A raging headache. A dry mouth. A churning stomach. As much fun as a night of partying can be, a bad hangover will put a damper on your entire next day (or two). When your usual go-to combo of Netflix and chilling isn’t helping, you might wonder: Could working out hungover help me feel better?
You're actually onto something here: “The physiological benefits of exercise are always available, even when you drink too much,” says Mimosa Gordon, a Pilates instructor and fitness expert. In other words, moving your body can help you feel better and stave off the worst of the hangover—as long as you do so safely.
Keep reading for five expert-backed tips to follow when working out hungover.
A main cause of hangover symptoms is dehydration due to alcohol consumption. This means that the absolute first thing you should do after you wake up with a hangover is hydrate, says Shayna Schmidt, certified personal trainer and co-founder of Livekick.com. The best plan of action to do is drink plenty of liquids, ideally with electrolytes, to help restore hydration in the body.
Coconut water is a natural source of electrolytes—five to be exact: sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Don’t Exercise if You’re Dizzy—or Still Tipsy
After re-hydrating, wait a little while before you work out to make sure you feel human again. “If you are feeling nauseous or dizzy, you should hold off working out until you are feeling better,” Schmidt says.
And it should go without saying, but if you’re still feeling drunk, do not exercise at all. “If you feel fuzzy or confused, you may not be finished metabolizing the alcohol,” Gordon says. “Drink water, and eat a little something, and wait (or go back to sleep)—only work out when you are most definitely not drunk.”
If you are fully re-hydrated, you should start to feel better as you get through the workout, Gordon points out. A few potential red flags to stop or back off the intensity include dizziness, a more severe headache, or a very high heart rate.
Make sure to eat something before working out hungover. “If you have the luxury of time, drink some water and have a small snack of something very gentle to your stomach, as alcohol is very irritating to the lining of the stomach,” Gordon suggests. Think: a piece of whole-grain toast, oatmeal, or a banana. If you have to have caffeine, just have a little bit so you don’t add the effects of caffeine withdrawal on top of alcohol withdrawal later on in the day, she adds.
Skip the Meds
Avoid taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen before working out hungover, recommends Joseph Foley, certified trainer and co-founder of Punch Pedal House. According to a 2012 study, ibuprofen can "[aggravate] exercise-induced small intestinal injury and [induce] gut barrier dysfunction in healthy individuals.“ Also, avoid acetaminophen, which is metabolized by your liver already working overtime to metabolize all that alcohol. It may also affect your body’s ability to regulate temperature.
Keep it Light
A workout while hungover is probably not the best time for a big dance cardio class, a boxing class, or bootcamp with loud music. “If you already feel icky, intensity can just make you feel worse,” Gordon notes. “Walking, light swimming, or any gentle whole-body movement workout are all beneficial for a hangover, as long as you keep sipping fluids.”
And skip the heavy weights or CrossFit class: “Your coordination will undoubtedly be off and you won’t be at the top of your game,” Schmidt says. “Plus, since your muscles are fatigued, you could run the risk of a serious injury.” In other words, the morning after a big night out is not the time for running a marathon or hitting your squat PR. Focus on restorative and light workouts, and pay attention to how you’re feeling.
Finally, a hot, sweaty yoga class might sound like the perfect remedy for a hangover—not so fast. “Unfortunately, the drinking that led to the hangover also seriously dehydrated your body, and hot yoga or any other heated class is not going to help you recover,” Gordon says. In other words, today is not the day you need to sweat any more than necessary.
Cleveland Clinic. Hangover. Updated September 24, 2020.
Yong JW, Ge L, Ng YF, Tan SN. The chemical composition and biological properties of coconut (Cocos nucifera L.) water. Molecules. 2009;14(12):5144-5164. doi:10.3390/molecules14125144
Van Wijck K, Lenaerts K, Van Bijnen AA, et al. Aggravation of exercise-induced intestinal injury by Ibuprofen in athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012;44(12):2257-2262. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e318265dd3d
Cleveland Clinic. Is acetaminophen safe to take when you're drinking?. Updated October 16, 2020.