The perfect day on a plate to recover from a hangover
Greasy fast food is usually the default meal of choice when suffering from a hangover. But dietitian Jess Spendlove says there’s a better, healthier way to help your body recover from a big night.
While we don’t advocate for drinking excessively, we’re human beings who understand that sometimes it’s easy to get carried away and find yourself with a soul-crushing hangover the next day.
Unfortunately, your traditional hangover fare is not doing you any favours. So, step away from the greasy fry up and cancel that trip to the drive-thru.
Firstly, what is a hangover?
A hangover is typically characterised by nausea or vomiting, headaches, shakiness, dizziness, tiredness and fatigue, dehydration, and low blood sugar.
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It can also impact your mood, resulting in the dreaded “hangxiety” felt after a big night out. So what causes this long list of ailments? Dehydration as well as electrolyte imbalances are thought to be the key contributor to hangover symptoms.
Alcohol is a diuretic which means that it increases your urine output while drinking, which can lead to dehydration.
Electrolytes are needed to help the body to function properly and imbalances of these caused by alcohol intake can lead to nausea, muscle weakness and feeling tired.
Alcohol also has a significant impact on sleep quality, leaving you feeling more tired than usual the next day.
Interestingly, certain alcoholic drinks can lead to worse hangover symptoms than others. This is due to congeners in alcohol – a chemical by-product of the fermentation process that gives alcohol its flavour. The darker the liquor, the more congeners it has and the more severe the hangover symptoms will be!
Bourbon, whiskey and red wine are high in congeners and may lead to more severe hangovers, while vodka and gin are relatively lower in congeners.
Other factors that also exacerbate a hangover include age, health status, gender (women are more likely to experience hangovers than men) and genetic factors.
How can I prevent a hangover?
When it comes to preventing a hangover, the only proven method is drinking in moderation. However, eating before drinking alcohol will help slow your body’s absorption and reduce the severity of your hangover the next day.
Drinking water is also essential so ensure you’re well-hydrated (pale yellow urine is a good indicator) before you begin drinking alcohol and continue to sip on water in between each alcoholic drink. When it comes to hangover prevention, there simply isn’t enough evidence to suggest supplements are worthwhile yet.
We recommend sticking to water and food as your main line of defence! An electrolyte drink before bed won’t hurt either – something like a Hydralyte or Biolyte.
What to eat to help a hangover
While it might be tempting to go for the greasy big breakfast fry up, a high fat meal like this will only help your taste buds. This is especially true if you had a particularly big night as your body may still be processing alcohol from the night before.
Drinking alcohol can also irritate stomach lining, making digestion of high energy meals more difficult, adding to your nausea. Instead, we suggest a meal that is high in micronutrients (think, colour) and electrolytes to start helping the body to recover and rehydrate.
Options could include:
- If you’re heading to a cafe for brunch opt for a mix of wholegrains, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals such as sourdough toast topped with avocado, baby spinach, and poached eggs. Skip the coffee and order a juice packed with green fruit and veg.
- For something lighter, go for a homemade fruit smoothie with banana, mixed frozen berries, Greek yoghurt and coconut water.
Opt for low GI carbs to help balance your blood glucose levels, protein and plenty of colour. It will taste good on the way in, and leave you with some extra energy and your mood boosted. Options include:
- Brown rice sushi rolls with a side of edamame.
- Or chicken or salmon poke bowl with soy dressing.
If you’re still struggling, choose a healthy meal that will help you to get back on track to feeling great again, ensuring you have plenty of micronutrients and protein to help the body recover.
- Crispy skin salmon with purple cabbage slaw and mango salsa.
- Or chicken and Asian greens teriyaki stir fry with brown rice.
Replenishing your fluids is absolutely key after a night or day of drinking alcohol! If you are really dehydrated, replenish your electrolytes with a fresh-squeezed vegetable-based juice, coconut water, or oral rehydration solution such as Hydralyte.
These will help to replenish your electrolytes so your body can effectively rehydrate. Water is key to sip across the day until your urine is a clear or pale straw yellow colour to indicate you are well-hydrated.
Jess is a Sydney-based advanced sports dietitian, accredited practicing dietitian and co-director of Health & Performance Collective. She is all about helping motivated people live, feel and perform at their best.