Are you juicing? No I am not talking about steroids, but instead pickle juice. Why would you ever want to drink pickle juice though? In this article, I cover cramping and why drinking pickle juice is effective in eliminating muscle cramps almost immediately.
What is a Muscle Cramp
Muscle cramps are sudden, involuntary muscle contractions, and the cramping muscle does not relax. When exercising, if a cramp occurs, it usually originates in one of the muscles which was being targeting during the workout.
Muscle cramps commonly occur in the following muscle groups and areas:
- Along the rib cage
Muscle cramps can range from irritating to being excruciatingly painful, and if your cramp persists for an extended period of time, the cramp can leave a muscle sore for days from the intense contraction. I would rather drink a shot of pickle juice than have a sore calf for a few days!
Why do Muscle Cramps Occur?
Muscle cramps can occur for a variety of reasons, but for the purpose of this article we will just cover the exercise/nutrition related reasons muscles can cramp, such as:
- Overexertion of muscles while exercising
- Potassium and/or magnesium deficiency
- Exercising in the heat
- Muscle fatigue
- Poor blood circulation
A muscle is also more likely to cramp if that muscle crosses multiple joints, such as the quadriceps, as these muscles are more likely to get activated and used during exercise.
Currently there are two main theories which strive to explain the phenomenon of muscular cramping, and by no means are they exclusionary to each other. It is very likely that the mechanisms behind both theories have an effect on the creation of muscle cramps, but our focus is exercise induced cramps.
The first theory is based off of the idea that the loss of serum electrolytes is responsible for cramps during exercise. When you start sweating from heat and/or exertion, you lose electrolytes, and the interstitial space (the fluid in the space between your muscles) shrinks. With a shrinking interstitial space, nerve-to-muscle connections increase, possibly becoming hyper-sensitive. This theory of cramping explains the full body cramping that occurs when severely dehydrated, but fails to adequately explain exercise induced cramps. If electrolytes only need to be replenished to stop a cramp, strategies such as resting, stretching, and drinking pickle juice should have no effect on cramps, but these are in fact the most effective strategies for dealing with cramps. There are other lines of evidence against electrolyte imbalances causing exercise induced cramps, which you can read more in depth here.
The second theory is based off of the idea that an abnormality of neuromuscular control is caused by muscular fatigue. Read more about this theory here. This theory behind exercise induced muscle cramping is currently trending, as it falls in line with recent scientific evidence showing that a loss of electrolytes has little to no effect on exercise induced cramps.
Pickle Juice for Cramps
Anecdotal evidence has been saying for years that pickle juice is effective in stopping cramps within 35 seconds, so to test those claims a recent study was performed to examine the effect of drinking pickle juice to mitigate cramps. According to the study above, average cramp duration was 49 seconds shorter after drinking pickle juice than just drinking water, with the average cramp after drinking pickle juice lasting ~85 seconds. The study also noted that the ingestion of pickle juice had little impact on plasma composition 5 minutes after ingestion, meaning that the pickle juice was not effective in reducing cramps through replenishing electrolytes in the muscle cells.
The current hypothesis behind why pickle juice is effective in reducing cramps is that the vinegar, or some other unidentified ingredient, in the pickle juice is responsible for stimulating a nerve based reflex that originates in the oropharyngeal (oral) region, inhibiting the firing of alpha motor neurons of the cramping muscle, allowing the golgi tendon organ (GTO) to relax the muscle. How or why this works, or even if this is the correct mechanism responsible for the effectiveness of pickle juice to stop exercise induced cramps, is currently unknown.
To get rid of cramps, drink 2 oz or more of pickle juice as soon as possible once the cramp starts, and while waiting for the pickle juice to stop the cramp, try the other strategies listed below to help stop the cramp faster.
Other Strategies for Getting Rid Of Cramps
If drinking pickle juice to stop cramps sounds like too much of a stretch to you, or you want to pair multiple cramp reducing strategies together, then here are some other methods which can help prevent cramps and make them go away as quickly as possible.
If you got a muscle cramp from working out too hard, or from severe muscular fatigue, believe it or not, but just resting helps a ton. Take a five minute breather and go a bit easier on yourself upon resuming exercise.
Drinking enough water to ensure you do not become dehydrated is one preventative measure you can take to hopefully avoid cramps from exercising based off of the electrolyte theory. While there is no recommended guideline of how much water to drink daily, luckily our bodies figured that out a long time ago by making us thirsty, so in conclusion, drink water when you get thirsty. The dehydration, exercise induced cramps theory has again come under recent scrutiny, but drinking enough water is never a bad thing.
Eat a healthy diet with plenty of potassium and magnesium
If you eat a healthy diet, which happens to be rich in potassium, magnesium, and other electrolytes, from sources such as potatoes, nuts, and fish, you probably don’t need to drink a sports drink like Gatorade every time you go on a run or workout. Save your money and actually purchase supplements that noticeably work. Again the electrolyte theory is currently under academic scrutiny, but until thoroughly disproved, it never hurts to eat healthy just in case (and I did notice I stopped getting as many calf cramps during swim practice when I ate a banana for extra potassium everyday).
If you get a cramp, one of the most well known ways to get rid of it is to slowly stretch the affected muscle(s). This works especially well for the leg muscles, but it is by no means an immediate or a guaranteed solution. When I often got calf cramps from swimming in high school, it usually took me 5-10 minutes to stretch out my calf and get back in the pool, and oftentimes I would get another calf cramp in the same leg in just minutes.
Flex the Antagonist Muscle
Related to the hypothesis of how pickle juice is effective in stopping exercise induced cramps, one little known trick which helps in stopping cramps is to flex the antagonist muscle opposite the muscle that is cramping. A good example would be if your quadriceps are cramping, flex the hamstrings as hard as possible. By contracting the antagonist muscle, you activate the golgi tendon organ (GTO) in the cramping muscle. The GTO is responsible for making sure a muscle doesn’t contract too hard and has the ability to relax. Often cramps happen when the GTO is inhibited from firing, so reawakening the GTO allows the cramping muscle to relax, and the end result is that intense muscle contractions stop.
Pickle Juice for GAINS
If you’ve been thoroughly convinced of the miraculous effects that pickle juice has on exercise induced cramps, and the fact that less cramps = more gains, then you better start saving the brine from your favorite pickle brand. If you don’t like pickles, you can always buy Pickle Juice Sport’s Drinks, but I would rather risk the embarrassment and bum some free leftover pickle juice from my friends or family.