How to Drink and Run

Hangovers will never be fun to run through, but there are ways to moderate the misery.

Have fun, but be careful in the morning. (Photo via Stockbyte.)

From the pounding of a headache, to the soreness of dehydrated muscles, everyone knows that a hangover is no fun. Add a run into the mix, and Sunday mornings rise to a whole new level of intolerable. But for serious runners, the guilt and regret that comes from skipping a long run can be the motivator they need to get out the door even after a night of fun. The especially hardy might even shrug the pain off, pointing out that running will help flush toxins out of the system more quickly.

That’s where things get tricky: I’ve seen too many people get injured this way to push myself that same way. Because the muscles are already stressed and dehydrated, they’re much more likely to start the run fatigued. Naturally, runners lax on their form when tired, and this can lead to biomechanical inefficiencies, tendonitis, or even muscle strains with all the excess stress. It’s not uncommon for runners who drink heavily to experience frequent muscle pulls. You need to use caution.

Now, in full disclosure, I can’t say I have that much experience when it comes to mixing alcohol and running. For years, I had decided it wasn’t worth the pain, misery, and injury risk and had stayed away from booze. Then I found out I was gluten intolerant, and I realized that beer consumption was probably a part of my suffering. And it was: staying away from hops and barley has been a godsend. That won’t work for everyone, but there are a few tried and true tips that will help any runner out there, so that even if tonight’s outing gets out of control, tomorrow’s run won’t be.

  1. If you drink one, replenish one. That is, for every alcoholic beverage, drink one glass of water. This will leave you feeling less dehydrated and perhaps avoid the hangover entirely. With this strategy, runners may preserve the quality of the run on the morning after a drinking binge.
  2. Mix nutrition in with the alcohol. Drinking alcohol in fruit smoothies isn’t just tasty, it also helps slow the absorption into the digestive track, and it can also mitigate the effects of a hangover. In many ways, alcohol is poison, so I like to think of it as canceling out the deleterious effects of the alcohol with something my body needs. This strategy is particularly important when drinking on an empty stomach. Just note that it can be easy to overdose when the taste of alcohol is “hidden.” Count your drinks and remember that the body can only metabolize one (shot, wine glass, beer) per hour.
  3. Drink plenty of water on the run. This tenet is always true, but never more so than when your body is already stressed. If possible, place water along your route, or wear a water belt for constant, quick bursts of hydration. Since alcohol rids the body of electrolytes, you may want to pack Gatorade instead of water. The last thing a hungover runner needs is a bout of hyponatremia (an excess of water in the body).
  4. Modify your plans. When drinking gets a bit out of hand, don’t try to chase mileage. Let your body determine how long and how hard to run. Listen to signs that you need to stop, like cramping, fever, chills, or vomiting. Especially tight muscles may be another early warning sign that the run may not go as planned. Be sure to choose a route with a turn-off point so you’re not stuck ten miles into in a 20-mile loop.