A hangover can negatively set the tone for the day. Common recovery tips such as eating fried foods or drinking a shower beer can actually make things worse. A hangover is the process of the liver still digesting the alcohol. There are no magic tricks to make it disappear; there are only ways to recover with good habits and continue on with your goals.
Impact of Alcohol
Alcohol consumption has a multitude of effects on the body. Looking at the organs alone, it can cause damage to the brain, heart, and liver in the long term. On a smaller scale, such as an isolated night of drinking, an impact on oxidation and hydration still occurs. Results can vary from altered brain structure, cravings, and reduced cognitive function (1). What are some good habits to apply to the morning after?
Rehydration can help reduce the effects of a hangover. Alcohol lets go of water in the body. This should explain why people make frequent trips to the bathroom while drinking. Frequent excretion of water leads to a reduction in electrolytes and minerals. Electrolytes are not just for athletes, they can help retain essential water and minerals. One study looked into the relationship between water and alcohol. While they could not prove that water alone could help rehydrate, water with electrolytes and minerals was shown to reverse the dehydration process (2). A sports drink or lemon water can boost electrolyte intake.
One crucial mineral impaired by alcohol is iron. Alcohol consumption alters iron and iron-related proteins. This vitamin assists in growth and oxidation throughout the body. Since alcohol induces oxidative stress, iron cannot effectively produce hemoglobin for the red blood cells. The lack of red blood cells will put the body into a state of anemia (3).
Oxidative stress is profound in the liver. Alcohol is mainly metabolized in the liver despite being highly sensitive to it. Alcohol can damage it, impairing lipid (fat) metabolism and increasing inflammation (4). How can oxidative stress be countered?
Antioxidant foods can speed up alcohol metabolism. Fast-digesting foods (low in fiber) actually slow down the metabolism of alcohol, while nutrient-rich foods speed it up. One popular morning choice, caffeine, is also an antioxidant. Ferritin, a strong source of iron, can assist in iron impairments. Foods high in ferritin include legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, and soybeans. Zinc and niacin have been the most useful in aiding the liver’s metabolism of alcohol (5). Some antioxidant foods are also prebiotics due to their fiber content.
Antioxidants and prebiotics have the potential to repair the immune system. Alcohol will damage the gut microbiome’s diversity. These prebiotic choices could help provide the microbiome with what it needs to repair its bacteria population. Fibrous carbs such as whole grains and fruit can flush alcohol out of the system by absorbing more water. Good grain choices for the morning are whole wheat breads, whole grain cereals, and oats. As for fruit, any are on the table because of their Vitamin C contents (5).
Probiotics can protect the liver and the gut from alcohol (6). It’s important to protect the gut. As mentioned before, alcohol disrupts the gut microbiome’s diversity and balance. The gut microbiome is connected to the central nervous system through vagal, neurotransmitting, and immune pathways. An disrupted microbiome creates changes in behavior and alcohol dependency (7). Probiotics can keep the prebiotics of fibrous carbs in a stable environment. Popular probiotics are yogurt, sourdough bread, and kombucha.
Alcohol can worsen athletic performance by impairing cognition and oxidation. These processes help athletes feel more aware and maintain a better heart rate during activity. Light movement can help repair these impaired connections. When comparing two groups in exercise, this study proved that the hungover group was more exhausted than the non-hungover group (8).
Light exercise such as walks or restorative yoga can boost mind-body function. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) can “sweat it out” too. Actually, it’s just increasing the metabolism, causing the alcohol to digest quicker.
Fasting is a terrible approach to a hangover recovery. Alcohol remains in the body by holding onto short-chain fatty acids. Fasting would put the body into ketosis, or the state of functioning via pre-stored fat. This would actually make the hangover worse. It should explain why the body craves fatty foods in this state. So, resist the late-night french fries. If fasting is part of your personal discipline, now is not the time to be testing willpower.
Alcohol can worsen athletic performance. The body’s motor skills are still distorted. It would be dangerous to exert strength, leading to possible injuries. If you are very committed to your workout routine, either reconsider the next workout or the next night out. Now is not the time to practice compound lifts.
Lastly, avoid the morning-after shower beer. This only resets the alcohol removal process.
Get Over the Hangover
A hangover can call for a recovery day. Some good habits allow the body to recover from dehydration and oxidative stress can get you back a normal routine quicker. Take it easy, care for your body, and you’ll be back in the gym in no time.