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No, you shouldn’t exercise hungover — here’s why

Should you exercise with a hangover?
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

As lockdown restrictions ease, Google Trends shows that searches for "alcohol and exercise" have increased by 200%, as we all try and juggle our lockdown fitness routines with socializing. But should you exercise with a hangover, and what exactly are the effects of alcohol on the body the next day? 

Dan Harris, a personal trainer at bike retailer E-Bikes Direct, says you should never try and work out when you’re hungover and offers his suggestions on what you should do instead. So, put down those dumbbells, rest your weary head and read on to understand the science behind your hangover, and why no workout is a good idea while you’re so fragile. 

Why you shouldn’t try and exercise with a hangover 

If you’ve had a heavy night, trying to hit the gym or go for a run might not actually make you feel any better, Harris explains. Here’s why, according to science, you should give yourself a day off.  

You can’t actually sweat a hangover out

Forget what you might have heard, "sweating out" a hangover isn’t actually a thing. Unfortunately, less than 10% of the alcohol your body has metabolized can be debarred through sweat. Instead, sweating when hungover puts you at greater risk of dehydration. "The consumption of alcohol is one of the quickest ways to dehydrate the body," Harris explains. Alcohol is a toxin that acts as a diuretic by suppressing the production of the hormone Vasopressin, which is the body’s natural antidiuretic. As a result, you’ll often go to the toilet more often when consuming alcohol. 

Exercising when you’re dehydrated puts you at greater risk of injury, as the muscles are more likely to cramp, tense, and in turn, experience more strain than normal. Tears, strains, and even fractures are not uncommon side effects of exercising when dehydrated, post-drinking alcohol. 

Of course, the best way to avoid missing a workout session is to take steps to avoid the hangover the night before. As alcohol is a diuretic, if you actively avoid dehydrating by drinking a glass of water between each drink, and another before you head to bed, your hangover symptoms might not be as severe the next morning. 

If you don't fancy heading back and forth to the bar for tap water, why not just carry a water bottle with you and keep it on the table as a reminder? (We've rounded up the best water bottles on the market here).

You’ll probably feel fatigued 

"It’s a myth that consuming alcohol can lead to a good night’s sleep," Harris says. While you’ll often fall asleep faster post-drinking (due to the increase in the brain’s chemical adenosine, which stimulates sleep), you’re not likely to stay asleep for as long. In fact, studies show that the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep is interrupted after drinking alcohol, meaning you’ll often wake up feeling more tired than normal. 

Alcohol also affects the body’s metabolism, as your body cannot store alcohol like it does sugar and carbs, so it has to make its way to the liver to be processed. This, in turn, puts tension on the digestive system, as the body attempts to access essential nutrients. This reduced access to nutrients is likely to make you feel tired and sluggish. 

Exercising when the mind and body are fatigued is a bad idea. Not only will you be less able to concentrate on what you’re doing, but your balance and coordination might also be affected, and your body will tire much faster than normal, putting you at a higher risk of getting injured. 

You probably won’t have fuelled correctly 

Ever wondered why you crave fried food after drinking alcohol? Alcohol promotes the brain’s production of the chemical Galanin. In turn, Galanin causes cravings of foods high in Omega 6, which is often found in fatty foods and frying oils. If you do give in to these cravings, high-fat foods might raise your blood pressure. 

As exercise can also raise your blood pressure, pairing the two together can lead to side effects like light headiness, a prolonged increase in heart rate, and even fainting. 

What should you do instead? 

We all know that exercise can release endorphins that make us feel better, so it is tempting to work out with a hangover. While you should definitely avoid anything too high impact, Harris says yoga, gentle stretching, and Pilates can all work as a good post-drinking exercise regime.

It’s also worth noting that alcohol might slow down your body’s ability to recover, so if you have done a heavy weightlifting session, or an especially long run or bike ride pre-drinking, you might need to give your muscles an extra day or so to repair than you normally would.

Jane McGuire

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past four years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.