By Omar Shamout

"Dear God, if you'll only get me through this day, I promise to NEVER drink again." Many of you out there have uttered this phrase at some point in your lives. Depending on when you're reading this, maybe you said it this morning. Unfortunately, giving up everyone's favorite social lubricant for good might not be realistic for you, and once the pain, nausea, and vomiting go away, you're more likely to remember the good times you had out with your friends than the time you spent praying to the porcelain altar. Contrary to popular belief, fitness enthusiasts are, in fact, only mortal, and even some of us have succumbed to a hangover, or thirty, at some point. We feel your pain, and are here to provide a little insight into the science behind the booze and its effect on the body, as well as to uncover the truths and myths behind some so-called remedies.

What is a hangover exactly? Believe it or not, no one really knows. The science is still unclear, but a prominent theory held by many scientists is that the main trigger for hangovers are chemicals called congeners. A Brown University study noted that congeners can "interfere with cell function and leave some lasting physical marks." The same study identified that darker drinks have more concentrated levels of congeners, and can therefore lead to more severe hangovers, so it's probably best to avoid spirits such as brandy, red wine, and rum. Alcohol also blocks the release of an antidiuretic hormone in our bodies, which causes us to urinate more and lose water—hence the dehydration. It also prevents kidneys from absorbing water effectively.

We know for a fact that symptoms such as headaches, dry mouth, nausea, sleep abnormalities, and dizziness are signs that you are doing actual physical damage to your brain, stomach, liver, and kidneys through the consumption of alcohol, but the actual culprit for the hangover has not been identified to a satisfactory degree of medical certainty. As we get older, our liver also produces lower amounts of an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase, which is used by the body to break down alcohol into a harmless chemical as it enters the bloodstream. This is what leaves many feeling like their hangovers worsen with age.

What can I do to prevent a hangover? There is a lot of confusion out there about what so-called miracle hangover cures actually do. While genetics do play a part in some people's resistance to hangovers, the truth is, the only 100 percent effective way to avoid a hangover is to abstain from drinking in the first place. You can't prevent alcohol from being absorbed by your body in much the same way that there is no cure for the common cold, so all you can hope to do is lessen the symptoms. Compare alcohol to a cold virus invading your bloodstream. You can take medicine to ease the cough and congestion it causes, but not to kill the virus directly. Only time can do that.

Another cause of hangovers is low blood sugar; eating a large meal before drinking will raise your levels, and cause the alcohol you're about to consume to be absorbed at a slower rate. Many people believe that eating a large meal while already drunk will prevent a hangover the next morning, but at this point, the alcohol is already in your system, and the damage has been done.

As we've discussed, dehydration is a side effect of alcohol consumption, so interspersing your drinks with glasses of water will slow down the rate at which this occurs. It might also be prudent to drink a glass of orange juice before bed to raise your blood sugar, and give your immune system an extra boost of vitamin C to battle the onslaught of toxins it's just received. If you're prone to headaches, popping an ibuprofen before you crash could be beneficial. Unfortunately, if you damage your body with enough toxins, you're going to get a hangover, no matter how many measures you take to lessen the blow.

Oops! I already have a hangover. What do I do? Alcohol is a drug, and as with any other narcotic, your body goes through withdrawal symptoms when that drug leaves your system. This phenomenon is what leads many people to the conclusion that a Bloody Mary is the only thing that will set you straight the morning after a big night out. While giving your body more of the drug that damaged it in the first place will provide a temporary "fix," you wouldn't tell a heroin addict that the best solution to his withdrawal is to take another hit, now would you? Obviously, this is a drastic comparison, but the logic holds up. So let's look at four steps you should take to get your body back to feeling its best:
  • Hydrate – Dehydration is the reason behind pretty much all of the worst hangover symptoms. Although alcohol makes us sleepy, it is often short and unrestful sleep, because your body wakes you up as a way of telling you to give it water and/or release it. A lack of proper REM sleep means you don't produce enough serotonin, leaving you cranky and irritable. Drink as much water as you can.
  • Rest – After you drink said water, go back to bed. As with any form of sickness, your body needs rest more than anything to restore your energy levels. If you must get up, avoid strenuous activity in the morning, and give your body the chance to recover.
  • Eat – Many people believe that a big plate of fried food is the best way to get rid of a hangover. The truth is, your body never needs unhealthy things, and you would be far better off eating a balanced meal of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats without the grease, because that might just irritate your stomach even further.
  • Combine 1 and 3, the Beachbody way – As always, we've got you covered. If eating is the last thing on your mind, you can hydrate your body and restore vital nutrients at the same time with Results and Recovery Formula. Designed for use after workouts, it works just as well during a hangover to replenish your body with electrolytes and nutrients to get you back to your best. It tastes great, too!
Moderation is the key to enjoying your night out, and the day after. A little bit of foresight and self-control will go a long way toward helping you enjoy alcohol in a safe and healthy way.