What Is A Fitness Hangover & How Can You Prevent It?
Have your muscles ever been so sore after a workout you’ve struggled to pull up your jeans or walk up the stairs? You might have been experiencing a fitness hangover.
When you train hard or start to move again after time off from exercise, it’s common to encounter delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, in the days after your workout. While this is completely normal and often subsides after a few days, a fitness hangover can hang around for much longer — and can even impact your health and day-to-day life.
So what exactly is a fitness hangover and how can you prevent it? Here’s everything you need to know.
What is a fitness hangover?
A fitness hangover is a result of overtraining or essentially pushing yourself too hard. It can leave you feeling fatigued, your muscles sore and your body aching — and that’s just the beginning.
Symptoms of fitness hangover
Here are some of the symptoms of a fitness hangover — that go beyond the effects on just your physical health.
Overtraining can result in a nervous system or hormonal system overload and in turn, can impact your sleep.
When you’re asleep, your body produces hormones that facilitate muscle recovery. If your sleep quality is poor, your body will produce fewer recovery hormones and instead produce stress hormones like cortisol.
A 2017 review of literature on the PubMed database that discussed the consequences of disrupted sleep, concluded that “short-term consequences include a heightened stress response; pain; depression; anxiety; and cognition, memory, and performance deficits.”
As a result, poor quality sleep can also compromise your problem solving and decision-making capabilities.
Lowered immune system
When you overtrain, your body is in a catabolic state, where your body breaks down both fat and muscle.
During this state, your body isn’t able to repair damaged muscle tissue and therefore cannot fully recover, which is when your immune system can become compromised.
In a 2019 review “The compelling link between physical activity and the body’s defense system” published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science, the research found that “illness risk may be increased when an athlete competes, goes through repeated cycles of unusually heavy exertion, and experiences other stressors to the immune system.”
Prone to injuries
Consistently overtraining can potentially make your body more prone to long-term injuries.
The American Council on Exercise states that “overused muscles and joints can cause constant aches or joint pain. Pain that does not subside in two weeks (or so) should be considered a notable injury.”
How to prevent a fitness hangover
Prevention is the best cure — here are some of the best ways you can avoid a fitness hangover.
Don’t skip your warm-up or cool down
According to Mayo Clinic in the US, “...a warmup and cool-down may add a few minutes to your exercise routine, but they might also reduce stress on your heart and other muscles.”
Warming up your body to increase blood flow to the muscle groups you are about to train is an important part of any workout. Did you know by activating your muscles prior to working out you can prevent overstretching of the tissue during the workout itself? Mayo Clinic also states that “warming up may [...] help reduce muscle soreness and lessen your risk of injury.”
A cool down doesn’t need to be complex or take a long time. Just 5-10 minutes on a treadmill (walking or jogging) will help regulate your body’s blood flow.
You might also like to complete some static stretches as part of your cool down routine, where you hold a single position for 10 seconds or longer to help promote flexibility and range of motion.
Rehydrate after your workout
According to health experts at WebMD, you shouldn’t “rely on thirst alone to tell you how much you need to drink […] it’s extremely important to drink plenty of liquids before, during and after the activity.”
As a guide, you should aim to drink about two cups of fluid prior to a workout and continue to hydrate every 15-20 minutes during the workout. If you’re exercising for an hour, aim to drink around two cups of liquid, then more when you’ve finished.
If you want an accurate measure to replace hydration, Sports Dietitians Australia recommend calculating your sweat rate, which is drinking, on average, one and a half times the fluid you lost while exercising.
If you find it difficult to stay hydrated, try adding some fresh fruit to your water or drinking herbal teas, such as green tea or peppermint tea.
Have a post-workout snack
Mayo Clinic suggests opting for a post-workout meal that includes both protein and carbohydrates to help your muscles recover and replenish their glycogen stores.
Schedule rest days
According to Michigan State University in the US, rest and recovery days are an important part of any exercise program. It allows “...the body time to repair and strengthen itself in between workouts...” and during the period of recovery, “the body is allowed to adapt to the stress associated with exercise, replenishes muscle glycogen (energy stores) and provides time for the body tissue to repair.”
Adequate rest and recovery can help to increase performance and ability during future workouts.
Follow a progressive workout program
Following a workout program that progresses gradually in complexity and intensity as your strength and fitness improves, can help prevent muscle soreness and a fitness hangover as a result of overtraining.
How to survive a fitness hangover
Implementing the prevention measures mentioned above are the best ways to help you overcome a fitness hangover — making rest and recovery priority, drinking plenty of fluids and ensuring you maintain a healthy and balanced diet can ensure you help promote muscle recovery and replenish energy stores so that you can bounce back to your training feeling your best.
Take care of your body
Like most things in life, hangovers pass!
Remember, prevention is always the best cure so it’s important to always listen to your body and be aware of your limits. A healthy diet that includes plenty of water and protein will help you to keep on track with your health and fitness goals, and stretching before and after your workouts can help you avoid any prolonged muscle soreness.
If you do find yourself suffering from a fitness hangover, make sure to prioritise your health and take as much rest as you need.
Do you have any tips on how to survive a fitness hangover? Comment below!
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.