The Morning After: 3 Tips for Mountain Biking With a Hangover

Don't be the one who shows up hurting on the New Years Day ride. Here's how to handle a hangover.
Photo: Tim Sackton via Flickr

There are few feelings as awful as showing up to a group ride the morning after one too many drinks. Pedaling uphill is one of the last things you want to do when your stomach is turning and your head is thumping, but sometimes our commitment and will to ride is greater than our intelligence not to.

Hangovers generally refer to a range of symptoms that result from drinking too much and include dehydration, nausea, anxiety, increased blood pressure and more. Because alcohol dehydrates, and disrupts sleep and our brain’s chemicals, it can affect us all quite differently.

So, what can you do? Well, it depends on what stage you’re in when reading this. If you’re already halfway into a beer, pour a glass of water.

Slow it down

There are a few ways that having a few pints the night before a ride can hinder your performance. The biggest thing to worry about though is dehydration. Since alcohol is a diuretic, your body will be getting rid of water and unless you replace it, you’re bound to suffer the effects of dehydration the next day.

“Try to mitigate that by having a glass of water for every alcoholic beverage,” said Jen Sommers-Dirks, a sports dietician with Active Fueling, based in Colorado. “And including electrolytes, particularly sodium, wouldn’t be a bad idea either to help make sure you’re absorbing the water.”

She notes also that if you’re drinking more than one alcoholic beverage per hour, it’s going to take you to the point of no-return faster. The body generally metabolizes one serving of alcohol per hour, so if you have have a batch of margaritas that goes down like juice, you may be dehydrating yourself quicker than you recover. And that could reduce your ability to neutralize the chance of a hangover the next day.

Another important thing is taking in some solids with the liquids. Eating a mix of carbs, protein, and fats along with the libations will slow down the alcohol absorption and keep it from hitting you quite as hard.

Lastly, be mindful of moderation. Just as the saying suggests, most things are fine up until the point of over-indulgence, and then the last one gets the best of us.

“There’s nothing you’re going to be able to do if you have six drinks,” said Sommers-Dirks. “You’re going to feel like crap and it’s going to affect your ride the next day.”

The good/better/best booze to drink

There are as many myths about what types of alcohol result in the worst hangovers as there are types of IPAs these days. Though all alcohols differ greatly, a piece by Thrillist says it comes down to congeners, a byproduct of fermentation, which also make up a drink’s flavor and color. The problem, according to Thrillist, is they are difficult for the liver to process and can contribute to hangovers.

Distillers generally have more control than brewers and winemakers over the amount of congeners in alcohol, which is how distillers can manipulate and make their spirits unique. If a spirit is distilled multiple times, congeners can be filtered out. Lighter colored spirits, like vodka and gin are distilled to filter out all congeners giving them a neutral taste, but darker spirits like rum or whiskey and red wine have more congeners left in them for flavor and color.

Congeners are still present in white wines, but at smaller amounts. Thrillist also notes that carbon dioxide, present in champagne, helps alcohol enter the bloodstream more quickly.

Wake up call

The best thing to do on the morning of a ride is to start drinking water again, and to help with the sluggishness of a poor(er) nights sleep, a cup of coffee will probably help. And if you’re up for it, take in a decent breakfast with a good mix of carbs, fat, and protein again. If you’re feeling a little nauseous, start with a ginger chew or some peppermint Tums, Sommers-Dirks suggests.

Know that alcohol can inhibit muscular proprioception and your body’s ability to physically react too.

“If you’re real hungover, your balance and skills when it comes to technical riding, you might notice you’re a bit off, so you might want to be careful about that.”

Lastly, suit up for a tougher ride than usual, look forward to burning off the previous night’s calories, and set expectations.

“It’s probably not the time to push yourself or try to be setting PRs or anything,” said Sommers-Dirks. “Just know it’s not going to be your best performance, so kind of readjust your expectations if you wake up feeling like crap.”

If it’s a group ride, there’s a chance that a friend packed some après too. Maybe a little hair of the dog will help (kidding). Interestingly, there is a correlation between fitness and drinking more. A 2022 study found people who have a high level of cardiorespiratory level of fitness are more likely to consume more alcohol, potentially because people who are more fit tend to be more socially active. The same study also noted that individuals consumed more alcohol on the same days when they were physically active. Cheers?