Recently, I heard through the grapevine from cyclist friends and other triathletes that pickle juice works wonders for relieving cramps. I was a bit confused, since the word “pickle” is probably the last thing you’d think of when you think “triathlon.” I haven’t had a chance to try it, but a friend of mine in Utah drank some pickle juice when his quads were cramping up during this year’s Rockwell Relay. His legs stopped cramping! Of course, this was after throwing the pickle juice-contaminated water bottle away, nearly falling off his bike, and speaking in tongues.
So, we know that somehow, this magical pickle juice works, but how, or why does it work? Should we start carrying pickle-flavored gels, and have pickle juice in our water bottles?
First off, I don’t think eating pickles (or anything pickle-flavored) during a race would be a good idea; pickles don’t really have the carbs/protein/fats that we need during endurance racing, and personally, I don’t like the taste. Pickle juice, even though it’s technically pickle-flavored, might be a consideration.
Pickle juice has been given to cramp-stricken athletes for years. Some believe that the salt and fluids in pickle juice quickly rehydrate the athlete and replenish missing electrolytes, which causes the rapid relief from cramping. This would be the case if dehydration were the cause of cramps, but new studies reflect that is not the case. This leads to a different question, “Why do athletes cramp up in the first place?” After all, in a recent study, it took 85 seconds for cramp-stricken athletes to be relieved of cramps by pickle juice drinking, which is not enough time for the pickle juice to leave the stomach and replenish lost fluids and salt.
One doctor, Dr. Kevin C. Miller, Ph.D., ATC, an assistant professor in the Athletic Training Education Program at North Dakota State University in Fargo, has studied the phenomenon of cramping, and may have the answer.
Dr. Miller believes the cause may be exhaustion, either directly or through biochemical processes that accompany fatigue. Certain mechanisms within muscles have been found to start misfiring when a muscle is extremely tired. Small nerves that should keep the muscle from over-contracting malfunction, and the muscle bunches when it should relax.
Dr Miller goes on to say that there may be a chemical compound or molecule in the pickle juice that hits the nerves and receptors in the throat and stomach that send out a signal that disrupts the misfiring muscle mechanisms and stops cramps. He suspects it may be the vinegar, but more studies need to be done.
So, to summarize: the super-sour/bitter/tart flavors of pickle juice (or vinegar) can help relieve cramping.
I haven’t tried it yet, but this info might make me carry a small gel flask with pickle juice for my next century ride.
What do you think? Have you ever tried this cramp killing drink? Will you ever try it? Let us know.
Thanks for reading!