Have you ever woken up after a night out with friends in a state of total regret? Drinking an entire bottle of rosé sounded good about 12 hours ago, but now your head is pounding, the room won’t stop spinning, and you’re not sure if you’re starving or about to throw up. Hangovers suck, and somehow, the older you get, the worse they become. Of course, in an ideal world there would be no hangovers, but even though that’s not exactly an option (at least not yet), there are foods you can eat before a night of drinking to avoid a hangover, and things you can do to make them better if you’re already suffering from one.
But before you can beat a hangover, you have to understand what they are and the science behind them.
So what is a hangover, exactly?
A hangover isn’t necessarily happening because you’re dehydrated or because you mixed liquor and beer, like many people think, although not drinking enough water can certainly make you feel crappy whether you’ve been drinking booze or not. Although there are a lot of theories out there (many of them unproven), according to Wired, the Alcohol Hangover Research Group has determined that hangovers are likely an inflammatory response from your body; it’s similar to what happens when you’re injured or sick.
Knowing that, it makes sense that popping a couple of Advil sometimes makes you feel a little better, but what you eat can be important in keeping those hangovers to a minimum—and making them go away when, despite your best efforts, you still find yourself hugging the toilet the next morning.
We talked to registered dietitian Jessica Cording about how our diets can affect our hangovers, and she told us that one big way to help avoid a hangover is to prepare for your night out before it happens.
“If you know your evening plans involve alcohol, I always encourage [people] to front-load your day with plenty of nutrient-rich foods, like fruits and veggies, and to eat balanced, high-protein meals and snacks to help keep blood sugar and energy stable,” Cording said. “I know it’s tempting to want to ‘save’ calories [for when you’re drinking], but showing up starving and throwing booze on the hangry fire is not a recipe for a good time. You’re more likely to wind up feeling crummy and having a hard time making clear-headed choices about food and, you know, life stuff.”
So what should you eat before your night of drinking? Cording recommended drinking a smoothie before you go out, or even eating a bowl of whole-milk plain Greek yogurt with fruit.
“This provides a great combo of protein, fat, and carbs with lots of fiber to keep you satisfied, in addition to all those health-promoting vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in the berries,” she said.
And if those options don’t work for you, Cording also suggested eating foods like whole grain or sweet potato toast with nut butter, a banana with nut butter, or a broth-based soup with veggies and some kind of protein, such as chicken or beans.
She also advised that if you are trying to watch your calories, one of the best swaps you can make is to skip a serving of carbs or dessert at dinner in exchange for your cocktail.
But if you haven’t properly prepared for drinking and you’re miserable, it’s not the best idea to reach for something greasy, even though that’s a hangover tradition.
In fact, Cording recommended eating foods that will help replenish the vitamins and electrolytes your body is so desperately craving, and to avoid super sugary foods, like donuts, since that can cause your blood sugar to skyrocket and make you feel even worse.
“I’m a big fan of a veggie omelet and roasted sweet potatoes [after a night of drinking]. You get a stabilizing combo of protein, fat, and carbs, plus important minerals like potassium and magnesium to get you back on your feet,” she said.
She also suggested foods like toasts with nut butter and frozen sliced strawberries, savory oatmeal with an egg on top, or whole grain or sweet potato toast topped with half an avocado and an egg.
In general, living a healthier lifestyle will help you keep those hangovers at bay when you do drink—and make you feel better overall. Cording said:
“Focus on fueling yourself with well-balanced meals and snacks that incorporate nutrient-rich foods to provide you with a strong foundation. Making it convenient to make healthy food choices (whether you’re pre-toxing or dealing with a hangover or not) will make your life much easier, too. For example, I always keep my freezer stocked with frozen fruit and keep yogurt and eggs on hand to use as a base for healthy meals. It’s much easier to make those choices that help us feel well when we don’t have to go out of our way or stretch our decision-making capabilities when ordering takeout.”
Makes sense to us. Hangovers are a miserable fact of life, but they don’t have to ruin your weekend—or even your day. Just remember to booze responsibly, and drink water!