Pickle juice/vinegar to stop cramps, superhydrate, and replete glycogen

At a recent road race, they were giving out a drink called Pickle Juice Sport Drink . I’ve always loved eating pickles, pickled okra, and other vinegar juices. For those who follow me on Facebook, I had posted something the past year about runners swearing by pickle juice for helping to ease their muscle cramps while running. Finally, someone has capitalized on it!

Of course, being a PubMed geek I have to know the mechanism for why pickle juice helps with muscle cramping. According to the following article , which supports the relief of muscle cramping, here’s what the researchers have to say:

““The pickle juice did not have time” to leave the men’s stomachs during the experiment, Dr. Miller points out. So the liquid itself could not have been replenishing lost fluids and salt in the affected muscles. Instead some other mechanism must have initiated the cramps and been stymied by the pickle juice.

Dr. Miller suspects that that mechanism is exhaustion, either directly or through biochemical processes that accompany fatigue. Certain mechanisms within muscles have been found, in animal and limited human studies, he says, to start misfiring when a muscle is extremely tired. Small nerves that should keep the muscle from overcontracting malfunction, and the muscle bunches when it should relax. Pickle juice may work, Dr. Miller says, by countermanding the malfunction. Something in the acidic juice, perhaps even a specific molecule of some kind, may be lighting up specialized nervous-system receptors in the throat or stomach, he says, which, in turn, send out nerve signals that somehow disrupt the reflex melee in the muscles. Dr. Miller suspects that ultimately, it’s the vinegar in the pickle juice that activates the receptors. In a recent case report by other researchers, a single athlete’s cramping was relieved more quickly when he drank pure vinegar (without much pleasure, I’m sure) than when he drank pickle juice.”

So it appears to be the vinegar specifically that stops the neuromuscular-generated cramping. They have a theory for how it works (as highlighted above), but more peer-reviewed research (beyond a case study) needs to be done to understand the biochemical properties and exact mechanism. Whatever is happening, it appears to work, and the pickle juice makes the vinegar more “palatable”.

I should also point out the nutrients in the pickle juice, specifically the amount of sodium. As I talked about in my past post about fueling and hydration for the marathon , if a race is hot, you need to consume more sodium the day before to superhydrate. The Pickle Juice Sport Drink I picked up from the race has an impressive 890mg of sodium in 8 fluid oz.! I’m not used to consuming that much sodium all at once, so I had a difficult time downing all the pickle juice in one sitting. The bottle says you should drink the pickle juice “prior to exercise to increase your electrolyte level”, and continue to drink with other fluids during exercise. It’s the “other fluids” that’s important for superhydrating. It’s also got a decend amount of zinc, Vit. C, and Vit. E, which are all good for recovery, immune system, and muscle recovery.

Lastly, I did some more research on “vinegar and exercise”. Biochem. geeks like myself best know vinegar as “acetic acid” (or technically acetic acid plus water)– the acetyl group in acetic acid is a fundamental building block during the Krebs Cycle, metabolizing carbohydrates and fat to produce energy/ATP for cells. It turns out there’s several animal studies (read one study here ) supporting the consumption of vinegar as an aid for glycogen repletion. Personally, I’ve always liked sprinkling pepper sauce or malt vinegar on my potatoes, rice, fish, or French fries…. now I have more reason to do so! Something to think about the next time you’re trying to increase your glycogen storage for a marathon.

As always, feel free to share any stories or techniques you’ve discovered while downing pickles and the juice!