Brace yourselves... The holidays are coming. All those upcoming celebrations and gatherings - Halloween (the entire weekend for many people), Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Years, and more - bring with them many opportunities to consume copious amounts of alcohol with friends and family. It's true that drinking alcohol, especially on a regular basis, can sabotage your health, performance, and longevity goals. However, enjoying yourself on the infrequent special occasion won't completely derail your ambitions, especially when done right. Generally after an evening of enjoying alcohol, hangovers ensue sapping us of our energy, health, cognitive performance, and holiday spirits.
Avoiding the libations completely is the only option for some - either because they refuse to lose their edge, they don't like being drunk, or perhaps they struggle with addiction. Whatever the reason, more power to those people. I believe that you can choose to have fun without alcohol, and more frequently I am finding myself making the decision to not drink during social gatherings where other people are, and am having an easier time with it (sloppy drunk people begging me to take a shot with them be damned). However, many of us will partake in the festivities to the fullest, beverages will be enjoyed, and decisions will be regretted the next day. Follow my advice, and you will minimize your headache, hangover, and regrets while still having fun.
First, it's important to have a basic understanding of what is happening in the body when we experience the headache, body-ache, nausea, fatigue, anxiety, and sensitivity to everything from a hangover. In a nutshell, a hangover is caused by dehydration, acetaldehyde intoxication, congeners, vitamin/micro-nutrient depletion, and a drop in blood sugar. Acetaldehyde is the main toxin your body metabolizes from alcohol that ages tissues and causes damage at the cellular level. Congeners are the substances produced during fermentation of alcohol including methanol, acetone, esters, and tannins that are found especially in darker drinks such as wine and whiskey. Managing all five of the aforementioned issues is crucial to feeling your best after a night of drinking. It's important to keep in mind that a hangover can't really be "cured", but there are strategies to help prevent and then aid in recovery.
As the saying goes, a shot of prevention is worth a pint of cure (or something to that extent). By taking certain steps before the party even begins, you'll ensure that you're ready to kick ass in the AM. One of the first and most important things you can do is eat a healthy meal full of fresh vegetables (broccoli, asparagus, brussels sprouts, spinach), high-quality fats (avocado, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil), and a "clean" source of protein (wild caught salmon, grass fed beef, pastured eggs). The healthy fats will help protect your liver while the combination of all the food will keep your blood sugar more stable throughout the night. With your pre-party meal, you should also take some Vitamin C (I take about 1,000 mg). This helps your body produce glutathione, considered to be the master antioxidant, and serves as the liver's primary defense against toxins such as acetaldehyde.
A very important decision you will make that will directly affect how you feel the next day is the type of alcohol you choose. One of the best options on the shelf for keeping your hangover to a minimum is vodka. A decent vodka is distilled several times and charcoal filtered, removing almost all of the toxins that your body would have to deal with the next morning. The best way to enjoy it is mixed with mineral water (sparkling or still). If neither of those are available, soda water is a decent alternative. Try to find a vodka made from potato or even corn instead of grain to avoid consuming gluten (whether or not you're gluten-intolerant, it's a good idea).
Tequila is another good choice because the fermentation process removes the sugar from the agave, and then it is distilled and filtered. Unless you're given an opportunity to sip on a very high-quality, aged Reposado (gold) or Anejo tequila, than you should avoid the darker colored bottles. The lower quality variety has additives, colorings, and may have grain alcohol mixed in. The superior choice for minimizing a hangover is a Blanco (silver) tequila from 100% agave, without all the impurities. This is typically my go-to if someone calls for a round of shots. With either vodka or tequila, I mix in some freshly squeezed lime juice which not only tastes good but has many benefits including being a great source of Vitamin C.
Next, there are some obvious types of alcohol that should be avoided. Unfortunately, those delicious Fireball shots, flavored vodka drinks, and anything mixed with soda, juice, or especially energy drinks are filled with sugar and additives that will make you feel like a train wreck in the morning. This can mess with your blood sugar levels, cause acute inflammation, and will add to your waistline over time. My favorite cocktail was a Jack & Coke for a long time, but I very quickly noticed a big difference in the way I felt (and looked) after cutting those out completely. Speaking of whiskey, it falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of alcohols to avoid or enjoy. Like a great aged tequila, if you have an opportunity to sip on some very high quality whiskey, then by all means enjoy it; but stay away from anything less.
I'm sad to say that if you want to avoid a hangover, you should also avoid beer and red wine. These both are very prone to containing toxins from mold and congeners/impurities that put more stress on your body. Yes, there are antioxidants in beer and especially in wine; however, the health claims you've surely heard are frequently blown out of proportion, and much of the findings are more correlational than by causation. There are also far superior ways of obtaining vitamins and nutrients for the body through proper nutrition. I do have to admit, I really enjoy sipping red wine and I'm a big fan of an occasional ice cold IPA beer with dinner. As much as I like these beverages, I have made a point to reserve them for special occasions and try to only grab the good stuff when doing so. I choose one of the clear drinks mentioned earlier when having more than one or two is in the cards for the evening.
Another crucial step to take during your night out is to drink a glass of water in between each alcoholic beverage. Alcohol acts as a diuretic, so you'll need to keep replenishing the water you're peeing out to stay hydrated. Your body will also need the fluids to help transport the toxins out through your urine. It may seem like a lot of water, but it will seriously help. Drinking water between cocktails will also keep you from getting ahead of yourself at the bar, giving you a chance to pace yourself and drink less. Recently, I have begun taking a serving of activated coconut charcoal with my glass of water between alcoholic drinks as well. The charcoal powder binds to toxins in your gut, which takes some of the load off of your liver and will really help you feel better in the morning.
When you're getting ready to call it a night, take another serving of Vitamin C (to help with glutathione production) with more water. If I am craving something to eat (which sometimes happens after a night of drinking), I will make a shake out of whey concentrate protein, MCT oil, and raw honey mixed in cold spring water. The whey protein will help satiate my appetite and boost glutathione levels. The MCT oil gives my brain and body some fuel from healthy saturated fats to make repairs and helps keep blood sugar levels stable. The raw honey helps restore liver glycogen levels, has many other reported health benefits, and tastes great too. And of course, the water aids in rehydration. Finally, prepare your room to have a great night's sleep (read Sleep Better Now (Part 3) - Your Sleep Sanctuary to learn how to do just that), and get to bed as early as possible.
When you wake up in the morning, you should definitely feel significantly better after having taken all the steps above. As I said, a hangover can't be completely "cured", but it can be managed. Fortunately, there are further steps you can take to aid in your recovery and get your edge back ASAP. I typically drink a glass of cold spring water with pink Himalayan salt and fresh squeezed lemon juice stirred in every morning (see Sleep Better Now (Part 1) - Starting Your Day for Better Sleep to read more about my daily morning ritual). This is especially important after a night of drinking to continue hydrating yourself first thing in the morning, jumpstart your metabolism, and aid in the detox from last night. I immediately follow this with my personal version of Bulletproof coffee (also explained in detail in the article about my morning ritual), which may not be a magical elixir outright, but it sure does make me feel ten times better after drinking it. Between the freshly ground coffee, raw cacao powder, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, healthy fats, and grass-fed collagen protein powder, it's a delicious nutrient powerhouse that puts me back on my feet.
After my coffee, I also take some creatine and glutamine, supplements that are more frequently associated with intense sports and weight lifting. These are also shown to increase cognitive function, resilience, and immune support while speeding up recovery. Very important for an intense workout, but also helpful after a night of intense fun. If you really want to take the hangover hacking to the next level and you have the budget, time, and access to it, then look into intravenous vitamin shots. That's right - there are companies that offer injectable vitamins, including glutathione, that are extremely fast-acting and effective. I first heard of these in Vegas (makes sense), but they seem to be growing in popularity and many people swear by them. Just make sure to do your research and find a trusted company ahead of time. I want to make a point to say that painkillers should be avoided during the day before and after consuming alcohol. They can be harmful to your stomach and liver, and the warning labels should be taken seriously. Hopefully, with everything mentioned in this article, you won't have a need for them anyways.
For your morning-after meal, I would suggest something very similar to the meal you had before you started drinking: a healthy plate full of fresh cruciferous vegetables, high-quality fats, and clean sources of protein. One of my favorite breakfast dishes that will also help get you back on your feet is a plate full of pastured eggs cooked with spinach and tomato, topped with avocado, and accompanied by some high-quality bacon. If you take a daily multi-vitamin or multi-vitamin pack, don't forget to take this with your first meal of the day to help replenish those micro-nutrients you depleted. Continue a steady flow of water throughout the morning and the rest of the day to keep yourself hydrated. Diluted coconut milk or water (make sure nothing else is added to it) also works well in replenishing electrolytes and keeping you hydrated, but don't consume too much of it - water is still your best ally. Finally, get some sunlight early and if you're up for it, have a light workout to get your day started. This will keep your circadian rhythms in check so you can sleep great that night, and provides a welcome rush of dopamine and energy.
After following the strategies laid out above, I'm sure that you will find yourself feeling better than ever the next day, even after a night of drinking alcohol. It's important to keep these types of occasions to a minimum if you're interested in performing at high levels, optimal health, looking your best, and living a long life. But life is also about enjoying the journey, especially with friends and family on holidays and other special occasions - so if you're self-aware, having fun responsibly, and controlling those factors that affect your body and mind, I say bottoms up! Cheers to you and your health.