Banging headache, severe regret, and the lingering smell of stale beer… it must be a hangover! Whether it was caused by grape, or grain, or both- nobody likes a hangover.
But if there is one thing worse than a hangover, it is playing football with a hangover. Not only is playing football with a hangover a pretty grim feeling, but it could prove to be dangerous.
In this survival guide, we run you through what happens to your body during a hangover, how it impacts you on the pitch, and how to both prevent and ease hangover symptoms if you do need to drink then play.
What is a Hangover?
Headache, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, shakiness, aches, pains, and anxiety. In short, a hangover is the collection of symptoms you feel the day after drinking more alcohol than your body can handle.
The number one culprit behind the vast majority of hangover symptoms is dehydration. Alcohol is a diuretic, it makes you pee more, which means you lose more fluid than you are taking in. More on dehydration later.
In addition to dehydration, some alcoholic drinks contain toxic compounds produced by fermentation including congeners (found in darker drinks like stout or brandy) and sulfites (found in wine). If you are sensitive to these compounds, they can make your headaches and other symptoms more severe.
Moving down towards your digestive system and if you are feeling nauseous or otherwise uncomfortable in your stomach, this is because the alcohol you have ingested has irritated your stomach lining and increased acid release.
Meanwhile, you may well fall asleep easier after drinking alcohol, but your sleep will be disrupted, which can lead to poor recovery and feelings of fatigue the next day.
Finally, a hangover can produce feelings of irritability and anxiety, which can be down to small withdrawal symptoms after a lot of drink. Nothing quite like a panic attack to round off a hangover is there?
But first, let’s look at the ultimate hangover cure: prevention.
How to Prevent a Hangover
The best way to avoid a hangover? *GASP* Don’t drink at all!
Ask yourself whether you can enjoy your party/night out/lunch with your mother-in-law without alcohol, and if the answer is still a no, hangovers are not inevitable. With the right precautions – and a little sense – you can largely avoid the most crushing hangovers. You simply need to tackle the root of the hangover before it starts.
As discussed, the number one hangover culprit is dehydration. Staying well hydrated is therefore the key.
A tried-and-tested method to stay hydrated while drinking is to match each alcoholic drink with a glass of water. Having five bottles of beer? Have five glasses of water too, try to alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic drinks.
After your night ends, you should prioritise rehydration before you go to sleep. Drink at least a pint of water, and consider adding some electrolytes to replace the minerals you have lost through urination or sweat (standing in a hot bar all evening can take it out of you!).
You can eat things like avocados, bananas and pickles, which are naturally rich in electrolytes, or you can add an electrolyte supplement to your water. For example, our Hydrate90 electrolyte tablets, which offer essential electrolytes and vitamins with no carbs or sugar. You can read more on the importance of electrolytes for hydration.
Another way to help avoid a hangover is to go easy on drinks high in congeners. As mentioned, these toxic chemicals can produce epic headaches, and are present in darker liquids. If you find that you are sensitive to these substances, it is worth avoiding them completely.
How to Play Football with a Hangover
You may have tried to prevent your hangover as outlined above, but misjudged just how much you had drunk. Or – more likely – you forgot, and just slipped into bed and hoped for the best.
However, the best didn’t happen, and now you have a stinking hangover and a football match in a few hours.
What do you do?
First and foremost, be aware of the hidden dangers of exercising when hungover.
Hangovers can increase your blood pressure and put more strain on your heart. Vigorous exercise – such as playing a football match – is likely to increase the strain on your heart further. It will also increase your dehydration, which will result in worse symptoms and potentially muscle cramps, strains and injury.
If you do decide to play football with a hangover and feel any signs of chest pain or other discomfort, stop immediately and seek medical attention. You may get flak from your team, but better safe than sorry.
Also be aware that alcohol in your system combined with the lack of quality sleep is likely to impair your attention, coordination and decision making. In a match scenario, this puts you at a severe disadvantage against someone who is likely to make quicker and better decisions than you.
The same goes for driving to the match if you had a lot of alcohol the night before. With alcohol still in your system, you could still be over the legal limit - it’s better to bug a team mate for a lift than lose your license, or worse. Don’t risk it.
With all that considered, if you still want to play football, you should focus on your nutrition, as that will be the one thing that will get you through.
While you may not be able to prepare for matchday as effectively as a pro, if you can eat a quality breakfast high in carbohydrates, you will give your muscles the energy they need to keep you going for 90 minutes. Skip the greasy fry-up and try banana on toast or a bowl of porridge for more sustained energy.
Throughout the morning, drink as much water as you can reasonably stomach, and mix in some electrolytes to encourage effective hydration.
As you approach the match, it will be time to look towards an energy gel that combines both fast-acting carbohydrates and caffeine to boost both your energy and focus.
We recommend our Focus90 gel, with 200mg of caffeine as well as beta alanine and citrulline malate to increase alertness, reduce fatigue and boost your performance. While Focus90 is ideal before the match, if you need a halftime energy boost, try our Fuel90 gel with 28g of fast-acting carbohydrates and 380mg of electrolytes, which will get you through to the end of the game.
As you have seen, while there are ways to curb the effects of a hangover, playing football while nursing one is far from ideal. If possible, save the big nights for after you have won your match, not before!