Pickle Juice?? What the heck? You want me to drink some pickle juice before my run / ride / walk??? Why can’t I stick to some GUs, Gels or Chomps and just eat a pickle when I order my sandwich that comes with a pickle? Well, good question but if you google pickle juice and the athletic and health benefits of it, you might be surprised the amount of information and studies you will find. Some studies adamantly say pickle juice is beneficial in helping stop cramps and others are hesitant to say that cramping is even caused by dehydration and/or lack of salt intake. So we created this blog to give you some insight and let you come to your own conclusions on whether or not you want to venture out and give it a try.
Pickle juice is the liquid substance used to give cucumbers their salty, sour taste. In most cases, it is made of water, salt, calcium chloride and vinegar (acetic acid), and occasionally contains flavorings like dill or “bread and butter”. The use of pickle juice as a defense against muscle cramps first attracted headlines when the Philadelphia Eagles credited pickle juice with their cramp-free win over the Dallas Cowboys in the over-one-hundred-degrees Texas heat. Rick Burkholder, the Eagles’ head trainer, called it his “secret weapon.” Pickle companies (such as Mt. Olive Pickle, Vlasic Foods and Golden Pickle) claim that pickle juice is similar to an isotonic beverage and can prevent muscle cramps caused from strenuous exercise. Mt. Olive Pickle asserts that “an athletic trainer from the University of Northern Iowa” uses pickle juice to avoid muscle cramps in athletes.
Golden Pickle has even created a sports drink, appropriately named “Pickle Juice Sport” Golden Pickle claims that Pickle Juice Sport has “approximately 30 times more electrolytes than Powerade and 15 times more than Gatorade.” It is even endorsed by Dallas Cowboy Jason Witten.
So why would pickle juice work? Exercise induced muscle cramps are can be caused by dehydration from exercising in hot weather and not drinking enough fluids. When you sweat during exercise, you can lose a lot of salt from your blood. These salts are also known as electrolytes. The loss of electrolytes can cause muscle cramping, especially in hot, humid weather. Cells in the body use electrolytes to maintain voltages across their cell membranes and to carry electrical impulses to other cells. In this case, these impulses are responsible for muscle contractions. Pickle juice has a very high salt, or electrolyte content. Therefore, drinking pickle juice before exercising could possibly provide your body with enough salt, that your muscles will not cramp. Other studies claim that your body gets enough sodium through the foods you eat and pills, juice, etc are not necessarily needed.
One study (resource provided below) compared pickle juice from Vlasic Pickles to the carbohydrate sports beverage Gatorade. The two beverage samples were analyzed in a food-composition laboratory to determine the amount of salt, potassium, calcium and magnesium in each product. Pickle juice was found to have considerably more salt than the carbohydrate beverage. Dale et. al. concluded that pickle juice can be used as a remedy for muscle cramps. However, the study also warns of the danger of ingesting too much salt as well so be smart when training and see what works for you, your workouts and your climate. In most articles two ounces is the suggested serving size of pickle juice.
There was even another study that took two groups of men and put them through strenuous enough exercise for them to lose 3% of their body weight through perspiration (mild dehydration) and then s contraption was put on the big toe of their unexercised leg, and the tibial nerve in the men’s ankles was electrically stimulated, causing a muscle in the big toe to cramp — ow?? The procedure causes some discomfort, making it too painful to use on larger muscles, like the hamstrings or the quadriceps. The duration of their cramping was about 2 to 2.5 minutes. The volunteers rested and did not drink any fluids. Then their tibial nerve was zapped again. This time, though, as soon as the toe cramps began, each man downed about 2.5 ounces of either deionized water or pickle juice, strained from a jar of ordinary Vlasic dills. The reaction, for some, was rapid. Within about 85 seconds, the men drinking pickle juice stopped cramping. But the cramps continued unabated in the men drinking water. hmmmm….so you see….one has to wonder? Can pickle juice work for you and your workouts?
And if pickle juice isn’t your thing – no worries. There are various supplements made from various companies (Shark Salts, Hammer, Salt Stick, etc) also provided at that provide a source of salt for athletes. Whatever direction you go to increase your salt intake do remember that too much of a good thing. And if you are on a salt-restricted diet, you may want to look elsewhere for a muscle cramp remedy. Medical professionals believe that salt plays a major role in preventing dehydration that causes muscle cramps, but it does not necessarily have to come from pickle juice or other salt tablets. In fact, Kurt Spindler, the Director of the Vanderbilt Sports Medicine Center, suggests that athletes just conscientiously salt their food at their meals to avoid muscle cramps.
Muscle Cramps. (2005) A-Z Health Guide from WebMD. Retrieved September 18, 2006. http://www.webmd.com/hw/health_guide_atoz/sig239850.asp
Dale, R. B. Leaver-Dunn, D. Bishop, P. (2003). A compositional analysis of a common acetic acid solution with practical implications for ingestion. Journal of Athletic Training. 38(1) .57.