Nutrition Practical Advice

Hung up on hangovers?

The weekend started brilliantly. I woke up on Saturday morning, refreshed and excited to see sunlight coming through my bedroom window. Within minutes, I threw on my running tights, a long-sleeved shirt, and grabbed my tunes as I ran out the door, not sure where I was heading but looking forward to getting there. My feet took me to the river right near my house and I headed out along the path towards open water. I’ve run along this route a number of times before, but this morning, everything looked and felt a bit different. Brighter. Lighter. Easier. I’ve dropped a bit of weight over the past few weeks, but the lightness in my step went further than shedding just a few pounds.  I found myself running along the beach in Brightlingsea, facing open water and losing track of time. Quite simply, it was a perfect morning. (Folgers in your cup theme song anyone?).

One of the landmarks on my morning run!

I headed down to London to catch up with some friends at a pub to watch the rugby game, feeling rather pleased with myself. Ah yes, pinnacle of healthy goodness. Er, fast forward a few (quite a few) hours, and I was giddily twirling around at a house party with a glass of champagne in one hand and mini burgers dipped in hummus in the other. With a side of brownies and a dash of Bryan Adams karaoke. Oh dear. Of course, as a non-red meat eater, I had blocked out the beef incident, but reliable sources reminded me of my carnivore tendencies this morning. At some point during the evening’s festivities, I even managed to break the heel off my boot dancing, which I’m hoping doesn’t divulge too much about my technique.

Anyway, this morning when I opened my eyes – or rather when I tentatively opened one eye – I instantly knew my planned run along the Thames with a buddy was in serious jeopardy.  I was faced with that ultimate hangover question: will exercise make me feel better or just a whole lot worse??

One school of thought says that when you’re hit with a hangover, you should just go “sweat it out”. As tough as it is initially, once you get a good workout in, you’ll feel better. Rid your body of the leftover alcohol and toxins and reset the clock. The other (perhaps more sensible) school of thought says that exercising will only make you feel worse. When you’re hungover and dehydrated, exercising will just exacerbate those feelings and set you back.

Which one is right?

Well, it looks either might be. The evidence really isn’t clear on this one, it seems. For me, I find that a workout really helps me get my equilibrium back. I don’t know what the science is behind it (and haven’t been able to find a good explanation), but getting the blood pumping again and stretching the legs after a good night out always seems to help clear out the cobwebs…

Well, almost always. There are those rare mornings when I just know that a run is better dreamed about instead of doing. It hasn’t happened in a very long time (the more serious tasks of completing my LLM program has prevented an abundance of burger-eating-champagne-twirling 90s karaoke blow outs)… but this morning was one of those occasions. Luckily, my running buddy was in a similar state (whew). Generally speaking – and this is probably a good rule to go by – if you can’t get up and walk around without feeling like your brains have been replaced by cotton balls, running is not a good idea. Not only are you too dehydrated, but you might still be a little drunk (!), and those things in combination could make for a nasty fall. And an even worse afternoon.

However, if you’re on the edge and think you might benefit from a little jog, here’s some kind advice!

Getting hung up over hangover? Take these tips!

(1) Drink some water. Then drink some more.

As soon as you wake up, drink 8 ounces of water. At least. Better yet, before you go out at night, put a glass of water by your bed ahead of time. You’re unlikely to remember to do that later and it will save you multiple headaches in the morning! A big part of the hangover is simply dehydration, so try to get some liquid back in you before you go exercise. And bring some with you on the run, even if it is just a short one. Keep sipping!

(2) Have a cup of tea or coffee — but only if that is part of your normal routine.

If you normally get up and have some caffeine, don’t skip it on a hangover morning or you could get a caffeine withdrawal headache on top of everything else!

(3) Stretch

See how you feel stretching. Before a run, you should be doing dynamic stretches, rather than static ones. For example, a classic quad stretch is when you bend your leg and holding onto your foot behind you close to your butt. This is a static stretch. Conversely, a dynamic quad (and hamstring) stretch involves swinging your leg out in front and then behind you (kicking your foot up towards the butt at the end), multiple times, to warm up the muscles. If you can’t get through these moves, you won’t be able to get through the run!

(4) Take a pain reliever

Advil, ibuprofen, tylenol (acetaminophen)… But be careful which one you take. Some pain meds are metabolized through the liver, such as acetaminophen / paracetamol. Your liver will already be pretty tired from last night’s alcohol damage, so you might want to think about taking a different kind. Other meds are metabolized through the kidney and might be more gentle on a hungover body. At the same time, some drugs are harsh on the stomach (such as advil), so make sure that whatever pill you take you have a bit of food! If you’re adverse to pain killers, I question whether you are really an ultrarunner… 😉 (And I’m impressed)

(5) Food

We tend to crave fatty, greasy foods for our hangover breakfasts, but this is really not advisable before a run. You will definitely need to get in some calories, but take it easy on your body first thing. Have a bowl of cereal or some toast with honey. Bananas are good as well. Give yourself enough to give you some energy on the run, but save the greasy fry up for when you get back!

(6) Be reasonable!

Don’t go out for too long, no matter how much you’d like to. You’re hurting, your body is somewhat bruised, so be good to it!  In that stressed state, your heart rate will be higher and you might strain yourself more than you realize. If I’m tired or even slightly hungover, my polar watch will usually show that my heartbeat is about 10 beats higher than normal, which can make a big difference. That might mean you should run a little slower or for less time than usual in order to compensate.

(7) Give yourself a treat

Plan to reward yourself with something when you get back and it’ll make it easier to step out of the door in the first place.

All this being said, this morning I failed the cotton ball test, stretch test, the stand up test, even the open-both-eyes-at-the-same-time test and alas, the run was postponed 😉 But after a good cup of British tea, multiple glasses of water, a sausage sandwich and a few chuckles about the prior night’s festivities, and I was almost in one piece again. Wish I could say the same for my dancing boots…

Will make up for the weekend’s indulgence on the step machine tomorrow! What can I say. Sometimes you just need to kick up your heels and, perhaps, break one off.

Alex Flynn’s interview still to come – the guy is a busy man, but can’t wait to introduce him to you!

See this CNN article for some of the hangover remedies mentioned in this post.

-Ultrarunnergirl aka Stephanie Case

4 comments on “Hung up on hangovers?

  1. Hey there! I’ve been reading your blog for some time now and finally got
    the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from New Caney Tx!

    Just wanted to mention keep up the fantastic job!

  2. I gave up booze over a year ago. Best thing I ever did!!

  3. I find that all the regular tips of how to beat a hangover are all wrong. Well everything that feels right is wrong. ie fatty foods and coffee

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