Usually a holiday hangover comes after a night of good intentions that were overwhelmed by great company and even greater temptations.
When that happens, it can feel awful … but it doesn’t have to feel as bad, or last as long, as you might expect.
When you understand the science behind that hungover feeling, you have the power to counter its effects. In fact, some of the same physiological systems that are taxed by too many visits to the open bar are the same ones that get depleted during extreme athletic performance.
Consequently, a few key strategies pro athletes use to recover from a big game or championship fight can actually help you recover from overdoing it during a festive night out.
1. Hydrate at a higher level
Ever notice you use the restroom more when you drink alcohol? That’s because alcohol suppresses the natural production of an antidiuretic hormone called vasopressin that ordinarily keeps us from urinating too much. Without that hormone, we find ourselves giving in to the urge to “go” and quickly become dehydrated.
The biggest problem with dehydration is not just the fluid loss but the significant amount of electrolytes lost with it. You may have heard of electrolytes in the context of sports drinks marketed to athletes, because as athletes expend energy and sweat, they lose electrolytes needed for their best in-game performance and optimum recovery afterward.
But electrolytes aren’t just important for athletes; they’re essential minerals responsible for electrical energy that fuels important functions, like muscle contractions, including cardiac activity, and nerve impulses in all of our bodies. As such, it’s equally important for holiday revelers to replace electrolytes as it is Super Bowl stars.
Although a sports drink might seem like a good option, after over-consuming sugar and calorie-laden cocktails, you don’t need all the extra sugar and additives commonly found in the popular brightly colored brands. I would argue that athletes don’t as well, and, thankfully, many are turning to a better option: electrolyte-enriched water, such as Smart and TEN brands. I prefer TEN because it’s a spring water as opposed to a filtered/processed water.
Drinking electrolyte-rich water allows the body to rehydrate more efficiently, requiring less consumption, which is a blessing when your hangover-induced upset stomach can’t tolerate a lot of fluid sloshing around in it. If you have the foresight, the best way to fight your holiday hangover is to prevent it in the first place by bringing a bottle or two of electrolyte water with you to the party to drink in between alcoholic beverages.
2. Eat the right foods
As mentioned, the electrolytes lost during dehydration are essential minerals. One of those minerals, potassium, is critical for sustaining homeostasis through the balance and proper function of our body’s systems, including both cellular and electrical activity. Because potassium is found in every cell of our bodies, a deficiency leads to systemic fatigue, increasing that hungover, sluggish feeling.
Bananas are one of the best potassium-rich food options when hung over because their bland taste and smooth consistency aren’t likely to increase nausea. Although bananas tend to be the first fruit people think of for potassium, cantaloupes actually have more potassium than bananas.
If you’re a fan of avocados, they have even more potassium than both bananas and cantaloupe. So spreading avocado on dry toast for your morning-after-drinking breakfast is a great idea. Because of their restorative benefits, you’ll generally find all of these potassium-rich fruits in the breakfast and snack spreads at professional sports team’s cafeterias.
3. Restore your body with yoga
Not all yoga is great for hangovers, but some of the same restorative yoga techniques I use with athletes post-game are equally effective post-partying. I’ve included two of my go-to restorative exercises below that work to increase fluid circulation and enhance oxygen-rich blood to the brain and extremities.
By focusing on a long, deep diaphragmatic breath in these positions, you’ll also promote the parasympathetic “rest and restore” aspect of the autonomic nervous system to facilitate the recovery process. To enhance the effectiveness of restorative yoga practices, many of the athletes I work with wear compression tights, such as 2XU and SKINS, which are designed to promote circulation.
Legs above your heart
Lie on the floor on your back and place your legs straight up a wall or with your knees bent and calves resting on a chair or other support that raises your legs above your heart. Let your arms rest at your sides. Place a pillow or folded blanked under your head, if desired.
Raising the legs above the heart promotes venous blood flow and reduces swelling in the legs. It’s also a very relaxing, restorative position because it takes a noticeable physical stress off the legs by changing gravity’s relationship with them. Hold this posture for 10 or more long, deep breaths.
Sit or stand with knees slightly bent and hinge from your hips to let your head hang between your legs and arms. Inverting your head below your heart enables freshly oxygenated blood to go to your brain first, which can help relieve all that pressure in your head that causes the pounding headache. Try to remain inverted for about five deep breaths.
Warning: The pounding may increase initially as the blood rushes to your head, but it usually turns to a feeling of relief in less than a minute. That said, this pose doesn’t work for everyone, so don’t force it if it doesn’t feel right, and avoid it completely if you have untreated high blood pressure.
In addition to restorative yoga and compression clothing, there are other science-based ways professional athletes boost circulation for enhanced recovery, such as compression-and-massage boots and hot/cold immersion therapy, also known as contrast baths. However, with the $1,000-plus price tag of recovery boots, such as Norma Tec, and the extreme nature and logistics of contrast baths, yoga is a better option for most of us trying to recover from a little overindulgence at the bar.