Every year my day job employer gets the entire company together at a hotel for a weekend for an event called the “Annual Business Meeting”.
We typically have a small “meet and greet” with drink tickets and food that Friday, spend Saturday morning attending various presentations and breakout sessions, and then wrap up with a reception and – for lack of a better word – party on Saturday evening.
That event was this weekend, and I’m currently nursing a pretty rad hangover today from all the booze and food consumed over the course of the event.
I kicked things off with a couple of beers on a Bumble date between the breakout sessions and the reception yesterday, then proceeded to rock and roll for the rest of the day and night.
There were beers during the reception, plenty of wine and cake at dinner, beers during the party, beers and bacon cheese fries (my “go to” drunk food) downtown after the party, and then more beers and food back at the hotel at an after-party.
In a nutshell, there was tons of beer, tons of food, a fair amount of dancing, a bit of karaoke, and just bout zero self-restraint.
By the end of the roughly 12 hours of excessive consumption in all meanings of the word, one might say I’d been a bit “over-served”.
I ended getting in bed back at my apartment around 3:30 am – roughly an hour before my normal wake up time – and did not regain consciousness until 11:50 am.
I’m actually pretty pleased I made it to the bed, as I often settle for the floor on nights like the one described.
Today, I’m paying dearly for all of this fun – headache, bloating, fatigue, and generally feeling like trash – and am reminded why I tend to limit this kind of thing to once or twice a year.
Below I’ll share with you four steps I take on days like this to help make the process of recovery a bit more manageable, and that you might consider if/when you find yourself in similar situations.
1. Drink water.
The first reason for pounding a ton of water is the obvious probability that you’re a bit dehydrated due to the diuretic effects of all the alcohol.
Second, if you crushed a ton of food, getting some water in your system may help digestion a bit, and hopefully help keep things moving and ease any constipation.
Third, your body is going to be working really hard to detoxify and digest all the crap to which you’ve put inside it, and water plays a critical role in these processes.
Fourth, we sometimes mistake thirst for hunger and drinking a ton of water might help you avoid eating more than you need to in an effort to rehydrate.
I like to aim for at least a gallon of water on the day following a bender, and steer clear of caffeine or other stimulants, as it seems to just be a bit too much of a stressor in the context of the rest of the stuff my body’s dealing with during a hangover.
2. Get moving.
The next thing that may help you feel a bit better is getting some light, enjoyable, physical activity.
Along with the water you drank, this light physical activity will encourage circulation of all the systems involved in detoxification.
Light physical activity also seems to help with digesting some of that food that’s still sitting around in your system.
My “go to” activity is a long walk on the Greenway Trail, as it comes along with some sunlight and fresh air.
This combination of sunlight, fresh air, and getting out and about around other people can be a real mood booster, especially if – like me – you tend to feel a bit anxious or down after a bender.
Many of us feel the urge to exercise to “work off the damage” done by all the calories we’ve eaten and drank over the previous 24 (or more) hours.
After all, if you crush 10-12 IPAs and then get to late night munching on all sorts of hyper-palatable food like the aforementioned bacon cheese fries, it’s not unreasonable to consume several thousand calories more than you typically would.
For example, I plugged in estimates of what I ate and drank yesterday into an online food journal and arrived at roughly 8000 kcal for yesterday (this is a very rough estimate, but I suspect it’s in the ballpark within 1000 kcal).
I’m not a fan, however, of using exercise as a tool for acute energy balance – especially in the context of a hangover.
Intense exercise is a stressor, and if your body is already stressed out from sub-par sleep, the toxic effects of alcohol, and large amounts of food, adding intense exercise to the situation might just work against you in the long run.
Sure, you’ll “burn calories”, but you might be setting yourself for an overall hormonal environment that favors muscle breakdown and fat storage – increasing the possibility of winding up skinny fat with a beer belly.
Of course, the type of intense exercise matters in this regard, as lifting with a hangover will have different effects that hitting the treadmill, and some of us will genuinely feel better if we get a run in after a bender, but this is not really necessary.
I tend to find that getting back to my normal eating routine, honoring my hunger signals – which typically drop after a bender – getting adequate sleep, and moving around at a low intensity seems to do a fine job in minimizing any adverse effects to body composition from a bender.
If you track your heat rate, you might notice that it increases as a response to the influx of food above baseline, which I understand to be part of our bodies’ response to acute overfeeding.
That said, I do tend to cut down on fats and carbs a bit relative to my normal intake following a bender since my body doesn’t need as much energy added to the mix, and the reduced carb intake helps minimize bloating.
I’ll also note that a bender every once in a while will likely not derail your efforts to improve your health and body composition if it’s a relatively rare occurrence and you’ve got your eating, training, and lifestyle habits on point the remaining the remaining 99% of the time.
Oh, and I take this perspective with respect to health and weight management regardless of whether alcohol is involved or not.
4. Consider supplementation.
I thought for a while about how to approach including this step, as I don’t want to give the impression that any kind of supplement or product can serve as a “hangover cure”.
It’s my understanding that supplements and products marketed as such are ineffective at best, especially compared to our bodies’ internal detoxification systems.
However, I do like to double down on probiotics and digestive enzymes to help with digestion.
It may just be a placebo effect, but this strategy does seem to help me feel better a bit faster than I would otherwise.
After all, a placebo effect is still an effect, so I’ll take it.
I’ve also heard compelling justification for using activated charcoal to help draw out toxins from the digestive tract, but I haven’t really researched or tried this method so I can’t attest to its efficacy.
Find what works for you
All of these strategies above are what I do personally, and I think you might find them to help you feel better in similar situations.
As with anything I share on this blog, the key is for you to learn what works for you by experimenting with different strategies and see how you feel.
For now, though, I’m going to get back to letting my body do what only it can do with time – recover.
Hope that helps!