There’s nothing like a good celebration! A fun night out with friends, great food and a few cocktails—who doesn’t love to kick back and relax, especially after a hard day’s work? As registered dietitians and girls who love to have a great time, we’re all for our clients having an enjoyable night. But can you guess what our least favorite part is when it comes to our clients spending a night on the town? It’s hearing the disappointment in our professional athletes’ and our weekend warriors’ voices when they tell us that a hangover impaired their workout—or completely derailed their plans to train altogether. There’s no doubt about it—if you’re looking to impair your athletic performance, a hangover is a surefire way to do it.
For our clients who choose to drink alcohol, we recommend that they do so in moderation, which is one daily drink for women and two for men. However, we realize that when drinking alcohol, just as with eating, at times you may overindulge despite good intentions. And if you do, it’s quite likely you’ll end up with a hangover, which will make you crave unhealthy foods to soothe it. This spells a disaster for your waistline and your next workout.
If you find yourself with a hangover, follow this advice (below) that we give to our clients.
First, drink plenty of water!
It will help you to counterbalance the dehydrating effect of the alcohol. Keep in mind that dehydration impairs your athletic ability more than almost any other controllable factor. Water also flushes out the toxins created by the alcohol. To counteract the dehydrating effect of the alcohol, drink water even before you start drinking alcohol, and have a glass of water or seltzer with each alcoholic beverage you drink. Begin the next day by drinking at least 16 ounces of water when you wake up and with each meal throughout your day.
Craving a sweet, greasy pastry? Instead choose whole-grain toast with peanut butter and a banana.
Here’s how you’ll salvage your workout: Ever eat a pastry before a workout? Even without a hangover, you know this is a recipe for disaster. The fatty pastry feels heavy in your stomach and sucks your energy, demotivating you to work out. All that fat may also cause a stomach cramp, because fat takes a long time to digest (six to eight hours), diverting blood away from exercising muscles to work on digesting the fat. Plus, the hydrogenated fats further irritate your already agitated insides because they cause inflammation and damage.
Instead, after a night of heavy drinking go for whole-grain toast and peanut butter and a banana. The bananas will replace lost electrolytes, especially the potassium lost due to alcohol’s diuretic effect, helping you to bounce back more quickly. The peanut butter will satisfy your craving for a fatty food, but unlike the hydrogenated fats in most pastries that create inflammation, the healthy fat will do the opposite and help fight it. And the carbohydrates will come from nutrient-packed whole grains (rather than from sugar, which would also increase inflammation and distress for your taxed body) and help to fuel your brain and muscle.
Craving pancakes with butter, syrup and the works? You can still have pancakes, but top them with berries and honey instead of butter and syrup.
Here’s how you’ll salvage your workout: This pancake-topping swap makes all the difference. You’ll still get the carb energy boost you crave—and it will help to fuel your workout. But opting for honey means you’ll benefit from its fructose, and studies have proven fructose increases the rate at which the body gets rid of toxins, such as those left over from alcohol metabolism. Plus, you’ll skip the artery-clogging butter that can make you feel too sluggish to work out, while getting fruit’s phytonutrients (they’ll help prevent cell damage from the alcohol) and fiber to help prevent constipation and keep things moving swiftly through your digestive tract.
Craving “souped-up” coffee? Swap the coffee for a small glass (6 ounces) of 100% fruit juice.
Here’s how you’ll salvage your workout: Typically, a cup of coffee isn’t a bad thing and it will wake you up. But, if you’re loading it with artificial creamers, which are full of preservatives and hydrogenated fats that put more of a burden on your taxed system, you’re making your workout even more of a struggle. Preservatives and artificial ingredients tax your body’s detoxification system, and hydrogenated oils cause damage and inflammation in the body. Coffee also is a stimulant, which is less than ideal when you’re trying to tame your insides as you struggle to recover from alcohol. And you’re not off the hook if you go for cream—that’s saturated fat that clogs the arteries, which wreaks more havoc on the inside.
Make the swap for a small glass of fruit juice (6 ounces is plenty to reap the benefits and keep the calories in check). It contains fructose and studies have proven fructose increases the rate at which the body gets rid of toxins such as those left over from alcohol metabolism. Juice is a good drink the morning after because it’s high in vitamins and nutrients that were depleted the night before due to alcohol's diuretic effect. It’s also a good source of carbohydrates to fuel your workout. As for salvaging your workout, many fruit juices also have phytonutrients that help decrease inflammation in the body to hasten both hangover and muscle recovery, while the “souped-up” coffee would hinder post-workout recovery.
If you rely on your coffee to enhance your performance (as many exercisers do because caffeine has been shown to improve performance and decrease pain), you can still have your coffee, but drink it black or with skim milk.
Craving fried eggs and bacon? Choose eggs with asparagus and avocado instead.
Here’s how you’ll salvage your workout: Fatty eggs and bacon will leave you wanting to lay around in a recliner as your body works to digest all that fat. On the other hand, the avocado will give you the fat you’re craving, but without all the grease and heaviness. The avocado contains healthy monounsaturated fat that won’t clog your arteries or cause damage and inflammation in your already taxed body, and asparagus has been shown to speed the breakdown and metabolism of ethanol in the body. You’ll still get protein in the eggs to help temper your blood sugar level. The eggs also help mop up alcohol’s leftover toxins, thanks to their large amounts of cysteine, which breaks down the hangover-causing toxins.