Athletes quaff faux beer - head and all

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Athletes quaff faux beer - head and all

PORTLAND, Maine - Beer. It’s not just for couch potatoes anymore. A Bavarian brewmeister is touting its no-alcohol beer as the latest sport drink for athletes, handing it out at the finish line of sporting events and touting its regenerative benefits.

Unlike Gatorade, Erdinger Alkoholfrei is served up with a frothy head. And it comes in one color - a golden hue - unlike conventional sport drinks. Several top athletes from Europe quaffed the beverage from giant mugs on the podium of the World Cup biathlons held this month in northern Maine.

The company touts the drink as an isotonic, vitamin-rich, no-additive beverage with natural regenerative powers that help athletes recover from a workout. In other words, it’s a carbohydrate-loaded refreshment without the alcoholic buzz of beer or the jitters caused by some energy drinks.

“It’s a very healthy product,’’ said Glenn McDonald, U.S. manager for Erdinger. “Overseas, it’s very popular. It’s the No. 1 nonalcohol beer in Germany.’’

Even though it’s called alcohol-free, Alkoholfrei still contains less than 0.5 percent alcohol. That makes it verboten for anyone under 21 in Maine. Other states, like California, allow minors to buy alcohol-free beer.

Promoted as a “sports and fitness drink,’’ Erdinger began targeting athletes in Europe in 2001 with an advertising campaign featuring a pair of triathletes. Its popularity quickly grew there, where it’s often distributed for free in the finishing area of sporting events. Marketing beer as a sport drink for athletes is a new concept in the U.S., though McDonald points out that Alkoholfrei can be enjoyed by anyone, not just athletes.

Whether Americans - couch potatoes and athletes alike - are ready to embrace another no-alcohol beer is unclear. Sales of no-alcohol beer have been declining for more than a decade in United States, so any new entrant faces an uphill battle, said Benj Steinman, editor of Beer Marketers Insights.

As for the health claims, a University of Maine nutritionist is skeptical. Beer contains sodium, potassium, carbohydrates and B vitamins, all of which are good, but they’re not found at the optimal levels for an athlete, said professor Mary Ellen Camire.

“It will help with rehydration. Whether it’s the ideal drink to have, I’m not sure,’’ she said. “Surely if people are looking to celebrate, it’s better to celebrate with that than a regular beer after a workout.’’

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