If you are an athlete you are probably no stranger to cramps. Unfortunately, the exact reason for cramping is questionable. However, there are two theories that look to shed some light on the cause. The first theory is that muscle cramps are caused by an abnormality of neuromuscular control, or an imbalance in nerve signals to muscles. The treatment for this theory is to stretch the cramping muscle. The second theory is related to the hydration status of an athlete. Dehydration can mean a loss of the essential electrolyte, sodium, among others. As the theory goes, it’s the loss of these serum electrolytes and dehydration that are responsible for cramps during exercise. This is where pickle juice may have the ability to treat muscle cramps.
Recommending pickle juice to treat muscle cramps in athletes is not uncommon. In fact, 25% of athletic trainers advocate drinking pickle juice to treat and prevent exercise-associated muscle cramps. (1) Some clinicians even claim that drinking 30 mL to 60 ML of pickle juice relieves an exercise-associated muscle cramp in as little as 30 seconds after ingestion. (2) The problem with this claim, however, is that acetic acid – the primary ingredient in pickle juice – delays gastric emptying. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that pickle juice could be absorbed and available for a cramping muscle within one minute. (3) In contrast, some health care professionals discourage athletes from drinking pickle juice. It is thought that the high salt content and low fluid content of the pickle juice will only prolong dehydration and increase the risk of hyperthermia in hot and humid environments. (4-5) However, according to one study consuming 1 mL/kg of body mass of pickle juice will not increase an athlete’s risk of dehydration. (6)
So while the evidence supporting the use of pickle juice for exercise-associated muscle cramps is lacking, it is still important to ensure proper hydration and include adequate amounts of salt in your diet. Always consult with a sports dietitian to ensure that you have a proper hydration strategy in place and your nutrient requirements are being met for optimal athletic performance.
Gavin Van De Walle is an ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer, a freelance writer on topics of fitness and nutrition, and a dietetic student at South Dakota State University. Once Gavin becomes an RD, he will aim to achieve the distinguished Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) credential. Gavin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Eichner ER. Muacle cramps: the right ways for the dog days. Coach Athl Dir. 2002; 72(August):3.
Dale RB, Leaver-Dunn D, Biship P. A compositional analysis of a common acetic acid solution with practical implications for ingestion. J Athl Train. 2003; 38(1):57-61.
Miller KC, Mack G, Knight KL. Electrolyte and Plasma Changes After Ingestion of Pickle Juice, Water, and a Common Carbohydrate-Electrolyte Solution. J Athl Train. 2009; 44(5):454-461.