John Seivert: Hangovers and exercise: What you need to know

Via Peters

After a strenuous bike ride on the weekends, I sure do love that cold beer. If I followed that beer with another, I would notice the next day’s ride would be more challenging. I didn’t have the punch to get up a steep climb without having a beer the night before. I thought that maybe I should pay attention to the number of beers I drink after my workouts. I don’t do this after every ride, but I’ll have two drinks for the day at least once or twice a week. I started to research the effects of alcohol on the recovering body from a challenging aerobic workout. Well, guess what? The findings were exactly what I thought they would be. Spoiler alert, drinking alcohol after strenuous aerobic exercise is not healthy for you. It hampers the body’s recovery processes. So, please don’t do it! The researchers were slightly forgiving when stating that if you drank plenty of water and had a balanced meal immediately after your ride, that one alcoholic beverage more than an hour after working out wouldn’t be too harmful to your body.

Red wine is preferred over beers and spirits. Red wine always seems to get the nod when comparing alcoholic beverages. Having a glass of red wine has even been praised as a healthy drink for your heart. The authors, Chris Crowley and Dr. Henry Lodge of the best-selling book, “Younger Next Year,” have touted one to two glasses of wine a night is healthy. However, that goes with the book’s primary focus to stay healthy as you age, you must exercise aggressively six days a week — four days of strenuous aerobic exercise and two days of weight training. If you are doing that kind of exercise in your sixties, seventies, and eighties, you can enjoy a couple of glasses of wine in the evening. But only if you are truly healthy and are on this exercise routine.

Dr. William Cornwell, a cardiologist and the director of the sports cardiology program at the University of Colorado Hospital, states that your body works to break down and metabolize alcohol in the bloodstream. The more drinks you have, the longer it takes to rid your body of that toxin. Alcohol deposits in the organs and causes them to be temporarily dysfunctional. When the blood alcohol concentration returns to nearly zero, hangover symptoms reach their height and last close to 24 hours, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Generally, after enjoying a single libation, the blood alcohol level peaks 45 minutes later.

The hangover is complicated because it is dependent on so many variables. Genetics, quantity, the potency of the alcohol, and the amount of food in the stomach all play a role in how intense a hangover will be. Some people get reliably bad hangovers, some people never get hangovers, and hangovers are just not well understood.

The Symptoms of a hangover

The symptoms of hangovers can vary significantly with each person. You may experience fatigue, sweating, and increased blood pressure, and your friend may experience nausea, headaches, thirst, weakness, and vertigo. Other symptoms include anxiety, irritability, muscle aches, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light and sound, and shakiness. It doesn’t take an expert to see that these signs and symptoms of alcohol in your body will not be suitable for a training athlete or anyone.

Once the alcohol reaches the liver, enzymes work to break it down. It then gets converted into a toxic chemical. The liver is typically the organ that must do the work of breaking down the alcohol and, therefore, can have the most adverse effects on all the organs. Alcohol still affects many more organs since it is transmitted to all the organs from the blood circulation system. Alcohol has diuretic properties, which promote dehydration. That is another adverse physiological effect that alcohol has on our bodies that nobody wants to have before working out.

The brain is probably the most impacted by alcohol. Our reaction time and reflexes are altered, as we all know from the effects of drinking and driving. There is no age limit to the impact that alcohol has on the brain. Complex skills are processed slower and impacted by any amount of alcohol. The toxic substance of alcohol spikes the metabolism of glucose in the cerebrum of the brain. This spike steals nerve cells’ primary energy source, which causes mental fatigue.

When you assess the whole picture – having a cold one or two after that hard ride or workout may not suit you if you plan to do another hard workout or take a final exam the next day. Since the research is very sound in trying to exercise six days a week for optimal health and aging and alcohol doesn’t prepare you for that next day’s workout, I’d suggest keeping that night of a couple of beers to one night a week. And make sure it isn’t a night before an arduous effort, exam, or a long and challenging day at the office.

John Seivert is a doctor of physical therapy and he has been practicing for 34 years. He opened Body Logic Physical Therapy in Grass Valley in 2001. He has been educating physical therapists since 1986. Contact him at [email protected]

John Seivert enjoying a Grateful Haze from Grass Valley Brewing Company. This post ride libation is a full two days before his next race.
Photo courtesy John Seivert

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