Want to Work Out Hungover? If You Can Get Off the Couch, Here's What to Do
It seemed like a good idea at the time: that extra glass (or three) of wine, that round of shots as the bar was closing, that fourth pitcher of margaritas on girls' night out. But then, the payback. Your head is pounding, your stomach is rolling in the deep, and your mouth tastes and feels like the bottom of a subway car. Ugh, the dreaded hangover. What better time to lace up your sneakers and go for that 10-mile run you were planning? If that sounds as crazy to you as it does to me, let's talk about what is going on with your body and what you should consider if you are going to exercise in the state you are in.
What Is a Hangover?
The basic anatomy of a hangover: you have consumed alcohol at a faster rate than your body is able to metabolize it. Your body tries to keep up by increasing urine production, hence why you feel like you have to pee every five minutes while you are drinking and, later, why your head is throbbing and you wake up with killer dry mouth: you are super dehydrated. The toxins in alcohol, including but not limited to ethanol and methanol, linger in your system and disrupt normal functions. Your stomach is upset because it has produced extra acid that has irritated your stomach lining. Your blood sugar may have taken a nosedive, which would account for fatigue, additional headache or nausea, and the craving for a juicy burger/greasy breakfast sandwich/Chinese food buffet.
First Things First
The first step before pulling on our workout wear is repairing some of the damage by drinking something with nutrients. This is not the time for your sugar-free, no-calorie sports drink. Your body needs fuel and replenishment to start the healing process. Make no mistake, you have inflicted short-term hurt on yourself, so you need to make amends. Water is essential, so drink that in addition to your recovery drinks. Where the "hair of the dog" drink or two may help you feel better short term, you are adding in extra alcohol for your body to process in its already-depleted state. Skip that and try moving your body to stimulate blood flow and decrease your downtime.
Workout Option #1: Gentle Yoga
If you are basically functional but not up for a lot, try a gentle stretch or yoga routine. Avoid inversions (your head going below your heart), and aim to activate large muscle groups to get the blood moving. Low blood sugar, poor sleep, and dehydration affect physical performance, so go easy and pay attention to your bodily signals: lightheaded-ness, increased nausea, and too high or too low heart rate are all reasons to stop and select straight-up rest.
Workout Option #2: Low-Impact Cardio
If you are a step slow but want to get the heart rate up a little more, try a low-impact cardio workout. The lack of jumping will be less jarring to your stomach and head, but the increased oxygen consumption and endorphin release will help you down the road to recovery. This workout is only 20 minutes, so try to remember it's a recovery workout more than anything. Strength gains and high-level calorie burning can wait another day until you are back to your regular self.
Workout Option #3: HIIT
These people exist. I used to be roommates with one. They party all night then get up to run for an hour at 6 a.m. They "sweat it out." These people are scientific marvels. If you are feeling up for more than just some low to moderate movement, a great alternative to a run would be a short HIIT workout. Firing up the metabolism and releasing endorphins are good ways to speed up your return to the land of the living. Pro tip: any physical activity undertaken in a hungover state needs to pair with intense rehydration so that your efforts don't backfire. Self-care is first, so make sure you take a break or fully cease the activity if it starts feeling like more of a punishment than a recovery tool.