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working out hungover

Evidence based

Working Out Hungover: Is It A Good Idea?

Afterdrink Author Kathy Caldwell
Kathy Caldwell

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Evidence based

Should you work out if you have a hangover or Is working out good for hangovers?

These are common questions and ones that don’t exactly have simple answers.

Studies have shown that people are more likely to workout from Thursday through to Sunday. This encapsulates the weekend which is when most of us drink more alcohol.

So although you may assume that working out after drinking is an unlikely pairing, it’s actually more common than you’d think.

In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at how alcohol affects your body before moving onto whether we should be working out when hungover.

Some people even swear by working out as a hangover cure. So, we’ll also take a closer look at whether exercise can reduce hangover symptoms as well.

Table of contents

Causes of a hangover

Before we get into whether working out when hungover is a good or bad idea, we first need to go over how hangovers affect your body.

Ultimately, hangovers are caused by drinking too much alcohol, too quickly. You’re only able to metabolize alcohol at a certain rate. This is usually around one standard drink per hour. But this number varies greatly between individuals and factors such as your age, weight, and gender all play a part.

Drinking faster than this means that your blood alcohol levels start to rise. This is where you start to feel the pleasurable effects of alcohol. It’s also when the negative effects of drinking alcohol start:

Dehydration

Alcohol is a diuretic. This means it makes your kidneys flush out water. It does so by blocking a hormone called vasopressin which is responsible for water regulation. That’s why drinking too much alcohol can cause dehydration.

Inflammation

When alcohol is metabolized in your liver, toxic by-products such as acetaldehyde are formed. In simple terms, these react with your cells causing inflammation.

Sleep disturbance

Alcohol blocks your brain from reaching the REM stage of sleep. This is the deepest stage of sleep and where dreams happen. Aside from this, it’s important to have undisrupted REM sleep to have a fully rested mind.

As a consequence of the above mentioned damaging effects of alcohol, you wake up with hangover symptoms which we are all familiar with.

So, now that we’ve got some of the science out the way, let’s move onto how this is all relevant when deciding if it’s good to work out when hungover.

Should you work out when hungover?

Now on to the all-important question, should you work out when hungover?

While working out after a night of drinking might seem like the best way to make up for last night’s debauchery, it might not actually be the best idea.

Let’s face it, you’re not going to be at your sharpest when hungover. You’ll be dehydrated and your levels of tissue inflammation will be much higher than normal. That means your energy levels, focus and endurance are massively reduced.

Here are some of the ways in which working out when hungover can do more harm than good:

1) Working out exacerbates dehydration

We mentioned earlier that alcohol is a diuretic. Clearly, working out will exacerbate dehydration by making you sweat.

You can obviously counteract this by drinking more water. But by the time you’ve woken up with a hangover, your body has a significant water deficit that needs to be replaced over a longer period of time.

Downing a couple of litres of water before working out isn’t going to solve the problem. And doing so will only make you feel bloated and uncomfortable.

2) Clumsiness or “Brain fog” increases the risk of injuries

We all know the feeling, waking up hungover everything works in slow motion. “Brain fog” and reduced mental alertness are a real problem and studies have shown that cognitive function when hungover is significantly reduced.(1)

As a result, the risk of having accidents is naturally higher. Especially if you’re working out hungover with heavy weights.

3) Muscle recovery is reduced

There’s a good reason why top athletes don’t drink before or soon after sporting events. It’s well known that alcohol reduces muscle strength output and greatly increases recovery times.(2)

Ultimately, working out hungover is not going to have the same benefits for your athletic gains.

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4) Added pressure on your heart

Ever felt that your heart is beating faster when hungover? It’s because your resting heart rate is higher than usual after a big night out. There are several different reasons for it including dehydration and the effects of alcohol on your nervous system.(3)

Working out when hungover will only push your heart rate up further adding to the pressure on your body. With that said, it’s unlikely to do any long term damage. But it may not feel great while working out.

In summary, working out when hungover is probably best avoided. It adds unnecessary pressure on your body and there’s an increased risk of injury.

Does working out help with hangovers?

Some people work out to get rid of their hangover symptoms. You may have heard of the phrase “sweating out toxins” when hungover.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. That’s because there are no toxins to “sweat out”.

By the time you’ve woken up with a hangover, the damage from alcohol has been done. As we mentioned before, dehydration, inflammation, and a lack of good quality sleep are the main causes of a hangover. Working out is clearly not going to counteract or replenish any of these.

On the other hand, working out will increase the release of endorphins to give you a short-term analgesic effect.

Overall however, working out when hungover is unlikely to help with the myriad of hangover symptoms you’ll have after night out.

There is no scientific basis for “sweating out toxins or alcohol” when hungover.

Anything else to consider?

Hangovers are a sign from your body that you’ve been drinking too much alcohol for your liver to handle. Working out to cure a hangover is the wrong approach and could be detrimental rather than beneficial.

When it comes to hangovers, prevention is key. Aside from drinking less alcohol, eating before going out, and making sure you drink plenty of water while you’re out, also helps.

Working out when hungover – Final verdict

That brings us to the end of our look into working out hungover.

We’ve walked you through all the ways in which alcohol causes hangovers as well as the downsides to working out after drinking alcohol.

There are quite a few negatives to consider and working out hungover can be detrimental instead of beneficial for your body.

Alcohol and hangover put a lot of pressure on your body. Therefore, giving your body a chance to recover before working out is probably the best way forward.

If you’re interested in reducing the severity of hangovers, check out our article about hangover supplements that could help.

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