Verdict is in: The holiday season is the best season. Suddenly your social calendar is filled with ugly sweater parties, SantaCons, and cookie swaps. But the holiday season is also the worst, because each of those activities has a likely consequence: the dreaded holiday party hangover.
Between the inevitable sugar crash, the belly full of spinach artichoke dip, and the array of cocktails you’re throwing back underneath the mistletoe, spending a night at a holiday party — especially when you have to work the next day — can be a recipe for disaster.
Consider this your ultimate ‘how to avoid a hangover’ holiday party survival guide. Stick to registered dietitian and nutritionist Kelly Hogan’s timeline, and not only will you get to indulge and enjoy yourself all night, you’ll also wake up feeling just fine the morning after. It’s a Christmakwanzakah miracle!
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How to Avoid a Hangover (and Still Have Fun)
Rise and hydrate! Drink early and drink often. “One of the main causes of a hangover is dehydration,” Hogan says. Women should be drinking 2.7 liters per day (that’s around 11.5 cups), and men should get 3.7 liters (15.5 cups). Start counting those sips.
Break a sweat. “Exercise is always a great way to start your day,” says Hogan — just make sure you’re hydrating along the way. And if you can help it, be careful not to exercise just before the party. “Drinking alcohol right after a workout can impede glycogen repletion, which is important to provide your body with energy both soon after a workout and for the next workout,” Hogan says. “Working out right before the party may not be beneficial in the long run, as alcohol can slash the great benefits of your exercise.”
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8:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
Eat breakfast and lunch. Meals with plenty of protein and fiber will keep you feeling satisfied, and give your body a constant energy source (you’ll need it on the dance floor later). Hogan recommends old-fashioned oatmeal and quinoa (try this recipe!); or avocado toast and a sliced hard-boiled egg for breakfast. For lunch, go for a mix of protein, carbs, (healthy) fats and fiber, too.
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Reach for that very important pre-party snack. “Having a substantial snack or even a meal before the party is key,” says Hogan. “This can prevent [you from] overeating those high-calorie appetizers, and will ensure you get something nutrient-dense — with some protein, complex carbohydrates and a little fat — into your stomach to slow the absorption of alcohol.” Yes, the holiday season is busy, but don’t “forget to eat” before the party (and the open bar).
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Party time! Who can resist those tables filled with tasty treats and the booze-stocked bar? It’s ideal to go into the party with a plan. “Focus on lean proteins, like shrimp cocktail and grilled chicken skewers, or crudité-style vegetables if you can,” says Hogan. “The higher-fat, fried appetizers will sit in your stomach longer and while they could help slow alcohol absorption, they may eventually exacerbate those undesirable hangover symptoms later, like nausea and vomiting, so proceed with caution.”
Now, as you approach the bar, here’s what to remember:
- Alternate alcohol with water. “Sipping on plain or sparkling water with lemon or lime in between drinks not only keeps you hydrated, but also spaces out your drinking quite a bit,” says Hogan. Go crazy with it: Ask the bartender to pour that sparkling water into a champagne flute! (You’re so fancy. You already know.)
- Take it slow. “Try not to have more than one alcoholic drink each hour,” Hogan recommends. “Or give yourself a limit, like having two drinks and then switching to only sparkling water.”
- Keep it light and clear. “Trying to drink alcoholic beverages with fewer congeners — so light or clear liquors, such as vodka, white wine, or light beers — can produce less severe hangover symptoms,” says Hogan.
- Skip the bubbly. “Carbonated beverages like champagne may speed up alcohol absorption.”
11 p.m.: Eat…toast?
To ensure the next day doesn’t feel so bad, resist the urge to reach for the greasy post-party snacks. We know, we all want nachos, especially when our judgment may be a bit clouded from the booze. “A high-fat snack may further slow digestion — alcohol also does this — which can cause vomiting and an upset stomach,” says Hogan. “If you do want a snack, an easily digestible carbohydrate, like toast, could be helpful at maintaining steady blood sugar levels, which will lower with alcohol intoxication.”
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Drink some water and get to bed. It’s your last chance of the day to hydrate, so seize it! Sip some water before your head hits the pillow, but avoid popping any anti-hangover pills. “It’s fairly common to take an over-the-counter pain medication to prevent hangover symptoms,” says Hogan, “but it’s really important to avoid Tylenol or anything containing acetaminophen. These medications can cause acute liver failure — and I’ve seen it one too many times in the ICU.”
8 a.m. (or, uh, much later)
The morning after. If college taught us anything, it’s that a bacon egg and cheese can totally cure a hangover. Or can it? Turns out, that’s not actually the best bet. “I distinctly remember the magic of a particular bacon, egg and cheese from the greasy pizza joint near my college dorm,” says Hogan. “But sadly there’s no research pointing to any benefits of greasy food intake the morning after drinking…If you really want the indulgent post-party breakfast, have it, but take it slow and avoid overdoing it. Scarfing down a giant meal will exacerbate any queasiness you already have.”
Regardless of what you’re craving, you definitely want to get something into your system, because alcohol can cause your blood sugar to drop. “You’ll feel better once it’s back in a normal range,” says Hogan, who recommends fruit, a plain bagel, English muffin or toast. “You want a fairly easily digestible carbohydrate source, and the more bland the better if you’re experiencing GI distress. A G2 drink or Nuun tablets can also help with electrolyte repletion.”
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Bust a move — if you’re up for it. “Moderate exercise can be helpful,” says Hogan. “Even a brisk walk outside can get oxygen flowing and may help increase the rate in which the toxins from alcohol are broken down and eliminated from the body.” Take it easy, though — today’s not the day to double up on spin class and barre. “There is no research backing up the claim that you can sweat out toxins from alcohol — only a trace amount of toxins are present in sweat,” says Hogan. “But it may make you feel better and boost your mood.”
Still on the struggle bus? Luckily, we’ve got this Ultimate Hangover Helper Smoothie Recipe to soothe your post-party aches and pains.
Originally published December 2015. Updated December 2016.