Is it worth training on a hangover?

Jon Hodgkinson takes a look at how alcohol impacts your training, and more importantly what you can do to keep your weekends full of productive training… even if you've enjoyed a drink or two

How a hangover can impair your training. Credit: PeopleImages/Getty

Triathlon Coaching UK’s resident nutritionist, Jon Hodgkinson, takes a look at how your training can be impacted by alcohol and more importantly what you can do to keep your weekends full of productive training…


It’s not uncommon for those in the triathlon world to get stung by illness now and again, especially when training load is high and life is generally lived at a faster pace than most.

So, imagine how your immune system feels after a night of overindulgence?

Alcohol can have a big impact on your sleep patterns which not too surprisingly has been shown to lower immune function.

How does alcohol affect your sleep?

Alcohol has been shown to reduce the amount of time we spend in what’s known as stage 4 or the deeper part of the sleep cycle. It is ordinarily at this phase of the sleep cycle where the restorative nature of sleep gets to work, allowing human growth hormone release to work on repairing the body from the daily stresses.

Spending less time in the deeper sleep phases and more time in the early phases of the sleep cycle means more wakefulness and disrupted sleep with less true rest and recovery.

A depleted immune system combined with any heavy training loads such as long weekend runs and rides definitely wouldn’t be advised.

However, all is not lost!

This could be a great opportunity to focus on the finer art of your run technique or improving mobility of key areas such as the hips and shoulders in a gentle gym-based programme.

We’re well aware of the dehydrating effect alcohol has on the body so combine that with a poor night’s sleep and your tired and weary body is probably going to be craving a hit of caffeine to perk you out of the doldrums.

But bear in mind too much caffeine can also have a dehydrating effect too.

If you aim to limit caffeine consumption to around 400mg and then focus on staying well hydrated for the rest of the day not only do you get that caffeine perk to open your eyes but you’ll also be working on rehydration too throughout the day.

For a little more insight here’s a rough estimate of caffeine levels from commonly consumed beverages and foods.

And some suggestions for substitutes you can incorporate on a daily basis…

We all know that completing a hard session on the weekend leaves us with a certain level of satisfaction but it’s important you don’t go out on a hangover and hammer your session to make up for the previous nights over indulgence.

How does a hangover affect training?

Besides impacting on sleep patterns alcohol has also been shown to increase rates of muscle breakdown.

So, the question is will that post-night-out training session do you more harm than good?

Well maybe if the session is too intense or long. Hence why a technique or mobility based session will be the best route for you to take. Another factor for you to take into account is increasing protein intake too.

When it comes to protein I’m a firm believer that protein quality is just as important as protein quantity when it comes to food choice. This is where a hearty and flavour packed omelette can come into its own.

With a high level of usable protein for the body to access in its recovery phase along with a variety of micronutrients and vitamins from the ingredients you can include in this meal option you’ll be onto a winner.

So, to round things up here are my top three points for you to consider when attempting to train with a hangover…

  1. Replace longer, more intense sessions with shorter technique or mobility-based sessions
  2. Increase protein intake to account for the muscle breakdown effect of alcohol with the recipes listed above
  3. Limit caffeine intake to approx. 400mg and test out the caffeine substitutes listed above

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