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The morning after: To exercise or not exercise?

The morning after: To exercise or not exercise?

After a night of drinking, it’s not always easy to get up the next day and sweat. And, is it healthy to do so? But it’s often the idea that “sweating it out,” i.e. getting the toxins out of system, that seems to help ease some of the symptoms of the morning after. Most doctors don’t believe this theory really works, especially if side effects are severe.

We asked exercise expert E. Todd Schroeder, PhD, MS, CSCS, FACSM, associate professor and director of the USC Clinical Exercise Research Center, whether he thought it was safe to hit your favorite workout after a night drinking. “It’s not a good idea,” Schroeder says, assuming you had enough to put yourself in rough shape the next morning. “You are likely dehydrated which puts you in a compromised state for exercise,” he adds. “The most challenging and dangerous time to exercise is when you are dehydrated. Since alcohol is a diuretic causing you to excrete excessive water and electrolytes you likely wake up [the next morning] dehydrated.”

Exercising in this state can make morning-after symptoms of drinking even worse. Think side effects like lightheadedness, shakiness, nausea and weakness. And, that whole sweating it out thing… it’s just a myth. “The other thing is that you don’t really ‘sweat out’ the alcohol,” says Schroeder. “About 98% of the alcohol you consume is metabolized — or, ‘broken down’ — in the liver and less than 1% of the alcohol is released through the pores in your skin with sweating. But it is enough to make you smell like the night before!” So, yeah, there’s that.

Most experts say that good, old fashioned hydration, healthy food and rest will get you back in the game quickest if you didn’t take care of yourself the night before.


Get your body ready.

If you’re plan to push through exercise despite the risks, there are some things to keep mind so you do more good than harm to your health. Overall, the most important thing is to listen to your body, says Schroeder. 

While he says there are no formal guidelines for exercising the morning after you’ve been drinking, “there is research to show that performance, endurance and strength are all reduced after ingestion of greater than normal amounts of alcohol — in some cases very little amounts of alcohol,” he explains. “Because alcohol affects motor skills, metabolism, aerobic endurance and hydration, you are better to wait until you have hydrated very well, can keep down a good meal and don’t have a headache before beginning exercise. So wait until your body feels better before exercising to avoid injury and putting unnecessary stress on the body during a dehydrated state.”

Try these tips to put your body back in shape before shaping up:

1. Go easy.

The morning after probably isn’t a great day to train for a marathon or hit your favorite HIIT workout. That said, you probably don’t need to steer clear from the gym all together. What’s the sweet spot? Workouts that don’t demand a ton of exertion, but still get you sweating. “If you are hungover, lower intensity exercises would be the safest activities,” says Schroeder. “Things like stretching, mat pilates, yoga — definitely not hot yoga — walking, etc. Exercises to avoid would be running, biking or endurance activities, heavy weight lifting, kickboxing, CrossFit, etc.”

2. Eat first.

If you choose to workout, don’t rely on coffee alone to keep you fueled. Schroeder says eating a meal before exercise helps prevent hypoglycemia — aka low blood sugar — and helps you feel better before burning calories. Optimize the workout and amp your energy by eating at least an hour before you start, ideally something with a good balance of carbs and protein, like a smoothie or some oatmeal with almonds or a banana. (Burgers and fries should definitely be off the menu.) 

3. Drink water.

Manage dehydration by drinking a glass of water about 15 minutes before you hit the gym — studies show it takes about that long for the H20 to start energizing your workout. If you wait until you’re thirsty, it’s too late. “To optimize your workout with a hangover, it is essential that you continue to hydrate every 10 to 15 minutes with large amounts of fluid,” says Schroeder. “The priority is to ingest lots of water often and then you can have a good carbohydrate meal after the workout.’

Pump the brakes.

Sometimes you think you’re ready to exercise, but your body isn’t on board.

Signs you should take a rest day, or at the very least, according to Schroeder, “stop, hydrate, get carbs and recover before trying to exercise again:”

      • Impaired coordination
      • Lack of concentration or focus
      • Severe dehydration
      • Nausea or wooziness
      • Lightheadedness

Not only is your body telling you is needs downtime, but do you really want to work out when you feel like that? 

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