Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Exercise Hangover

Disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with, nor was it inspired by, the bad movie currently being sequeled on the big screen. This is an unrelated Hollywood post.

The Symptoms
If have to tell you, I currently feel awful. I've got no energy. I'm sluggish. I've got a headache. I can't get comfortable. Even quiet noises are too loud for me. The bright light hurts my eyes. I'm constantly thirsty. My heart rate is elevated. I'm having issues walking. I'm even typing more slow than usual (which means that this post, upon completion, will have taken me roughly 16 hours to complete). It's torture.

Luckily we live in a world where going to the doctor is completely unnecessary. First, I'm a guy and it's anti-ego to go to the doctor for anything less than a missing limb. Second, I have the internet. Google knows all and sees all. I did some research and according to the Mayo Clinic, I have all of the classic symptoms of a hangover.

The Causes
According to the geniuses in the near-Arctic called Minnesota, I've had a bad run in with booze:
  • Alcohol stimulates your body to produce more urine. In turn, urinating more than usual can lead to dehydration — often characterized by thirst, dizziness and lightheadedness.
  • Alcohol triggers an inflammatory response from your immune system. In particular, your immune system may trigger certain agents that commonly produce symptoms such as an inability to concentrate, memory problems, decreased appetite and loss of interest in usual activities.
  • Alcohol irritates the lining of your stomach, increases the production of stomach acid and delays stomach emptying. Any of these factors can cause abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting.
  • Alcohol can cause your blood sugar to fall. If your blood sugar dips too low, you may experience fatigue, weakness, shakiness and mood disturbances.
  • Alcohol causes your blood vessels to expand, which can lead to headaches.
  • Alcohol can make you sleepy — but your quality of sleep will decrease. This may leave you groggy and fatigued.
  • Alcoholic beverages contain ingredients called congeners — which give many types of alcoholic beverages their flavor and which can contribute to hangovers. Congeners are found in larger amounts in dark liquors, such as brandy and whiskey, than in clear liquors, such as vodka and gin.
The Problem
I had nothing to ethanolic to drink. I'm coming off an intense weekend of training. And, these were the first workouts in heat surpassing 70º F (21º C if anyone is reading outside the US because 70º C would be ridiculous Oklahoma weather). Humidities were over 80%. The body is not acclimated to such tropical blasts. I have not calculated my sweat rate so there is a good chance I did not drink enough. Further, I ran out of good sport drink mix and was stuck with over-the-counter Gatorade mix. My guess is that I was concurrently sweating more than normal while under caloried and under hydrated. I estimate that the weekend's activities pulled 2 pounds of adipose right from my belly.

The Substitution
Yet, I think the Mayo people may be on to something. There's absolutely no reason I could not recreate the conditions of drunken stupor without imbibing. It's like exercising is immaculate boozing. For those of you who have met me, this is completely within the realm of possibilities, at least behavior-wise. If you exchange the word 'alcohol' with the word 'working out' in each of the above, it makes sense unanimously. Check it out:
  • Working Out Alcohol stimulates your body to produce more urine. Certainly applies for me. Given a run or ride of longer than an hour, I inevitably have to pull over for a pit-stop. Never mind what happens when I submerge my hands into the excessively warm pool water.
  • Working Out Alcohol triggers an inflammatory response from your immune system. How else would you explain the redness and irritability of my skin? When I finish a workout, I am warm, flush, and lobster-esque. The sun may also be involved. Classic inflammatory response.
  • Working Out Alcohol irritates the lining of your stomach. For anyone who has had GI problems during a workout (which includes me), many of these problems are related to digestion and absorption. Clearly this is an irritation of the lining of the stomach. My stomach is rock solid until I add the bounce and jiggle of a good run.
  • Working Out Alcohol can cause your blood sugar to fall. Duh. This is one of the major consequences of working out. Your body uses its sugar which inherently causes the blood sugar to fall.
  • Working Out Alcohol causes your blood vessels to expand, I have a headache. According to Mayo, this is caused by big blood vessels. Through deductive reasoning (or is it inductive, I always confuse them) the evidence of a headache is proof of expanded venules.
  • Working Out Alcohol can make you sleepy — so tired. Can't keep typing. Will sleep soon but toss and turn all night thinking about something else witty to put in the blog and failing miserably (as evidenced by this post).
  • Working Out Alcohol beverages contain ingredients called congeners — Should you actually read the ingredients of Gatorade powder mix, congeners lie under salt on the list. Sometimes, they mask congeners and call it 'dextrose'. They give G-ade its color and some of its tacky flavor.
The Solution
Of course, the boys in the Land of 10,000 Lakes have very little to say about how to prevent exercise-induced hangovers. They do give some tips to lessen the blow. They are quite insistent that eating before drinking helps. They also believe that mixing water with your booze is a good idea. Certainly I could battle my headache with some drugs, namely ibuprofen. They also suggest an extra long night's sleep.

If you read what the exercise experts say about recovery, it is almost verbatim. Take in calories during workouts of longer than 90 minutes (which I did, but to a lesser than ideal extent). Eat plenty of low GI carbs post-workout (which I did not as I opted to go to the Rib Fest). Drink plenty of water (which I did, but to a lesser than ideal extent). Post-workout, an anti-inflammatory helps to reduce swelling and speeds recovery (which I did). Sleep encourages the body to release Human Growth Hormone, which builds muscle and promotes feeling better. Therefore, more sleep is better (I had average, at best).

This is not the first time I have experienced the exercise hangover. It normally happens right around the first big heat wave of the year (which tends to be early May but this year has been special for us). As the body becomes more accustomed to the heat, humidity, and the need to force my flesh through the atmosphere, the hangovers decrease. That is, unless, I open that next bottle of wine. At least then I'll have an excuse for my stupidity.


  1. I have been suffering from this as well, but what we call heat is different from what you call heat. I have determined the temperature ranges and wind offsets as follows:
    Cool: below 72F
    Medium: 72F to 82F
    Hot: Above 82F

    Wind Speed:
    below 10 mph, increase category by one
    between 10-15mph, no change
    15-18 mph, decrease category by one
    18+, increase category by one

    Best performance is obtained in the "cool" region.

  2. I would say our definition of heat is comparable. Whereas you add wind, we add water, rendering sweat absolutely useless.