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Here’s what to know about working out after drinking the night before

Rachel Lapidos

Rachel LapidosMay 4, 2020

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It’s the morning after a night during which you maybe drank one-too-many low-sugar margaritas, and you’re not feeling so hot. Despite this, you kinda, sorta want to move your body (but not so much that you feel even more gross, or worse, make a beeline for the bathroom). According to experts, figuring out how to sweat in this situation is a lot like working out when you’re sick: There are certain guidelines you should take into consideration when exercising with a hangover.

“Probably the top two detractors from physical performance the day after alcohol consumption are dehydration and feeling terrible,” says Alex Harrison, PhD, doctor of sports physiology with Renaissance Periodization, pointing to having an upset stomach or a headache as examples of the latter. “You need a certain amount of hydration for things to work well, and research has shown that even by reducing your hydration by [even one or] two percent of your body weight, it can really, drastically effect your athletic performance,” says Rand McClain, DO, chief medical officer of LCR Health. So depending on how dehydrated you are or how crummy you feel, it’ll affect how you perform in your next-day workout.

If dehydration is the main symptom you’re dealing with, Harrison says your best bet is to stick with strength or weight training. “Dehydration doesn’t affect strength training very much at all, and you’re more likely to become rehydrated sufficiently by the time you work out the next day to not have any serious deleterious effects hinder your strength performance,” he says. “It definitely affects endurance performance, though.” This is because dehydration—of even one to two percent of body weight (“which is common 24 hours after drinking more than a couple beverages,” he says)—can cause a slightly increased heart rate. Harrison explains that it’s also harder for your body to absorb hydration to make up for the water loss. “It’s a good idea to rehydrate aggressively with salt and water, like with sodium citrate, to help your body fight the diuretic effects of the alcohol and hang onto more of your water.”

When you’re particularly parched, it’s best to stick with a workout on the shorter side. “You’re more likely to lose more water [doing] long distance on a bike or [going on] a long run than with a 40-minute long weight workout,” says Dr. McClain, who cautions that doing endurance-type workouts with minimum fluid in your system can lead to you feeling faint on top of a not-so-peak performance. Harrison also suggests easy cardio, as long as it’s not in a hot environment (heat would further dehydrate you). “Spinning, walking, or easy rowing at a conversational pace for less than 60 minutes would be minimally impacted by alcohol-induced dehydration,” he says.

If you’re feeling more blah and upset in the stomach from the alcohol consumption, Harrison recommends doing upper body-focused workouts. “This would help if you’re having gut issues or a pounding head, since there is less trunk compression and bracing required for moves like a bench press, overhead press, and lat pulldowns compared to squatting or deadlifting,” he says. “The best exercise is one that is rhythmic, repetitive, and one that you can set the level of intensity,” adds Brian Hoke, a sports physical therapist with Vionic Innovation Labs.

Regardless of how you decide to sweat it out when hungover, the key is to be easy on yourself. “You’re much less likely to be pushing yourself as hard in training,” says Harrison. You could always, ya know, just take a rest day, too.

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