotonic non alcoholic beers made?

The isotonic beers are made in the same way as the regular non alcoholic beers in general. You can see my review of these processes here.

Non alcohol beer can be dealcoholised via…

  • vacuum distillation
  • reverse osmosis, cold filtration
  • boil off

You can brew the beer to have naturally less alcohol

  • limited/interrupted fermentation
  • specialised yeast

Or you can brew without any fermentation or just simply dilute the beer down to the required ABV.

The hardest method is probably the “limited/interrupted fermentation” one. Although ever this has had plenty of studies into just how viable it is.

Yeasts are inactivated or removed before they can start producing alcohol in any great volume. It is done by rapidly cooling down the fermenting beer close to zero, putting the yeast to sleep.

Are all non alcoholic beers isotonic?

No, all non alcoholic beers are not isotonic. They have to have very exact amounts of salts and sugars which most beers don’t try to have.

Having an exact isotonic beer doesn’t just happen by chance, it has to be brewed to be that and if there is no marketing or financial benefit for most beers, they don’t try to be.

Having the sugar and salt load needed will affect the flavour and mouthfeel of the beer so not many go to the lengths needed to have an isotonic product.

Which beers are isotonic?

There are quite a few beers that are isotonic, some advertise the fact, some don’t and just happen to be.

Some are…

  • Nirvana Helles Lager
  • Mikkeller Energibajer Alcohol Free Wheat Beer
  • NL Dark Low Alcohol Organic Craft Beer
  • Becks Blue
  • Erdinger Alkoholfrei

The big beer that makes a song and dance over being isotonic and an energy/sports drink is Erdinger Alkoholfrei. You can read my review on it here or a full Q&A here

What is hypotonic and hypertonic?

So you have read that isotonic drinks have the same concentrations of salts as the human body, what about hypotonic and hypertonic?


Hypotonic drinks or solutions have a more dilute set of salts and minerals than the human body. They have a lower osmolality than 290 certainly but often lower than 270.

Water can be anything from 13-120 depending on the mineral content. Does this mean it is bad or doesn’t rehydrate you? Of course not.


On the other side of the coin then, hypertonic drinks and solutions have more salts than the body.

Some sports drinks are hypertonic with lots of carbs for energy. They can have a slower passage through the stomach.

There are even some “isotonic beers” than when tested are actually hypertonic

When should you drink isotonic beers, according to the marketing?

Ok so you have hypo, iso and hypertonic. When should i be drinking these and should i care? What do they marketing folk tell us?

As i stated above, one of the big boys is Erdinger Alkolholfrei. They have gone so far as to set up and sponsor a triathlon team in an effort to market themselves as a sports recovery drink.

The theory goes that isotonic beers can be absorbed faster, have the right salts and minerals you need as well as a carbohydrate/sugar load for energy. Is this really the case?

The results are decidedly mixed…

One study found no real difference in net fluid balance after rehydration with alcoholic beer, low alcohol beer, alcohol free beer and an isotonic sports drink.

Anther large review found there are small differences in how your body processes various drinks…

Stomach emptyingFastMediumSlow
Intestinal absorptionMediumFastSlow
Fluid retentionPoorMediumGood
Effects of different drinks

So basically they all have good points and bad points and you should choose your type of drink based on your needs and type of activity to be performed.

Is there a difference in the isotonic beers vs non isotonic beers?

In reality there is not much difference in the rehydration times of the different types of non alcoholic beers. Their osmolalities are generally not spread too much.

The main reason to drink one of another is taste. The isotonic beers may have a slightly higher sugar content than the non isotonic ones and if you don’t like that in a beer you will drink less and therefore rehydrate yourself less!

My advice is to drink what you like and don’t worry too much about the small differences in absorption. For 99.9% of the population it makes little to no difference.

For a full article of 12 non alcoholic beer benefits then click here to read

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