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

After a strenuous weekend bike ride, I love this cold beer. If I followed this beer with another, I would notice that the next day’s ride would be more difficult. I didn’t have the punch to climb a steep climb without having had a beer the night before. I thought maybe I should be careful how many beers I drink after my workouts. I don’t do it after every ride, but I will have two glasses for the day at least once or twice a week. I started researching the effects of alcohol on the body recovering from a tough aerobic workout. Well guess what? The results were exactly what I thought they would be. Spoiler alert, drinking alcohol after strenuous aerobic exercise is not healthy for you. It hinders the recovery processes of the body. So please don’t! The researchers were slightly lenient when they said that if you drank plenty of water and ate a balanced meal immediately after your workout, that booze more than an hour after your workout wouldn’t be too harmful to your body.

Red wine is preferred over beers and spirits. Red wine always seems to be on the rise when comparing alcoholic beverages. Drinking a glass of red wine has even been considered a heart-healthy drink. Authors Chris Crowley and Dr. Henry Lodge of the best-selling book, “Younger Next Year,” touted one to two glasses of wine a night is healthy. However, this goes hand in hand with the main focus of the book to stay healthy as you age, you should exercise aggressively six days a week – four days of intense aerobic exercise and two days of bodybuilding. If you do this kind of exercise in your 60s, 60s and 80s, you can enjoy a few glasses of wine in the evening. But only if you are really healthy and follow this exercise routine.

Dr. William Cornwell, cardiologist and director of the sports cardiology program at the University of Colorado Hospital, says your body works hard to break down and metabolize alcohol in the blood. The more you drink, the longer it takes to rid your body of this toxin. Alcohol deposits in the organs and makes them temporarily dysfunctional. When the blood alcohol concentration drops to near zero, hangover symptoms peak and last nearly 24 hours, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Typically, after enjoying a single libation, the blood alcohol level peaks 45 minutes later.

A hangover is complicated because it depends on so many variables. Genetics, the amount and potency of alcohol, and the amount of food in the stomach all play a role in the intensity of a hangover. Some people have a bad hangover, some never have one, and hangovers are just not well understood.

Symptoms of a hangover

Hangover symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. You may experience fatigue, sweating, and increased blood pressure, and your friend may experience nausea, headache, thirst, weakness, and dizziness. Other symptoms include anxiety, irritability, muscle aches, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light and sound, and tremors. It doesn’t take an expert to see that these signs and symptoms of alcohol in your body won’t suit a training athlete or anyone.

Once alcohol reaches the liver, enzymes work to break it down. It is then converted into a toxic chemical. The liver is usually the organ that has to do the work of breaking down alcohol and therefore can have the most adverse effects on any organ. Alcohol affects many more organs as it is transmitted to all organs from the blood circulation system. Alcohol has diuretic properties, which promote dehydration. This is another detrimental physiological effect that alcohol has on our body that no one wants to have before working out.

The brain is probably the most impacted by alcohol. Our reaction time and reflexes are impaired, as we all know from the effects of drunk driving. There is no age limit for the impact of alcohol on the brain. Complex skills are processed slower and impacted by any amount of alcohol. The toxic substance of alcohol stimulates glucose metabolism in the brain of the brain. This spike steals the main source of energy from nerve cells, which causes mental fatigue.

When you assess the big picture – having a cold one or two after that tough ride or workout may not be right for you if you’re planning on doing another hard workout or taking a final exam the next day. Since the research is very strong trying to exercise six days a week for optimal health and aging and alcohol doesn’t prepare you for training the next day, I would suggest limiting this night of a few beers at one night a week. And make sure it’s not a night before a strenuous exercise, an exam, or a long, hard day at the office.

John Seivert is a Doctor of Physiotherapy and has been practicing for 34 years. He opened Body Logic physical therapy in Grass Valley in 2001. He has been training physical therapists since 1986. Contact him at

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

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