Alcoholic Beverages

What causes a hangover?

If you are reading this, I would bet you have been hungover at least once in your life … and you disliked it so much that you want to find out how to avoid it from ever happening again!

Most people who drink, or have drank in their lives, have been down that road and rode the struggle bus of a hangover … I get it!

And even though we may have experienced a terrible hangover in the past, it usually does not prevent us from drinking in the future.

Alcohol is a part of most cultures across the world, and ours is no exception.

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Whether it's because you're celebrating a marriage, a promotion at work, watching your favorite sports team or simply hanging out with friends ... alcohol is usually present.

For most of us, we like to enjoy these times, but we also like to be productive the next day.

Therefore, we do a little research on how to prevent a wicked hangover from happening again.

Maybe even concocting your own hangover remedies ... checking google, reading blogs, and scanning articles ... looking and hoping to find the hangover cure!

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the only way to eliminate the chance of a hangover completely is to simply not drink.

Sad news, I know … but don’t click away yet … I have some good news for you too!

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All hope is not lost!

When we understand what causes a hangover, we know how to prevent a hangover in the future.

What Causes A Hangover?

So, what causes a hangover? Dehydration? The type of alcohol you consume? Lack of food? All great theories to dive into for answers.

The truth is, a hangover occurs for more complex reasons than simply being dehydrated.

There are multiple chemical and physical processes taking place in your body as soon as you take your first drink.

Essentially, as soon as you start drinking your body is already setting you up for a hangover. For many many years, it was “common knowledge” that you got hungover because you were dehydrated.

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Which, when you think about it, seems like a logical explanation. Alcohol is a diuretic, which makes you frequent the bathroom more than normal.

While your body is cleansing itself of toxins through urination, you are also losing essential vitamins and minerals that are imperative for normal function.

So, not only are you becoming dehydrated, you are becoming deficient in nutrients that help with cognitive function, muscle contraction, digestion, hormone production, energy levels, and multiple other processes.

The more you drink, the more water your body secretes through urine … when your body lets go of more water than the amount of water coming in, it can become dehydrated and nutrient deficient.

Now, drinking water is definitely a good idea, and will help replenish much-needed fluids ... but do not bank on it being the best, or only, way to prevent a hangover.

If dehydration is not the only reason for hangovers, what leads to a hangover?

Why Do We Get Hungover?

The best answer is that it is a combination of factors that lead to a head-splitting, stomach-churning hangover.

As I said earlier, there are multiple chemical and physical processes happening in your body when you drink alcohol.

The hangover comes from the metabolization process of alcohol.

It is actually the by-products of metabolizing alcohol that are harmful to your body and cause the symptoms of a hangover – headache, nausea, low energy, mental fog, etc.

Since alcohol is processed in the liver, you can also have the effects of hypoglycemia, which is a drop in blood sugar levels.

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This is due to the fact that your liver uses glucose, stored in the liver, to help metabolize alcohol.

When that glucose runs out, you are left feeling tired … and craving carb-dense foods i.e. pizza, waffles, ramen noodles, tacos, burgers, etc.

Ever wonder why we crave more food when we drink alcohol?

There are a few more contributing factors to a hangover, so let’s talk about acetaldehyde.

This is a chemical that is produced during the metabolization of alcohol in your liver. Not only is acetaldehyde severely more toxic and damaging to your body than the actual alcohol, but it also contributes to wicked hangovers. The kind where you swear off drinking for the rest of your life.

This happens because when you have a few drinks acetaldehyde is attacked and transformed, by acetaldehyde dehydrogenase and glutathione, into a non-toxic acetate.

When your body runs out of those two substances to break down acetaldehyde, it builds up in your system, which means a longer and harsher hangover.

Just to top it off, alcohol also increases the production of stomach acids that can lead to abdominal pain, nausea and/or vomiting … yay!

As I said in the beginning, when you are kicking back and enjoying a few of your favorite alcoholic beverages, your body is already going through the process to make you pay for it later.

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How Do You Avoid A Hangover?

As I said above ... there are many theories on what you can do, but the only way to ensure you do not get a hangover, is to not drink.

Personally, that won't work for me as I enjoy having a few beers with buddies and enjoying alcohol as a part of my lifestyle.

So if you're like me, and are going to drink, there are steps you can take to help you reduce the chance of a hangover!

So let's go over a few easy tricks before, during, and after you drink!

What To Do Before You Drink

When you are heading out for the night to drink, make sure you eat something before you go.

Having food in your stomach will help “soak up” the alcohol and reduce irritation in your stomach.

Having food in your stomach will also reduce the formation of acetaldehyde in your stomach. Which as you now know, is a chemical produced during the metabolization of alcohol ... and is the main cause for wicked hangovers.

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I realize that having food in your stomach is a bit general, so let me get more specific.

It is a good idea to have protein and complex carbohydrates foods before drinking.

They can offer a few benefits such as slowing the absorption of alcohol, keeping your liver glycogen levels up to help with processing alcohol, and avoiding cravings later, as well as keeping you full.

Also, having a little bit of fat before drinking is a good idea as well. A good pre-drinking meal might include salmon or chicken with some sort of potato or rice, and of course … a few veggies.

If that doesn’t sound appealing, maybe a chicken sandwich, turkey wrap, or a salad and dinner roll.

Taking a quality multi-vitamin, greens supplement, or even a product specific to helping prevent hangovers with this meal is also beneficial, as your body goes through many nutrients processing alcohol.

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What To Do After You Start Drinking

For starters, stick to one type of alcohol. 

When you start mixing various types of alcohol, mixers, additives, and so forth ... you can increase your chance of hangovers.

There is an exception here in my opinion ... Champagne!

If I'm at a celebration and champagne is served, I'm not going to be the guy that doesn't partake in the toast. So, therefore, I simply have one glass and then move on to, or switch back to, the alcohol I will drink for the rest of the event.

Also ... don’t rush your drinks.

There is no reward for hammering through your drink as quickly as possible! Take your time, enjoy the company you are surrounded by and don’t rush finishing your drink.

Along with this, I think it goes without saying, shots are the exact opposite of this. Though they are “less” liquid … they pack a punch and you can go from fine, to intoxicated very quickly.

This will make it hard to gauge your limits and drink with sensible moderation.

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Knowing your limit is not important just for avoiding a hangover, but for being safe as well!

Another good habit for preventing a hangover and staying safe is simply drinking a glass of water after each drink.

This will keep you hydrated and help your body process alcohol more efficiently.

What To Do After You Drink

Now, even when the night is over, there are easy steps you can take to help prevent a hangover. Simply start rehydrating to get fluids back in your body.

But you can do even better than that by eating a little something and getting crucial nutrients back into your system.

This will help you wake up feeling much better.

Once again, having some protein and complex carbs is a great option … even though most of us are more likely to go for the pizza.

From a hangover standpoint, and preventing one, it’s not a bad idea … from a reaching your goals standpoint … not so much.

But hey, fitness is a lifestyle, and sometimes you just need to have the pizza and move on without stressing over it as it won’t make or break your results when had on occasion!

Once you finish with your late-night snack, lay down and get some sleep!

When you wake up, continue the rehydrating process and have a well-rounded breakfast!

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Can You Prevent A Hangover?

By doing all of these simple steps, you should be well on your way to preventing a hangover.

So once again, the only way to avoid any and all potential for a hangover is not drinking.

To be clear, I am not saying you can go get blackout drunk, do these steps and wake up fine.

Also keep in mind, that getting a hangover doesn't happen just to those who party all night. Sometimes all it takes is one or two drinks and you can wake up hungover! 

However, if you follow the above steps and drink sensibly, you will be much less likely to wake up with a skull-splitting, stomach-churning, terrible hangover!

Have a good time, but always drink responsibly.