Should you train with a hangover?

Should you exercise after a big night? Mahsa Fratantoni asks the experts.

There are usually two kinds of people with a hangover: those who wallow in self pity while craving a greasy brunch, and those who swap the turps for trainers and “sweat it out”. But is it advisable to exercise with a hangover? And does it have any affect on your training performance?

The body’s response

Some of the most common symptoms of a hangover — headache, tiredness, nausea and sensitivity to light — come down to dehydration. That’s because the main chemical in alcoholic drinks is ethanol, which acts as a diuretic in the body, making you pee more.

If you don’t replace the fluids before exercise you risk making this dehydration worse. “With less water in the body your blood becomes thicker and puts greater strain on your cardiovascular system,” says senior lecturer in sport and exercise Dr Toby Mündel.

The body is also more likely to overheat if you’re dehydrated from a boozy night out. “Sweat is the main way we get rid of heat, so this will be less effective and your body will become hotter. Exercise will also probably seem harder and perhaps less enjoyable,” he explains. 

Poorer training performance

Professor Philip Atherton, an expert on metabolic and molecular physiology, agrees. Even if you’re lucky enough to dodge the hangover symptoms, it’s unlikely you’ll be at peak performance. “Alcohol has a negative effect on both aerobic exercise performance and upon muscle growth responses to resistance exercise training,” he says.

In fact, some studies have shown that alcohol can inhibit muscle protein synthesis, which is essential for muscle growth and repair. Professor Atherton says alcohol can also lead to hormonal imbalances, such as decreasing testosterone levels, which can affect muscle gains. His advice? “Don’t drink heavily if optimal performance is required.”

The upside

While heavy training with a hangover can put extra strain on your body, there are benefits to doing some exercise, says Dr Mündel. “Alcohol generally slows the brain whereas exercise does the opposite, it stimulates the brain. Alcohol, especially during a hangover, dampens the mood whereas exercise typically improves mood.”

Dr Mündel says people should avoid prolonged or high-intensity exercise and instead opt for gentle exercises. This may include yoga, dropping down to lighter weights or a brisk walk. “Any kind of exercise that makes you sweat more is probably best avoided, as with a hangover you are already dehydrated enough,” he adds.

Heavy drinking can also disrupt your sleep patterns, so before you get back into your fitness routine, it’s important to rehydrate and get quality sleep, says Dr Matthew Barnes from Massey University’s School of Sport and Exercise.

And despite what you’ve heard, experts say that sweating it out at the gym or in a sauna will not cure a hangover. Dr Barnes elaborates: “Alcohol is metabolised in the body at about one standard drink per hour, so it just takes time to get rid of it, no significant amount is removed by sweat.”   

Final verdict

Rest, rehydrate and do some gentle exercises the next day, only if you’re feeling up to it. Wait at least 24 hours before attempting high intensity exercise to avoid putting extra strain on your body and to prevent symptoms getting worse.

Bounce back sooner

  • Avoid alcohol the night before a heavy training session or sporting match
  • Try not to drink on an empty stomach, which slows down the rate your body absorbs and processes alcohol
  • Stop alcohol consumption at least one hour before going to bed
  • Drink plenty of water before falling asleep and when you wake up