Pickle juice to prevent cramps?

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Fans of the Philadelphia Eagles may remember the 2000 season opener, in which the Birds vanquished their arch-enemies, the Dallas Cowboys, 41-14 on the opponents’ home turf. They chalked up their surprising win to pickle juice, which they consumed to prevent cramping during the game, played in over-100-degree heat.

Several studies have been conducted to test the efficacy of pickle juice in preventing muscle spasms. The studies are inconclusive, pickle juice as a sports supplement has caught on. Athletes now can buy commercially manufactured sports drinks that include the briny liquid. Does it work?

Susanna Mensah, AtlantiCare registered dietician, said, “I found a lot of evidence, but it’s primarily anecdotal. There’s not enough research to either support or refute the idea.”

In one study, conducted in 2010 at Brigham Young University in Utah, 10 students underwent 30-minute cycling sessions until each was mildly dehydrated. Their legs were electrically stimulated to induce cramps, after which they downed several ounces of pickle juice. In less than 90 seconds, the cramps subsided.

Researchers say the sodium in the juice could not replenish lost fluids and salt in that brief amount of time. Were the results a version of the placebo effect?

Possibly, said Mensah.

“It may not be metabolically working, but maybe it’s neurologically working,” she said; the sensation of drinking pickle juice could literally distract the athlete from the discomfort of the cramps. In fact, Mensah said, ingesting too much pickle juice can actually cause cramps in the stomach, in which case the cure becomes the cause.

“If you’re drinking a lot of pickle juice, which is very acidic and salty, the body will send water to dilute it, taking it from blood vessels and causing dehydration in excessive amounts,” she said.

To relieve cramps caused by muscle fatigue or overuse, rest, stretch, and massage the area.

“Put ice on the muscle and don’t try to do too much at once, especially if you’re a beginner,” Mensah said.

Warm up before working out, and stay hydrated.

“Drink 17 to 30 ounces of water or any sports drink a couple hours before any activity, and seven to 10 ounces of fluid 10 to 20 minutes before,” said Mensah. “Avoid caffeinated beverage which can serve as a diuretic, like soda, coffee or tea.”

Consume a total of about 2400 milligrams of sodium per day for a healthy balance; eat bananas, oranges and other potassium-rich foods.

And chug a little pickle juice if you like. The jury’s still out on its effectiveness, but Eagles head coach Rick Burkholder once called it his “secret weapon.” No one knows it better than the Cowboys.


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