How to Use Pickle Juice to Fight Muscle Cramps

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Pickles.

Probably not the first word that comes to your mind when discussing performance enhancing substances.

New research, however, has shown that drinking pickle juice may be an effective way to reduce the duration of muscle cramps. In this podcast, you’ll learn how you (may) be able to use pickle juice to avoid and treat muscle cramps. You’ll also learn the real reason this research is so exciting (hint: it’s not about the pickles).

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Show Notes

Reflex inhibition of electrically induced muscle cramps in hypohydrated humans.

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Armi Legge

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### Transcript

**Armi Legge:** Pickle juice might be the most unexpected performance enhancing substance. In 2000, a case reported was published that told the story of a Division 1 basketball player who drank 1oz. of pickle juice before each game to avoid muscle cramps. On one occasion, he forgot to take the pickle juice. Big mistake. During the first few minutes of the game, he had terrible, debilitating muscle cramps in both calves. They were so bad that people nearby could see the muscles spasming with their naked eyes and the player had to be assisted off the court.

After determining that he hadn’t torn a muscle, the team doctor gave him 60mL, or 2oz., of pickle juice. They weren’t expecting it to do much since he had only taken it to prevent muscle cramps in the past. To their surprise, the cramps disappeared in about 30 seconds. The player returned to the court and was cramp free until five minutes to go before half-time. He drank another 60mL of pickle juice and the cramps disappeared for the rest of the game.

Anecdotes aren’t good evidence, but this case report did get researchers asking questions. Questions like:

How much pickle juice should you take?
Does it work for other athletes?
Does it work for all kinds of muscle cramps?
Why would pickle juice stop muscle cramps?

Before we answer those questions, I’ve got another question for you. How many other podcasts do you listen to that talk about how to use pickle juice as a performance enhancing drug? Probably not many. The truth is that, by listening to Impruvism Radio, you only get a fraction of the cool information we cover. Every week, we also publish in-depth, extremely well referenced and reader friendly articles that help you become fitter, healthier, more productive, and better at critical thinking. If you’re interested in these articles and all of the other cool stuff we have got planned, go to impruvism.com, enter your email address on the box on the right side of the page, and click “submit.” After you do, you’ll get free updates whenever we publish a new article or podcast. But first, let’s learn why pickle juice might stop muscle cramps.

In 2010, researchers conducted one of the first studies to scientifically test whether or not pickle juice could stop muscle cramps. In the study, published in the journal “Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise,” the researchers dehydrated volunteers by about 3% of their body weight. The researchers then gave the volunteers foot cramps by zapping their feet with electricity. In the first test, when the subjects didn’t drink anything, their cramps lasted about 153 seconds, or 2.5 minutes. That’s easily long enough to ruin your chances of winning a game or a race. Even if you’re not a competitive athletes, that’s a long time to be in severe pain.

In the second test, the subjects drank either pickle juice or water. When the subjects drank pickle juice, they cramped for an average of 49 seconds less than when they drank water. That’s a 37% reduction. Drinking pickle juice stopped cramps after an average of 85 seconds, or 1.5 minutes, while drinking water stopped cramps after about 134 seconds, or just over 2 minutes. In some of the tests, the cramps disappeared just 12 seconds after drinking pickle juice. In contrast, the fastest cramp to disappear after drinking water was 71 seconds long. The maximum time any subject cramped was also 27 seconds longer after drinking water compared to drinking pickle juice.

Now, it’s important to remember that the subjects in the study knew they were drinking pickle juice, so the results may have been in part due to a placebo effect. However, each subject consumed both water and pickle juice, yet their cramps were still shorter after drinking the latter. At this point, you’re probably wondering why on earth would pickle juice would stop muscle cramps. The first thing that might come to your mind is the salt in pickle juice helped raise the subjects’ electrolyte levels, which stopped their cramps faster than drinking water. However, all of the cramps disappeared long before the pickle juice could have reached their blood streams.

Pickle juice takes about 5 minutes to begin leaving the stomach and about 30 minutes to complete leave the stomach and enter the small intestine, where it can reach the blood. Other studies have shown that the amount of pickle juice these people drank was also not enough to have any significant impact on the blood levels of electrolytes, assuming it was digested. The real reason pickle juice works may have more to do with your brain’s perception of muscle control rather than your electrolyte levels. The researchers in this study believed the taste of the vinegar and salt in pickle juice stimulates changes in neuromuscular control that cause your muscles to relax, which stops cramps faster than doing nothing or drinking water.

While somewhat bizarre, this conclusion makes sense in light of recent findings about what really causes muscle cramps. In the next podcast, you will learn why the idea that cramps are caused by losing electrolytes and becoming dehydrated is flawed, if not completely wrong. You should also keep in mind that this was only one study, which never proves something definitively. So far, no other trials have been done on using pickle juice to avoid or treat muscle cramps.

Science is repeatable, so we need more research before we can say for sure the pickle juice works. This study was also small, which means there is a greater probability the results may have been due to chance. That said, here is your takeaway from this study. If you have muscle cramps, you may want to experiment with drinking about 1mL of pickle juice per 1kg of body weight before workouts. That’s about 1 tablespoon per 30 pounds of body weight. If you cramp during your workout, drink the same amount again.

In this study and others like it, the researchers sliced, crushed, and collected the pickle juice from Vlasic brand pickles with salt. Other brands probably work just as well as long as they have lots of vinegar and salt, but it’s best to use something as similar to that as possible. And just in case you were wondering, I am not paid to endorse Vlasic pickles. I don’t like pickles.

If this trick works for you or you got anything at all out of this podcast, even just another reason to eat pickles, go to impruvism.com/itunes or google “Impruvism Radio,” and leave a review on iTunes for this podcast. In next week’s show, you’ll learn more about what really causes muscle cramps and how to avoid and treat them.

### References

1. Miller KC, Mack GW, Knight KL, et al. Reflex inhibition of electrically induced muscle cramps in hypohydrated humans. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010;42(5):953–961. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181c0647e. Abstract: https://pmid.us/19997012 | Full Text: NA

2. Miller KC, Mack GW, Knight KL. Gastric emptying after pickle-juice ingestion in rested, euhydrated humans. J Athl Train. 2010;45(6):601–608. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-45.6.601. Abstract: https://pmid.us/21062184 | Full Text: https://goo.gl/vNXUe

3. Miller KC, Mack GW, 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. Full Text: https://goo.gl/zR44z.

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