You’ve probably heard that ginger is a remedy for an upset stomach—remember drinking ginger ale when you had a stomach bug as a kid? Some people also turn to ginger to calm prerace jitters or aid indigestion.
While this zesty root pops up everywhere—from non-alcoholic ginger beer to ginger-flavored energy gels, chews, even drink mixes available for athletes—some people are also swapping lemon water for ginger water, or mixing ground ginger into water, tea, or postworkout smoothies as a “detox.”
This makes us wonder, are there really any health benefits (for athletes) to drinking ginger water? We spoke with dietitians Kelly Jones, M.S., R.D. and Lori Russell, M.S., R.D., to find out all the health benefits of ginger.
Drinking ginger water or ginger water mixed with lemon is an effective way to reduce nausea and inflammation and detoxify the body.
Because detoxification naturally happens through your organs and body processes—not from something you ingest—Jones explains, there is no scientific evidence that ginger water has detoxifying benefits.
That said, drinking ginger water can have other health benefits, especially for athletes. Adding ginger to your water may ease or prevent stomach issues if you feel sick before, during, or after a particularly intense workout. That’s because gingerols—the chemical compounds found in ginger—aid the digestion process to help alleviate nausea, according to a study published in 2015 in Phytochemistry.
“Ginger is known for easing stomach distress and many athletes experience frequent GI issues. Research is limited, but ginger has also been linked to having potential anti-inflammatory properties, increasing satiety, easing anxiety, and controlling blood sugar,” Russell tells Bicycling. Research shows that taking in 1,500 milligrams of ground ginger daily in small doses may be beneficial for nausea.
Some of us can also experience a lack of appetite after exercise, so ginger water that contains added sugar can be helpful after a race or tough workout to replenish carbohydrates while lessening nausea , says Jones.
Ginger also has anti-inflammatory effects, which can benefit all athletes, especially those with joint pain, according to a study published in Arthritis & Rheumatology, where subjects with knee pain were given either ginger extract or a placebo twice daily. Those who took the ginger supplement reported a 13 percent higher reduction in pain than those given the placebo. Researchers also found that those who consumed two grams of raw ginger daily were 25 percent less sore one day after performing eccentric exercises—the “lowering down” part of exercises such as leg lifts, pushups, or bicep curls—than those who didn’t.
One undisputed benefit? Hydration. “If adding fresh ginger to your water helps you hydrate more, then that is likely the most beneficial aspect of drinking ginger water,” says Russell. Since the taste of ginger can be polarizing (you either love it or hate it), Jones says incorporating ginger water into your diet can be a good way to reap the health benefits without the bitter taste, since it’s diluted in water.
As for any other health claims, some studies (such as one published in the Saudi Medical Journal that found those who consumed 3 grams of ground ginger per day saw reduced levels of triglycerides and LDL or “bad cholesterol,” which can up stroke risk) have shown ginger to benefit blood glucose and cholesterol levels, as well as menstrual cramps, but more research is needed, Jones says.
There isn’t much research on drinking ginger water in particular, so you don’t need to suddenly rush to add it to your morning routine. But there certainly are some health benefits of ginger you can reap, and it won’t hurt you to incorporate it into your diet. So if you’re curious—or simply like the taste of ginger—go for it, Russell says.
Try adding up to 4 grams raw ginger a day, which studies have found to be the suggested safe maximum dosage, though Jones says 2 grams is the more-commonly recommended dosage for decreasing nausea.
To make measuring easy, 1 teaspoon of ground ginger (which translates to about 2 grams) is a safe amount to mix into water, tea, or even a smoothie if using ginger to calm nausea or provide potential anti-inflammatory benefits, Jones explains. Minor side effects such as heartburn or a burning sensation in the mouth are possible. To prevent this, avoid drinking it on an empty stomach, Russell says.