Is Training Good for a Hangover?

A common belief is that “sweating out” a hangover will help see off the effects of a night on the turps faster than lying on the couch clutching your head and groaning. After all, exercise gets your blood pumping, helping your liver remove toxins.

Can exercising after a big night out on the booze offset the adverse effects of alcohol consumption? One standard drink is metabolised by your body in about an hour, so the whole “sweat it out” theory is myth. At the same time, the endorphin release could boost your mood. And burning off a few calories may ease your guilt about how much you drank. Just be sure you keep your water bottle handy so you don’t become even more dehydrated.

The Expert’s Verdict

Former professional triathlete Rod Cedaro holds a master’s degree in exercise physiology and has 25 years of experience in exercise science and human conditioning. He says adequate hydration is the key issue with strenuous exercise and that because alcohol is a diuretic (meaning it dehydrates us and removes essential electrolytes), training with a hangover can be a recipe for disaster.

“Thirst is not a good indicator of how much our bodies need, fluid-wise,” Cedaro says. He knows of several instances in which people have done fun runs after a big night of drinking and have collapsed before the finish, required hospitalisation and suffered serious health issues.

Thermoregulation (how your body controls its temperature) is impaired when you’re dehydrated, Cedaro says, meaning that if you’re not careful, your body can cook from the inside if you’re exercising when dehydrated on a hot day. He also says replacing fluid lost through sweat is not just as simple as drinking a glass of water.

“Water sits in the gut and doesn’t clear through the system as fast as fluid with sodium, some carbs and, some research suggests, a small amount of protein,” he says, and recommends sports drinks that are better formulated to rehydrate your body quickly and effectively.

Your reaction time, hand-eye co-ordination, steadiness and balance will be affected if you’re hungover – not preferable if you’re on your bike for a training ride, for example.

You’re more likely to experience delayed onset muscle soreness if you’re dehydrated and your metabolism changes when you’re hungover, too, Cedaro says. “If you’re exercising to try and burn some fat, your body will actually burn carbohydrate.”

The Truth about Alcohol’s Effect on Exercise

  1. Your movement skills will be impaired e.g. reaction time, eye-hand coordination, steadiness, balance. This is not the sort of things you want jeopardised if you’re out on the road on your bike for a training ride the night after a bit night out.
  2. Alcohol promotes fatigue by increasing lactic acid production. It also dilates blood vessels and diverts blood circulation to the skin and away from working muscles lowering blood supply where it is needed most. This can impair temperature control, increase dehydration further and lead to an even greater risk of hyperthermia (over-heating).
  3. Alcohol is a very concentrated source of energy providing 6.6 calories per gram of alcohol and apart from this energy supply it provides little else from a nutritional perspective.
  4. Alcohol is a “diuretic” and as such increases fluid (and electrolyte) losses by down regulating the release of the hormone ADH (anti-diuretic hormone) which regulates the body’s fluid balance. Consequently you pee more luring you into the belief that you’re well hydrated, when in fact the opposite is the case.

3 Golden Rules to Remember If You’re Going to Exercise with a Hangover:

  1. Keep it gentle
  2. Limit the duration
  3. Watch your hydration before, during and after

The Bottom Line

Gentle exercise with adequate hydration before, during and after the session is the way to go. The best way to avoid the potential complications of exercising with a hangover is to avoid a hangover in the first place by not drinking to excess. But if you do, limit the duration and intensity of the workout, rehydrate with a good sports drink and give yourself time to fully recover before trying to train hard once more.

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