Buzzy probiotic-packed kombucha is showing no signs slowing on its path toward total refrigerator domination. In fact, Well+Good even predicts it to become more mainstream this year. The benefits-laden fermented tea is getting nearly as ubiquitous as coffee (bottles of it are popping up in airports, boutique fitness studios, and even Target, after all), likely because of its superb mix of prebiotics and probiotics, which have been linked to improving digestion, easing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, and fighting intestinal infections. Still, questions remain about best practices for chugging the fermented goodness. Like, is downing a bottle before your workout a good way to boost your energy, or is it more likely to lead to some er—flatulent side effects?
While coffee has already received the green light for pre-workout safety, kombucha is a little bit more contentious. But before I get ahead of myself, let’s cover some ‘booch basics: Generally, trainer and nutrition expert Sarah Walls—who owns a training company that focuses on improving athletic and intellectual success and is the strength and conditioning coach for the WNBA’s Washington Mystics—says the best time to have a kombucha is in the morning or midday on an empty stomach. When the drink doesn’t have to fight its way through food to get to your large intestine, the microbes (which Walls says improve bone density, rid your body of anti-nutrients and bad bacteria that can cause health issues including depression, anxiety, and OCD) are more effectively absorbed in your body.
“I would not recommend it before a workout because there is so much natural carbonation that it may leave the stomach unsettled as you start training.” —health coach Sarah Walls
But this doesn’t mean you should go HAM on the ‘booch whenever your stomach’s not full. For example, Walls doesn’t advise drinking up before bed since most varieties include caffeine, which can keep you awake and upset your stomach.
Beyond caffeine, Los Angeles–based nutritionist and periodontist Sanda Moldovan, DDS, notes that because of sugar content, it’s best to limit the habit to one bottle per day, which Walls says should be plenty. “Think of it as you would a vitamin or any other supplement,” she said. There’s a specific amount you should have to reap the health benefits—no need to overdo it.
But, before you guzzle a bottle of Health-Ade on your way to your morning spin class, heed this warning from Walls: “I would not recommend it before a workout because there is so much natural carbonation that it may leave the stomach unsettled as you start training.” Translation: The potent stuff can cause a ton of digestive action. Her recommendation is to enjoy your fix after about 30 to 45 minutes after your workout (once your body settles).
Alternatively, Dr. Moldovan doesn’t see a reason to stay away from it before a workout (if your stomach can take it), especially since the stuff is hydrating and energizing. But if you’re going to throw caution to the probiotic-tea wind, Walls says it’s best to follow up your drink with a lighter workout (i.e., maybe not a HIIT class).
Ultimately different people have different tolerances to the fermented drink, so if you think you can handle more (or less!)—simply go with your gut.