Pickle Juice: The Magical Cramp Killer?

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!

-Chris

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9 Responses to Pickle Juice: The Magical Cramp Killer?

  1. Aaron says:

    Yes, pickle juice does work INSTANTLY for cramping, just like the article reads. I have used it during training and most importantly during a duathlon race. The cramping started after the bike leg and just before I started the last run of the race, as I leaned over to put on my running shoes. I took a swig of the pickle juice, which at this point was pretty warm (even though I had put about 6 oz. In the freezer overnight), and a few seconds later I was back in the race! Try it. Aaron C.

  2. Floyd Pool says:

    I heard about pickle juice in February 2013, all I can say I’ve been a cyclist for going on 41 years and I would always would cramp! It was not if, but when! Since using pickle juice the cramps have almost stopped! I’m still trying to decide how much juice I need, the times the pickle juice did not work; trying to re-use the leftover pickle jar and make new juice by adding vinegar making the pickle much less potent. Another time I don’t think I took in enough pickle juice. So far for me I’m guessing 5oz of pickle juice every hour. I use a small flask like bottle and sip about an ounce every 10-15 minutes followed by either water or electrolyte drink. The positive you buy a huge jar of Dill Pickles at Costco for $3.99, it lasts me about a month. FYI, I’m a 57 year old male 5’8″ 180 lbs. I ride at least 3 times a week, 30-60 miles each ride in hilly area. My best pickle juice story I did the Tour Du Rouge last May 533 mile from Huston to New Orleans in 6 days and I never cramped once! However by the end of the day I felt I was peeing pickle juice 🙂

  3. Pingback: Chris’ Excellent Adventure! Death Valley Century Part 1/3 | Triathlon LAB Blog

  4. Jacs says:

    yes it does work…i work for cleaning company and lead boss we clean a 70,000 sq ft factory…i cramp bad after walking that many sq ft 8 to 9 times a 9 hr shift…i cant stand bananas and thought was low on potassium…so i drank some and it helps…i swear by it…

  5. Rob Fischer says:

    Recently on a 4 hour mtb ride I experienced the first twinges of a psoas cramp at about the 3 hour mark. This was after 76 oz of fluids going in and peeing fairly clear. My friend who races mtb marathons had me try a 2oz pickle juice pop (yuck) and within a couple of minutes- good as new! After a good cool down ride home and a quick nap I was fatigued but not wiped out.

    Sold! I am going to start making my own brine.

  6. bev says:

    It always works for me, and it sure is instant. I wondered if pickle juice/pickles were high in magnesium??

  7. CC says:

    http://www.bengreenfieldfitness.com/2013/09/ways-to-stop-muscle-cramps/ This article claims that it’s the salt content “tricking” your brain into relaxing your muscles, which makes sense since before your body can absorb the contents, the muscles let go of their cramping. Yes, I’ve tried it, and yes, it works. Bizarre. Our bodies are amazing.

  8. Don Eynon says:

    I have to agree, it is instantaneous for me as well. I suffer cramps at a hard ride, usually when I go to bed, and they are severe! I have to stretch out my muscles, and while cramped up, I take about 4-6oz of pickle juice and cramps disappear in less than 15 seconds.

  9. David says:

    I have tried it with night-time leg and foot cramps. It seems to work. It seems to take about 60 to 90 seconds. I have done this on several occasions with a consistent result.

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