Have a Hangover? Find Out How to Survive Your Workout

Read This Before You Exercise With a Hangover
Photo: Pond5

So you had a few too many drinks the night before your 8 a.m. workout. We’ve all been there…maybe more than once. As tempting as it sounds to crawl under the covers and hibernate for the day, doctors and exercise physiologists say that working out with a hangover can be done. It may even help relieve symptoms, assuming the hangover is not too severe. (Note: If you are vomiting-levels of hungover, do not pass go or consider putting on your gym shoes.)

Shane Paulson, a board certified exercise physiologist in Osakis, MN, says that dehydration, lack of focus and impaired coordination can make exercise dangerous if your hangover is severe. “There are no added benefits associated with exercising in such a state,” he said. “It would be better to skip that day’s exercise plan and recover from the overindulgence.”

If you’re experiencing a hangover lite, however, there are steps you can take to ensure that you get in a good workout the day after a night of heavy boozing. Read on to find out how to get your workout on with a hangover (and thank us later for it!).

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How to Hack Your Hangover

If you decide that your hangover is not too extreme, the most important thing you can do before exercising is to hydrate. Why? According to Dr. Robert Czincila, DO, Chief of Emergency Medicine at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery in East Norriton, PA, alcohol inhibits a chemical in the brain from secreting an anti-diuretic hormone that helps the kidney to reabsorb water. Without this hormone, water goes right to the bladder, which is why you have to urinate so much when you drink.

“First and foremost, make sure you are drinking plenty of water or electrolyte solutions,” he says. Czincila recommends Pedialyte, the children’s solution that helps prevent dehydration and restores nutrients and electrolytes lost through vomiting and diarrhea. “It’s good for adults as a post-party drink because it replaces sodium and potassium,” he says. Coconut water is also a good choice because it contains nutrients and electrolytes that are lost from drinking alcohol. Czincila cautions against guzzling sugary beverages like Gatorade or Powerade, though. Too much alcohol can impair glucose metabolism, which can cause more harm than good, he says.

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A healthy snack might help, too. Eating a light meal before exercising with a hangover can help to counter that woozy feeling. Czincila suggests consuming something that’s high in protein or carbs. If you’re Team Protein, eggs contain amino acids like taurine and cysteine, which can boost liver function and possibly even help relieve a headache. Carb fans might want to opt for oatmeal since it contains essential nutrients like B vitamins, calcium and iron to give you the energy that you need to get out the door. Adding some sliced banana will also add a dose of potassium, an electrolyte that gets depleted when boozing.

As tempting as it is to eat a bacon, egg and cheese, avoid greasy foods. They will only exacerbate a sour stomach and make exercising all the more unpleasant, experts warn.

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On Your Mark, Get Set, Go (Slow)

Unsurprisingly, alcohol slows your motor skills, so your hangover might also include impaired judgment and decreased reaction time. “A hangover is not the time to test out your endurance or train for a marathon,” says Dr. Ruth C. Engs, Professor Emerita in the School of Public Health at Indiana University. Overexertion will make you worse off than before. Alcohol also reduces blood flow to muscles and can lead to muscle aches, which makes it harder to work out at full force.

To make a hungover workout worth it, try doing something easy like a brisk walk or yoga, Czincila says. If biking is your thing, do it on a stationary bike to counter balance issues. And if you swim, make sure there is a lifeguard on duty. If you’re a gym rat who doesn’t want to miss out on weight training, Czincila suggests using lighter weights so you don’t overexert yourself.

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Increasing your respiratory rate and sweating after a night of imbibing will help excrete some of the metabolites from alcohol that may remain in your body, but only a very small percentage. (Read: Don’t bank on it to render you alcohol-free.)

And don’t forget to stretch pre- and post-workout (try starting with these). “Stretching is always important and certainly may help even more so in someone who is hungover,” Czincilla says, in order to increase blood flow.

The Bottom Line

Whatever you decide, go gentle on yourself. The good news is that exercise releases endorphins — those feel-good hormones — which can improve your mood and help you recover.

Engs says, “The main thing for any kind of exercise, is to listen to your body and don’t push yourself.”

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