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What Athletes Need to Know About Kava

What Athletes Need to Know About Kava

Have you ever wondered about non-traditional remedies for those sore post-workout muscles?  Do you need a good night’s sleep before the morning of your 5k race?  Well, you’re in luck.  Kava kava is a drink from faraway places like Fiji and Samoa that provides these benefits. The islanders in the Pacific drink kava in traditional ceremonies, and for medicinal purposes.

This drink comes from the root of a small shrub that grows everywhere from Papua New Guinea to Hawaii. The roots are often ground up into a powder to be steeped like a tea.  A member of the pepper family, kava can leave you with a feeling of numbness in your lips and mouth.  But that is not why people drink kava.

Users often report a feeling of relaxation—even mild euphoria—after consuming kava.  There are numerous strains of kava from the South Pacific islands with varying effects.  These effects, ranging from sedating to uplifting, stem from naturally occurring chemicals in the plant known as kavalactones.  Each strain has a unique kavalactone profile.

Kava for Bedtime

Of interest to athletes is kava’s sedating properties.  A study from the scientific journal Progress in Psycho-Pharmacology and Biological Psychiatry found that lab rats given kava experienced a decrease in the brain’s 5-HT levels, which produces a sedative effect.  The researchers determined that kava containing the kavalactone known as kawain was responsible for this effect.  In addition, kava has been found to block sodium ion channels, which can also sedate the user.

Why should you, dear athlete, care?  Sleep is crucially important for muscle repair and growth.  During sleep, the body produces its own muscle building hormones, including human growth hormone, known as HGH.  During NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep, blood flow to the muscles increases, promoting muscle repair.  When you enter REM sleep, your muscles relax and tension eases.  Sleep is literally the body’s way of repairing itself.

If you are using kava medicinally as an athlete, it is important to know something about the different strains of kava and what their benefits are.  Some strains of kava are more sedating, while others, like Fijian kava, are more uplifting and “heady.”

Kava for Achy Muscles

Not only does kava induced sleep help with those sore muscles, kava itself can relieve muscle ache. It has been found to promote both mild analgesic and local anesthetic effects.  Therefore, kava can act as a muscle recovery aid for body builders and others who do weight bearing exercise.

Kava Beats Inflammation

It is a well-established scientific fact that exercise reduces systemic inflammation in the body.  It does this by reducing levels of TNF (tumor necrosis factor) and CRP (C reactive protein).  But athletes will also be delighted to hear that kava produces its own anti-inflammatory effects.  In cell-based studies, kavain and flavokawains A and B have been found to reduce TNF alpha levels.  Kava also inhibits the production of NF-kB, a protein complex responsible for inflammation.

A Performance Enhancing Drug?

For those athletes whose sports require quicker response times, drinking kava may reduce response times. Studies from the journals Neuopsychobiology and Human Psychopharmacology both found that kava increases mental focus while inducing relaxation.  Doing competitive sports can often be stressful, so kava can take the edge off without you losing your competitive edge.

Meet the Ohana

If you have more questions or concerns about kava after your hot yoga class or visit to Gold’s Gym, stop by Ohana Kava Bar in Colorado Springs.  There are locations on Academy Boulevard and downtown.  Ohana’s owner, Matt Clark, used to work as a Registered Nurse for Penrose St. Francis and is very knowledgeable about kava’s salutary effects for athletes.  Or you can ask one of his knowledgeable “kava slingers”, also known as bartenders.