Can You Actually Sweat Out Alcohol?
Turns out, the "sweat it out" mentality after a night of drinking could actually be bad for your health.
Some people are opting into sobriety for health reasons. But for the others, hitting the hottest HIIT class on weekend mornings has become as much a part of having a social life as drinking the night before. (BTW, no amount of boot camp can totally undo the damage excessive drinking as done to your brain and body).
Sure, "sweat it out" is a cutesy mantra, but it's become the new hangover cure for do-it-all-millennials. While life should certainly be about #balance, experts say the "sweat it out mentality" is actually dangerous. Here's why.
Can you actually sweat out alcohol?
The answer, which comes down to biology, is no. "When you drink alcohol, the body recognizes it as a toxin, and ships it off to the liver," says Josh Axe, D.N.M., D.C., C.N.S. "But the liver can only metabolize one serving of alcohol an hour-so 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or a shot of vodka." If you consume alcohol at a rate faster than that, your liver goes into overdrive.
What the liver can't break down, the body gets rid of through a process called "oxidation," explains Rachel Daniels, M.S., R.D., senior director of nutrition at Virtual Health Partners. "During oxidation, the body breaks the perceived toxins down into three smaller particles (diacetic acid, carbon dioxide, and water) that the body can excrete through sweat, urine, and breath," says Axe.
If you notice that your sweat is stinkier after imbibing, it's not in your head. "The diacetic acid changes the composition of your bodily fluids and leads to an odor like vinegar or nail polish remover," explains sports medicine specialist Naresh Rao, D.O., FAOASM, head physician of the USA men's water polo team.
That explains why you may smell a little of last night's tequila in the gym the morning after. Plus, many people sweat more after a night out. That's because as alcohol accumulates in the blood vessels, they enlarge, explains Axe. "This can make people feel hot, which triggers the sweat glands."
But here's an important distinction: You're not actually sweating out alcohol. You're sweating out the by-product of alcohol.
Okay, well can exercise cure your hangover?
Unfortunately, no. (And there's not currently any hangover-free booze-we've checked.) Alcohol takes time to exit the body, and hitting the gym won't actually help you clear out the alcohol or cure your hangover faster. In fact, according to Daniels, "trying to sweat out alcohol or a hangover can make your hangover way worse."
It all comes down to dehydration. After a night involving a few (or more) drinks, you're probably dehydrated when you wake up. That's because alcohol inhibits the release of vasopressin, an antidiuretic hormone that helps your body reach equilibrium when the concentration of electrolytes get wanky. (It does this by reducing how much you pee). So with each boozy sip, you prevent vasopressin from doing its job.
"And to top it off, alcohol is a diuretic, so it increases how often you pee," says Axe. (These frequent bathroom runs and serious dehydration are one reason you probably wake up early after drinking.)
If you work out when you're already dehydrated, you could actually exacerbate your hangover symptoms, such as headaches, fatigue, brain fog, and "meh" mood. (Keep an eye out for these other symptoms of dehydration.) "It's actually the opposite of sweating that will work for fighting a hangover; it's drinking lots of water and rehydrating that will help," says Caleb Backe, a certified personal trainer at Maple Holistics.
What if it feels like it helps?
Whether it's H2O and B12, a juice shot and Advil, or black coffee and a plain bagel, everyone has their own trusty hangover cure. If you swear that hitting the gym makes you feel better, you're not totally crazy.
"The real reason some people claim to feel better after a hungover workout is because of the endorphins, not the actual sweating," says Rao. His suggestion: "If you do choose to work out, limit it to light cardio and ensure adequate hydration to keep up with the loss of water that occurs." (Or maybe opt for this eight-minute at-home hangover workout.) Save the 15-miler or weightlifting session for another day.
Whether you hit the gym or not, if you actually want to beat the hangover, your best course of action is to rehydrate, replenish your electrolytes, and nosh on carbohydrates. Try a combo of drinking coconut water or a cup of bone broth (which are high in electrolytes) and eating complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes or quinoa, suggests Axe.
And if you're regularly too hungover to take that trendy new butt-sculpting workout class with your pals, it may be time to rethink your drinking habits. (BTW, here's why you drink alcohol even though you know it's not great for you.)