After a few drinks on a night out, I find the best way to get rid of a hangover is to do a strenuous workout because it makes me feel better. However, my wife says this is a bad idea because I will be dehydrated. Is she right?
Your wife is right. Alcohol is a diuretic: it causes the kidneys to increase the amount of fluid being urinated. If you drink four or five pints of normal strength beer on a night out you might pee out a couple of litres of fluid, along with valuable electrolytes that the body needs for good functioning.
By next morning, the hangover is your best indication that you are dehydrated. If you had a really late night and drunk a lot of strong alcohol, you might also still be intoxicated, since it takes the liver about one hour to clear one unit (half a pint) of alcohol from the body.
Water is the body’s basis for transporting all its nutrients and chemicals around, so a lack of it will make your system (including your brain) sluggish. Studies have shown that doing strenuous workouts when you are dehydrated significantly reduces your cardio performance, strength, power, balance and co-ordination.
The workout itself will further dehydrate you. During a strenuous hour-long workout, you would normally lose 1 to 2 litres of fluid. In your case, the combined effect (assuming you hadn’t been drinking water at all) could leave your body close to the 5 per cent dehydration threshold where serious health effects can set in.
So why do you reckon you feel “better”, despite possibly being very dehydrated? Your workout may give a short-term boost to your sluggish circulation, which will relieve the hangover fog temporarily, but there’s probably a bit of placebo effect at work, too: if we believe something is doing us good, we tend to feel better. And in general, our bodies are amazingly good at adapting to cope with all manner of abuse –although there is usually a longer term health payback.
What is almost certainly true is that your hangover-cure workout is failing to get maximum performance out of your body. Both your cardiovascular system and your muscles will develop far better if they are not constantly under– hydrated and overheating.
The best hydration strategy for an average gym workout would be:
- start off fully hydrated
- drink about 250ml of water 20 minutes before your workout
- drink little and often during the workout, taking in 1 to 2 litres overall
- drink another 0.5 to 1litre within the hour after the session to top back up fully.
Water works very well for normal hydration. Fruit juice will only work if you dilute it with an equal amount of water. “Isotonic” or “hypotonic” drinks are fine, but sports drinks (“hypertonic”) are energy-boosters, not hydrators.