We’ve all been there. One after work drink turns into many more and before you know it, it’s 6 am and time for your workout. As tempting as it is to hide under the covers, throwing them off and strapping your runners on might actually help relieve those hangover symptoms.
Disclaimer: If you’re negotiating with a severe vomiting-style hangover, you receive a get-out-of-jail-free card to stay in bed. When you are severely hungover, you’re dehydrated as alcohol is a diuretic (this is why you have a serious thirst and rude headache). This dehydration—paired with the lack of focus and impaired coordination that comes hand-in-hand with a full-blown hangover—can make exercising dangerous. If you’ve reached peak hangover levels, skip the exercise, recover and try not to relive too much of what you did last night.
For the rest of you, who only lost brain cells but managed to hang onto your dignity, gentle exercise can help. Getting your endorphins up and sweating out the toxins can make you feel human again but before you get ready to hit the gym, make sure you’ve prepped your body. Here’s how.
If you’re going to attempt a workout, firstly you need to hydrate. Excess alcohol consumption disrupts the production of vasopressin, the hormone that helps the body regulate our fluid balance which means the kidneys don’t reabsorb water as well as they are meant to and water goes straight to the bladder. This leads you to repeatedly race for the bathroom on your night out and leaves your head in agony the next day. Drinking lots of water or even electrolyte solutions after a night out can help prevent dehydration and restore nutrients. Coconut water is also a great option as it’s rich in electrolytes and vitamins and can help settle an acidic stomach. Ginger or peppermint tea can help calm your stomach and reduce inflammation and green tea can give you a little energy boost and a shot of antioxidants pre-workout.
Eating a healthy snack before exercising is a good idea as it can help reduce any unpleasant nausea. An ideal snack is something high in protein and/or carbohydrates. I’d suggest having an egg (like this hangover-approved breakfast) as it’s high in amino acids which support liver function and help relieve headaches (if you’re vegan, try this breakfast recipe from Lola Berry). Top carb options include unsweetened muesli or porridge, which have essential nutrients such as B vitamins, calcium and iron, that help give you an energy boost. A banana, which is naturally high in potassium (a mineral that gets depleted when drinking) can also be a great pre-workout snack option.
As tempting as it is to chow down on a full English, ditch the greasy big breakfast. Rich, heavy and greasy foods will only make an already sensitive stomach worse—not great when you want to exercise.
It’s no surprises that alcohol slows down your motor skills and this impairment may continue into your hangover with poor judgement and decreased reaction time. When you’re training with a hangover, ditch the high intensity or endurance workouts. Alcohol consumption reduces blood flow to muscles, which can lead to muscle aches, making it harder to work with full force.
Try this 8-move Pilates sequence to get you started:
The best workouts to do when nursing a hangover are ones that are low-impact, steady-state exercises (like these) that get your blood moving, such as walking, yoga or a stationary bike. If you are super keen on getting some weights in, go lighter than you would usually lift to avoid overexertion. Getting a little sweaty after a night out can help expel some of the toxic by-products (through sweating, breathing and via your liver and kidneys) that can come with an evening on the booze. Don’t forget to stretch—after a big night out, stretching is more important than ever to help increase blood flow, prevent injury and muscle aches.