Nutrition: How to race with a hangover after drinking

New Year’s Eve is the Le Tour de France for party-goers but as more people step into sport, New Year’s Day cycling time trials or 10k running races are becoming more and more popular, creating a conundrum for amateur athletes.

So how do you avoid being a race bore and let your hair down at night whilst still being able to lace up your shoes the following morning? The answer, as always is in preparation and beating the hangover begins before the first drink passes your lips.

In brief: Fuelling your race AND your party

  • Carbohydrate rich pre-party dinner: the usual pre-race carb loading fodder – wholewheat pasta or brown rice.
  • Nibble your way through the party: Whatever you can get your hands on.
  • Sugar carb boost before bed: Chips will do it but porridge with jam is great.
  • Fast release carbs: Banana, natural yoghurt and muesli.

Preparing your body for a night of alcohol

One drink – a pint of beer, 150ml of wine or a shot of spirit around 40 per cent proof – takes the body roughly one hour to metabolize (process). If you’re planning on beating a hangover and also avoiding any alcohol induced embarrassment, bearing this in mind and pacing your drinking is essential. Drink faster and your blood alcohol level rises faster and you risk a hangover.

There is a clever trick to the trade of binge drinking and it actually marries up quite well to pre-race preparation and it comes from carbohydrates. What you eat after won’t help. Food helps slow the absorption of alcohol, and the longer it takes the alcohol to reach your blood stream, the longer it is until you become intoxicated.

Don’t drink on an empty stomach is one of the drink related myths that is in fact true and eating a hearty, carbohydrate rich meal before drinking will stop your liver from becoming overwhelmed which is where many of the hangover symptoms come from.

Are there healthy alcoholic drinks?

No, of course not. Alcohol is poison and while some drinks are less calorific than others, calories don’t count for hangovers. That doesn’t mean you can’t keep on top of the effects of booze while you’re enjoying your party. Again, a full stomach helps slow down the absorption of alcohol, so while many people might be avoiding the nibbles, concious how much the night based on drink alone will cost them on their waistline, you’re going to burn it off in the morning so every drink needs a handful of nibbles to help it down.

Strangely enough, what you choose to mix your alcohol with can have greater consequences than what you drink. Carbonated (fizzy) drinks are harsher on the stomach and also speed up the rate of alcohol consumption. Drinking a lot of something like orange juice can also build up too much acid in your stomach making it more likely to feel tender.


The biggest price to pay for excessive drinking is being dehydrated and this will have the greatest toll on your race the next morning. As with any day, drinking plenty – going by the colour of your urine is the best measure as everybody is different – before the party is good preparation. Then a nice rule to stick to is drink a small glass of water with every drink you have. Leave the whisky chasers to those who can afford to right off the following day in bed.

Before bed

A pint of water before bed is a must and it’s sensible to keep another by the side of the bed to sip if you wake up in the night. One hangover side effect is a dip in sugar levels, normally your liver would react by producing more glucose from stored carbohydrates but as it’s too busy dealing with all that alcohol, you’ll need another injection of carbs. This is a great excuse for chips and cheese (I’m from Lincolnshire and recently discovered this might be a local delicacy little known to anyone South of the county) but another great option is a bowl of porridge with a generous spoonful of sugar jam.

The morning after

Many people turn to drugs to cheat side effects and if that’s you paracetamol-based remedies are usually preferable, as aspirin may further irritate the stomach and increase nausea and sickness.

While this will help set aside any headache pains, keeping on top of hydration is still the order of the day and another pint of water is the first port of call. If you regularly drink tea or coffee, then the caffeine will be a welcome boost to clear your dreary head but if you don’t, be careful as it could irritate your delicate stomach.

In terms of food, if your race is in the morning, some quick release energy is important, best found in a banana. Best served with a bit of muesli for an extra carb-based sugar kick and some natural yoghurt which is also good for settling a tender stomach.

Pre-race preparation

A quick check of the colour of your wee is still the best test to see if you’ve got enough water in your system. Then a good warm-up to get the blood flowing around your body is even more important than normal. You may feel a bit groggy so you might need a slightly longer than normal warm-up, starting off nice and easy will help nurse you to the start-line.

One last trick to cheat the hangover could be a caffeine energy gel towards the end of your warm-up. Again only if you’re used to taking them as your stomach doesn’t need any surprises.

Know your units

You can keep track of how many units you’re consuming using the Change4Life Drinks Tracker app available from iTunes and Google Play.

A large glass of wine, for instance, contains around three units. In one evening, that can quickly add up to a lot more than you intended to drink. Here are some examples:

  • a can of standard lager, beer or bitter – 1.8 units
  • a pint of standard lager, beer or bitter – 2.3 units
  • a small glass of wine (125ml) – 1.5 units
  • a large glass of wine (250ml) – 3 units
  • a measure of spirits (25ml) – 1 unit

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