Oct 20, 2016
In a Pickle

When football season kicked off early this fall, many teams across the country were using pickle juice in an attempt to beat dehydration and prevent muscle cramping. The problem is, the science is murky on whether or not drinking the fluid actually has benefits.

As reported in the Washington Post, schools like the University of Maryland pass out pickle juice to football players following practices. However, it’s unclear whether it’s having the desired effect.

“It’s definitely been something that’s been around for a while,” Colleen Davis, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS, Maryland’s Director of Sports Nutrition, told the Post. “But the biggest thing as a dietitian is thinking about more than one thing. I don’t think pickle juice is a sole factor in preventing or alleviating cramps.”

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Recent research also says that relying solely on pickle juice to stop cramps might be a mistake. Although pickle juice contains extra sodium, a 2010 study from researchers at North Dakota State University and Brigham Young University found that between the small amounts most athletes drink and the time it takes for the sodium to reach the bloodstream, it’s not likely to keep cramps away.

On the other hand, the same study did find that the acid contained in pickle juice—as well as vinegar and mustard—did help alleviate cramps. The researchers found that when they induced cramps, they lasted an average of two minutes. But they were 30 seconds shorter when the subjects drank pickle juice beforehand. This could be meaningful for a player who is suffering from a cramp but wants to stay in the game.

Even though the science remains undecided on the effectiveness of pickle juice, some players still go for it. Malik Burns, a running back at Lackey High School in Indian Head, Md., drank some during a particularly hot game earlier this year.

“When [my coach] said something about the pickle juice, I went for it,” he told the Post. “It tasted pretty good, and it helped out a lot. That was one of the first games where I didn’t cramp.” 

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