Do Kava and Exercise Mix?

Posted by on Nov 7, 2013 in The Mind of Makaira | 0 comments

Free weights resting on a weight rackLong-time visitors to this blog may recall my post a couple years back about the curious case of a New York man who collapsed while biking to work after he took kava tea. He was diagnosed with muscle weakness and rabdomyolosis, a condition where the kidneys begin to break down muscle fibers. Like coffee or tea, kava can have diuretic action; I speculated that by taking kava and then attempting strenuous activity, he could have become dehydrated which led to these symptoms.

Both then and now, I was surprised that anyone would drink kava and then engage in a demanding activity like bicycling. After all, to me kava represents the ultimate relaxation, something to help us unwind after the day’s work is done. I was absolutely convinced that kava has no place in an exercise regimen; this is the plant famously called the “anti-energy” drink in certain circles, after all.

Yet recently I’ve encountered some opinions that made me reexamine my prejudice against mixing kava and exercise. A few bodybuilding sites are actually starting to feature kava on their lists of helpful herbs, a trend that caught me completely aback until I looked into it in more depth. It turns out that the very things that make kava kava so wonderfully relaxing may also make it the perfect post-exercise tonic for resting tired muscles.

The idea goes something like this: though most people think that weight training is what strengthens muscles, it’s actually the rest taken between exercise sessions that’s crucial for muscle repair and growth. Muscle fibers can only repair themselves when they’re at rest, not when they’re actively being used. Enter my favorite herb, kava kava: by acting directly to relax the muscles, kava can help muscles repair themselves and gain strength more quickly*. A soothing bowl of kava after exercise can also ease muscle tension and head off unpleasant post-exercise soreness, especially if you’ve pushed yourself a bit too vigorously.

The more I considered it, the more I could see the case for including kava in a post-exercise cool-down. After all, kava alone already relaxes and soothes stresses away*; how much more effective would it be as a cool-down after vigorous exercise? Some exercise aficionados are also recommending kava for its sleep-promoting properties*, and to ease the muscle soreness that can result from overtraining.

Kava as a post-exercise tonic is a fairly new and nontraditional use for kava, but it totally fits given what I and my family have known for generations about the properties of ‘awa. I mentioned earlier that because it is a diuretic and relaxant, kava probably shouldn’t be taken before exercise. However, a post-exercise bowl of kava, perhaps mixed with coconut milk to replace electrolytes lost during exertion, could be just the thing your sore muscles need to rejuvenate themselves. So, next time you’re thinking of reaching for the Gatorade, dear readers, you might try a refreshing bowl of ‘awa instead; I’d be very interested to hear your results!

Aloha no,


*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to cure, treat, diagnose, or prevent any disease.

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