Is running the ultimate hangover cure?

You might think that lacing up your running shoes is a good idea after a boozy night – but science says otherwise


Witthaya Prasongsin//Getty Images

Juggling running training with a busy social calendar can sometimes lead to messy mornings. Maybe you got carried away during a night out, or had a big occasion to celebrate the day before a long run. As your alarm goes off the next morning, you may think that going for a run will make you feel better. But, spoiler alert – it’s not going to feel good.

Some athletes, like former middle-distance Olympian Nick Symmonds, swear by the sweat-through-the-misery technique. ‘I find that exercise is the best recovery [for me],’ he tells Runner’s World, adding that he spent many a track practice – especially in college – spewing sweat that smelled suspiciously like beer.

And Symmonds isn’t alone. Elite long-distance runner James Rodgers says having a hangover wouldn’t stop him from running – and he certainly dealt with plenty of those in his twenties. But, he is acutely aware that running with a hangover will not lead to a quality training session.

‘Personally, I have had occasions when my regular long run was scheduled for a Sunday following an unplanned Saturday night out,’ he says. ‘Not wanting to let a training partner down, I would make the run. I don’t like to cancel training for reasons such as a hangover. However, the quality would not be the same. I wouldn’t attempt a hard workout or a key session whilst hungover as it’s more likely that I would not be at my best and would come away disappointed with the workout.’

The fact is, runners like to drink – and the science even says so. A study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, for example, found that exercise and alcohol consumption are positively correlated. So, while athletes are less likely than their non-fit peers to engage in most unhealthy behaviours – such as eating fast food or smoking – they are more likely to drink.

Technically, this is an example of correlation and not causation. Running doesn’t make you drink, and drinking doesn’t make you run (unless someone dares you to streak) – but scientists are puzzled by the seemingly counterintuitive connection.

One theory is that both running and alcohol stimulate the brain’s mesocorticolimbic pathway, an area that can grant a reward-like feeling to the body. It’s possible that those who like the feeling of busting through tough intervals are also more likely to crave the reward that a shot of whiskey gives – and both can be followed by a shot of pickle juice.

This means that you’re also more likely to end up with the occasional hangover, which we may be tempted to cure with exercise, like a morning run. Unfortunately, though, trying to run it off may not end well.

Can you ‘sweat out’ a hangover?

In a word, no. ‘You cannot sweat out a hangover,’ says Damion Martins, sports medicine doctor and the Director of Executive Health, Orthopedics and Sports Medicine at Atlantic Health System in New Jersey. ‘By trying to do so, you further dehydrate your body, leading to more detrimental effects.’

Alcohol acts as a diuretic. Early in the night (before the seriously regrettable stuff), your body pulls that water from your blood plasma. But, as the night wears on, you dehydrate even more. At this point, your body starts to pull water from the brain to keep your other organs functioning properly. ‘When the brain doesn’t have enough water, it stretches the [cell] membranes, which causes that hangover headache we are all familiar with,’ says Damon Raskin, the chief medical officer for Cliffside Malibu, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre. So, asking your body to go into a further liquid – and electrolyte – debt is not the best idea.

That said, when you do smell tequila coming off your skin the next morning, this is technically a sign of booze leaving your body.

‘Alcohol is broken down in the body to acetic acid,’ says Martins. ‘The remainder is excreted as a toxin through your urine, breath and sweat. Therefore, as you sweat, the toxin is expelled from the body. The more dehydrated you are, the more concentrated the toxin becomes in your sweat.’

Still, because of the dangers of continued dehydration, Martins doesn’t recommend forcing booze out of your pores. ‘If you run while hungover, you are at a higher risk of muscle strains, cramps and pulls, plus electrolyte imbalances,’ he continues. ‘Alcohol affects your normal physiology, leading to increased levels of creatine kinase and lactate in your blood, which can have detrimental effects on other organs and may cause increased muscle soreness.’

Why does running with a hangover make some of us feel better?

Since a range of genetic and physical factors determine how we metabolise alcohol, people experience hangovers differently. That’s why the friend who went shot-for-shot with you last night may be fine the next morning, while you’re still in the foetal position. And, according to Raskin, if you’re one of the lucky souls who metabolises alcohol relatively well, the hit of endorphins you get from an easy run may – at least temporarily – make you feel better.

There are also the psychological benefits of going for a run, which can lead to the misconception that it is good for your body.

‘In terms of curing a hangover, an easy or steady run can make me feel better, perhaps more psychologically, as I feel like I have achieved something and helped to counteract the night before,’ says Rogers. ‘Additionally, getting in the fresh air can help me to feel better and perhaps kick-start better choices throughout the day, such as eating well.’

But, Rogers does admit that physically running with a hangover leads to greater fatigue, especially since it usually follows a late night.

How to run when you’re hungover

If you’ve had a bit too much to drink but really can’t miss that run, there are a few ways to avoid getting sick or dehydrated.

1. Mind how much you drink

The best advice, of course, is to not get a hangover in the first place. ‘Either don’t drink or drink minimally,’ advises Raskin.

If you do drink, stick to clear alcohols, like vodka or white wine, which contain fewer contaminates – but do so in moderation. ‘Anything in excess will undoubtedly create hangovers in most people,’ says Raskin.

2. Keep drinking water

Symmonds makes sure that he drinks water while drinking alcohol – and he drinks more water before hitting the road the next morning.

So, alternate between alcohol and a glass of water to keep yourself well-hydrated. And before you lace up, drink a little more water and perhaps even some sports drink to help you stock up on electrolytes.

3. Have a cup of coffee

A 2010 study published in Plos One found that caffeine helped to alleviate an ethanol-induced headache (to stimulate a hangover) in rats. But what does that mean for people? Well, it’s hard to know exactly – but Martins agrees that, for people who already drink caffeine, having some coffee won’t hurt.

That said, Martins points out that caffeine is a diuretic, so you should still be hydrating with water. In addition, you should be avoided caffeine at night. ‘The better quality sleep you’re able to obtain, the better you will feel in the morning,’ he says.

4. Go for an easier run

If you have a hard workout planned for a day when you’re hungover, switch the days around in your training week so you can still get the benefit from it another time, says Rodgers.

Instead, when you’re feeling worse for wear, opt for a shorter, easier run. This could involve laps of a park, so you can head home if needed.

Related Articles