It’s difficult to say anything about Las Vegas that hasn’t already been said. The “City of Sin” has been immortalized in countless tails of debauchery and excess by renowned artists from Elvis to Lady Gaga and has played host to an eclectic cast of characters. From the air, world-famous resort casinos on a gargantuan scale rise out of the desert like giant iridescent Tetris bricks, scattered along a humming fiber-optic cable that is Las Vegas Boulevard. But on the ground, beautiful chaos assaults the senses, creating a unique experience that promises to keep what happens in Vegas, in Vegas.
Regardless of your discretion, however, when it comes to your body the consequences of a weekend of hard partying in adult-themed disneyland may very well accompany you back home. So what can you do to make sure that your epic Vegas saga sounds more like Sinatra’s and less like Katy Perry’s?
*Disclaimer: It doesn’t matter how healthy you are. If you plan on going full-hasselhoff, there is no panacea that will soften the blow. Just sleep, water, and some self-reassurance that your dignity may still be intact.
*Scroll down for TL:DR*
1) If You Are What You Eat…
…then most people would typically leave Las Vegas either a sirloin steak, mimosa, or entirely nonexistent. While eating very little may make you a cheap date and shrink your bar tab, you’ll regret it the next morning after the drunchies hit you like a Taco Bell truck. Truth is, maintaining a regular meal schedule is not only crucial to weight consistency, but also to mitigating the effects of a hangover. Here are a few easy foods to find that will keep the ghost of Jose Cuervo from coalescing into the tequila sunrise from hell:
Eggs - For some silly reason, eggs have caught a bad rap recently thanks to widespread nutrition dogma. Au contraire, there are two types of individuals who are acutely aware of the beneficial properties of eggs: bodybuilders, and people who know how to combat a hangover. Not only do they contain the “good” fat that is essential to a healthy, low carb diet proven to assist with weight loss, but they are high in protein which drives cognitive function and contain the essential amino acids Taurine and Cysteine.
Taurine has been clinically proven in tested animals to reduce fatty liver deposits and reduce the liver damage done by alcohol. Does this mean you should be chugging energy drinks (which also contain Taurine)? Probably not, but did you really need help justifying that last red bull vodka? Cysteine curbs the effects of acetaldehyde, a poisonous byproduct of alcohol metabolism, by converting it into harmless acetic acid. So if you’re feeling defeated and it’s only Saturday morning, spring for an omelette instead of that double stack of pancakes.
Coconut Water Vs. Pickle Juice - Coconut Water has recently been lauded as a miracle liquid with incredible nutritional properties benevolently sent to us from the top of trees that Keith Richards falls from. It’s even a well-circulated myth that wounded WWII soldiers were injected with it. To be fair, the translucent water imitator is indeed high in potassium and Vitamin C. However, a 2012 study conducted at the University of Memphis concluded that there is technically no difference between coconut water and most sports drinks in rehydration ability, which is of paramount importance to the weary Vegas partier.
The fact remains - if you want to rehydrate, drink a non-sugary, non-alcoholic liquid...or go grab the nearest EMT (which in Vegas probably isn’t far) and beg them to hook you up with a sweet IV drip. That being said, there IS a water alternative that won’t hydrate you by itself, but will assist the process. Introducing pickle juice: the world’s most annoying hangover cure. As everyone knows, pickle juice is salty - very salty. That saltiness is due in part to the high sodium content. Sodium increases water retention, which is critical to maintaining hydration. The key here: sip a few ounces of pickle juice before and after you drink. It’s basically the non-embarrassing version of drinking Pedialyte. Or you can just eat a few pickles.
Bananas - Potassium ions are essential to all living cell functions, and guess what? Bananas are potassium powerhouses, containing roughly 422 mg (12% daily value) of potassium apiece. As alcohol is a diuretic, plenty of essential nutrients are lost during as a result of imbibing due to the frequent urination that inevitably follows. One of these nutrients is potassium, which is why eating one or two bananas in the morning will help replenish your body’s store of the precious element. When in Vegas, as your night is drawing to a close, wander over to your casino’s nearest convenience kiosk and snag a yellow telephone fruit. Ironically, if you have the presence of mind to remember to eat a banana at 4am, there’s a good chance you won’t need it as badly as “that guy” sporting a hawaiian shirt passed out blissfully in the slot machine seat gripping a smoldering cigarette.
Quinoa, Lentils, Tempeh, and Broccoli - many vegans or sufferers of Celiac disease are familiar with these excellent sources of gluten-free protein, and the same characteristics that make them great for those specialty diets will also help you stave off the effects of an aggressive night. Protein is crucial for cognitive performance, but up until recently, it was widely believed that eating a lot of red meat was the best way to get enough. The caveat here is that red meats are heavier and tougher to digest, slowing us down and requiring more energy to process. Consuming ancient grains and dark greens along with a light meat like fish or chicken is a more sustainable way to continue firing on all cylinders as you make your way through the Las Vegas gamut.
V8 - For the purposes of keeping oneself nourished throughout the course of an epic weekend, tomato products are indispensable. Not only are they excellent sources of Vitamins C, A, K, magnesium, and fiber, but they are also the second highest source of Potassium in a vegetable. They also contain Lycopene, an antioxidant that has been shown to reduce cancer risk. Unfortunately, in Vegas, unless you feel like traveling a country mile from the strip to find a normal grocery store, your best chance of ingesting tomatoes is to chug a few cans of V8 juice. And not the sweet V8 Splash orange peach mango passionfruit + <insert obscure sweet tropical fruit> sugar substitute.
2) Avoid Sugar - This is going to sound like a no-brainer, because you don’t need to have a PhD in biochemistry to know that sugar is bad for you. Refined sugar is ubiquitous in the western diet, many thanks to processed bread, snack food that isn’t even sweet, and liquids like soda and juice. Given what we know today about the adverse health effects of sugar, it’s a surprise to still see hordes of people wandering around Las Vegas, feverishly sucking slightly-alcoholic sugar water out of 3-foot plastic bongs.
If you want to make it to Vegas and back without feeling under the weather for several days afterwards, it’s critical that laying off ultra-sugary drinks be a priority. Much like alcohol, ingesting excess refined sugar can actually give you a “sugar hangover” which feels remarkably similar to an alcohol hangover and typically features one or more of the following symptoms:
- Dull or foggy sensation in the brain
- Pain in the head or joints
- Digestive “issues” such as constipation or diarrhea
- Emotional fluctuations
There is a very simple cause-effect relationship at work here. Consuming a lot of sugar effectively takes your body on a chemical roller coaster, which when combined with alcohol, can result in some serious mood swings. Here's how: Sugar increases blog sugar (surprise!!), which causes your body to increase insulin, a hormone that facilitates sugar absorption. As the sugar is absorbed, blood sugar drops (another surprise!!), resulting in a sugar low and subsequent biological stress response, causing the release of additional hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine.
The solution: forget about that Cosmo, Margarita, Mai Tai, Pina Colada; basically cocktail that comes with an umbrella in it. Opt for something a little less sneaky and a bit more simple like a vodka soda, beer, or your favorite libation *gasp* straight on the rocks. The side effect? If you can actually taste the alcohol unmasked by sugar, you might be inclined to drink slightly less which, lets face it, isn’t the worst thing that can happen in Vegas.
3) Vitamin Supplements - There’s a lot to do and see in Vegas, and it’s optimistic to assume that anyone would have enough time to eat three reasonable meals and squeeze in exercise. Fortunately, they make stuff for that - they’re called vitamins, and they’re an effective shortcut to chemical equilibrium when you’re treating your body like your first car. Here are a few scientifically proven remedies for the effects of sleep deprivation, overactivity, and hangovers:
- Fish Oil - Fish Oil has been known for a long time to have anti-inflammatory effects, but only recently has the scientific community uncovered the mechanisms behind this reaction. Additionally, Fish Oil has been shown to reduce blood pressure and aid mental health due to the presence of Omega-3 fatty acids.
- Vitamin B Complex - these are just your regular, off-the-shelf, multi-vitamins that typically include B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), folic acid, B6 and B12. You can also take B12 by itself, as it plays a key role in amino acid synthesis, fatty acid synthesis, and central nervous system function.
- Prickly Pear Extract - While used in many cultures for hundreds of years as a folk medicine with various properties, Prickly Pears rose in prominence as a hangover cure after a 2004 study conducted by Dr. Jeffrey Weise at the Tulane Health Sciences Center determined that it’s extract helped curb the symptoms of nausea, dry mouth, and aversion to food that commonly accompany hangovers.
4) Sleep, but don’t hibernate - We get it. You’re on vacation in Vegas, and you want to squeeze every last little ounce of “holy crap that was amazing" out of your trip, even if that means staying out until the sun rises against all better judgement and the urging of your weary companions. You can sleep when you’re dead, right? Everybody knows that after a long night of drinking and socializing that extends into the wee hours of the morning, choices can get a little bit dicey. But if you really want to have the most fun, do yourself a favor: if the night looks like it’s going to end, just let it. Fatigue is your body’s way of telling you that it needs to rest, and sure another hour or two in the club never hurt, but entirely destroying your normal sleep cycle is a recipe for disaster if you expect to go out again the next night or be functional at work on Monday.
By the same token, it’s also not ideal to hibernate either - oversleeping is just as hazardous to your health as sleep deprivation. While it can be very tempting to stay in a comfortable hotel bed all day, sleeping for any more than 8 hours has been associated with metabolic decrease, and the marginal hour of sleep after seven hours is subject to diminishing returns. The best rule of thumb is to shoot for around seven hours, and if you followed any of the above dietary tips to maintaining your health throughout the night, than you’ll start the day a bit less groggy.
5) Hit The Gym - Las Vegas casinos are famous for having some of the best facilities anywhere, including spas, saunas, and workout rooms. If you want to stay energized throughout your trip and return to reality without feeling like you’ve slacked on your fitness, take full advantage of your chosen host’s hospitality and hit the gym. Getting your body moving in the morning helps improve sleep, boosts your metabolism for the rest of the day, releases endorphins, and allow your body to sweat out whatever the hell is in an “AMF.” Of course, you might feel a little hopeless when you wake up. Unfortunately, there's no magic bullet for the motivation to get out of bed. The time-tested trick: don't think about it. Grab a banana, chug some cold water, scrape what remains of your physical endurance off the room service cart and stumble downstairs. Making it to the gym is more than half the battle, and once you're there, it will be a lot harder to convince yourself to give up.
Vegas is a very tough place to stay healthy, much less maintain any semblance of a diet when fried foods and huge drinks abound. However, there are a few oases. Next time you venture to the famed nightlife mecca, check out these healthy alternatives to the typical casino eateries:
TL:DR: Staying up late and drinking excessive alcohol depletes your body of valuable nutrients such as electrolytes and trace minerals while producing toxins in your body and disrupting your natural rhythm. You can fight these physiological effects by consuming the right nutrient-rich foods, exercising even when it hurts, supplementing with extra vitamins, and being selective about the substances you consume while partying.