Can You Work Out Hungover? (Asking for a Friend)

So you went out last night and had too much to drink, and now you're dealing with all the not-so-pleasant after-effects the morning after. Should you try to power through your workout anyway?

You might be able to tough out your workout while nursing a hangover... but should you? (Image: Maskot/Maskot/GettyImages)

On the one hand, you might wonder whether sweating it out might actually help you feel better. On the other, you feel truly terrible. Here's what you should know about exercising with a hangover, the workouts to avoid and when it's definitely worth calling it quits.

Why Does a Hangover Make You Feel Awful?

What exactly makes the morning after a night of boozing so unpleasant? There are a lot of factors involved, but two of the biggies have to do with dehydration and blood sugar.

Drinking suppresses the release of hormones that tell your kidneys to retain fluid, causing you to pee more often, according to the National Institute on Alcohol and Substance Abuse (NIAAA). That increased fluid loss can cause a headache, lightheadedness or even dizziness. Alcohol can also cause your blood sugar to drop, leaving you feeling weak and shaky.

That's not all. Booze can irritate the lining of your stomach and make you feel nauseous or vomit. It also triggers inflammation that can make it harder to concentrate and leave you feeling achy overall, according to the Mayo Clinic.

To top it all off? Alcohol pretty much kills your chance for getting a restful night's sleep, which can zap your energy the next morning. Add it all up, and it totally makes sense why you might wake up feeling like you've been hit by a truck after a few too many drinks.

What Are the Risks of Exercising With a Hangover?

Having a hangover makes you feel bad enough. Stress your body further by adding exercise into the mix, and there's a good chance any symptoms you're dealing with will only get worse, says sports nutrition expert Kelly Jones, RD.

Sweating it out when you're already low on fluids can make you even more dehydrated — which could worsen your headache or even make you dizzy or lightheaded. And there's a good chance you'll tire out faster since your blood sugar's already tanked.

Physical discomfort aside, you might find that your balance or coordination isn't quite up to snuff, says Dempsey Marks, certified fitness trainer and creator of Peak Physique. So you could be more prone to tripping, falling or otherwise getting hurt.

But Can You Still Work Out Safely While Hungover?

So should you exercise with a hangover or not? There's no right or wrong answer for everyone. Experts agree that it's really about how you feel — so if you think you have the energy to work out (and are otherwise healthy), it's fine to give it a try.

"You're probably not going to hurt yourself," says Scott Swartzwelder, PhD, who studies alcohol's effects on the brain at Duke University. That said, it's definitely not the time to go all out with heavy lifting, HIIT, vigorous cardio, intensely sweaty workouts like hot yoga or indoor cycling or anything that calls for a lot of coordination.

"Keep your workouts low to moderate intensity," Marks says. "The goal should be to get a nice dose of feel-good endorphins without stressing or dehydrating your body too much." Light cardio and/or weights, gentle yoga or even a long walk are all good options. But keep in mind, even easy workouts like these might feel tougher than they usually do.

If you do opt to be active, be smart about it. Drink plenty of water to reduce the risk of getting dehydrated. (No need to guzzle a sports drink though — they haven't been shown to help you recover from a hangover any faster, sorry.) "It's also a good idea to eat a healthy meal or snack to replenish the nutrients that alcohol depletes," Dempsey says. Finally, pay attention to your body: Nausea, vomiting, dizziness, shaking or a bad headache are all signs that you need to back off ASAP.

As for anything you can do to make your workout feel a little more, um, pleasant? Despite the hacks that friends might swear by, the only real cure for a hangover is time, the NIAAA notes. The later in the day you wait to work out, the more likely you'll be to feel better.

On the other hand? If you're not up for exercising, don't feel like you have to force yourself. Taking one day off isn't a big deal — and if anything, giving yourself some extra TLC will help you bounce back stronger for tomorrow.

"Rather than tear the body down with even more exercise, let it recover and head out to train when you'll be able to reap the benefits of exercise more," says Jones. "Stay home, hydrate, get some nourishing carbs and get a little extra sleep."

Warning

Nausea, vomiting, dizziness, shaking or a bad headache are all signs that you need to back off of any workout you're doing ASAP.

How to Avoid a Hangover... Next Time

Hitting the booze too hard can mess up your workout or force you to skip it altogether. So if you know you'll be drinking, is there anything you can do to keep your future exercise plans on track? In general, the more you drink, the more likely you are to have a hangover.

Simply drinking less is the most effective way to feel better, according to the Mayo Clinic, though know that it is still possible to have a hangover after just one or two drinks. Having plenty of water along with your drinks and not drinking on an empty stomach can also keep the booze from affecting you too much.

But in general, planning ahead might be your best bet. If you know you've got a big, celebratory night coming up, consider penciling in a gentle workout or just resting the next day. That way you're less tempted to push yourself if you wake up feeling awful in the morning.

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