Race for the Alcohol Cure

Does exercise remedy a hangover? Yes—and no.

Dec 30, 2009
Outside Magazine
Chris Keyes

   Photo: Chris Keyes

Case Study No. 1:
SUBJECT: Outside editor Chris Keyes
SCENARIO: The morning after "roughly" five G&T's at senior executive editor Michael Roberts's wedding in Connecticut
SOLUTION: A five-mile road run
RESULT: "The hardest part was getting my running shoes on. But three hours later, I looked fine for a visit to my in-laws'."

Case Study No. 2:
SUBJECT: Senior executive editor Michael Roberts
SCENARIO: The morning after "red wine and mucho tequila" at a wedding in New Mexico
SOLUTION: A five-mile trail run, following Keyes's suggestion
RESULT: "Ouch! I hate Chris. I felt even worse."

Hangovers are poorly understood, but the two main causes seem to be dehydration and excess acetaldehyde—a toxic leftover after your liver breaks down alcohol. Electrolyte-rich fluids can help offset the first problem, but no amount of exercise can accelerate your body's enzyme-powered cleanup after a bender. You can't "sweat it out."

And yet, some light cardio can make you feel better. According to Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise, this might be due to increases in dopamine, which alleviates pain, and adrenaline. Others suggest the simple emotional lift of being active. "It's part of my personal recovery protocol," says Walter DeNino, a triathlon coach and president of Trismarter.com. "If an athlete gets relief from it, they should do it." (But stay off your bike: Coordination can be affected for hours after you've sobered up.)

So why did a run help Keyes and not Roberts? Most likely because Keyes was better hydrated. But he also helped himself by avoiding darker liquors; whiskey, brandy, tequila, and red wine have higher levels of congeners, by-products of fermentation that can exacerbate hangovers. Says Roberts: "Whatever."

Filed To: Running, Recovery, Nutrition