After a long training session with my teammate, we went to her house for some post workout fuel. While I sat at the bar as she rummaged through the cabinet for some Swolverine Clean Carbs and Whey Isolate, she did something that completely blew my mind. She opened the fridge, grabbed an empty pickle jar, and drank the juice. I about spat out my water in awe of what she did, asking with a disgusted face, “WHY did you JUST do THAT!?”. To which she answered, “it helps with muscle cramps, I get them a lot post workout”. After I went home, I looked into it more, asking myself, does pickle juice help with muscle cramps? And if so, why? Here’s what I found.
Causes Of Muscle Cramps
Whether its overuse, an injury, holding a single position for a long time, or nutritional deficiencies, muscle cramps can strike just about anytime and they can be painfully inconvenient. While most muscle cramps are pretty harmless, if you’re experiencing frequent and constant muscle cramps, this could indicate a few different things for you:
- Poor Blood Supply: narrowing of the arteries that deliver blood to your arms and legs due to a lack of oxygen can cause exercise-induced cramps. These usually go away on their own pretty quickly once you stop the movement pattern that you are performing
- Mineral Depletion: when you sweat, your body excretes minerals like potassium, magnesium, or calcium, causing an imbalance in the body and eventually leading to leg cramps. Certain medications (like HBP meds) can deplete these minerals quicker, leading to these types of symptoms.
- Nerve Compression: Compression of the vertebrae in the spine can also cause muscle cramps and pain in the legs, worsening with activity, like walking.
Pickle Juice Benefit #1: Sodium
One of the biggest causes of muscle cramps is lack of electrolytes. A big benefit of drinking pickle juice has to do with the sodium content. Often times, athletes and individuals looking for a quick replenishment of sodium lost through activity and workouts will turn to pickle juice for this reason, like my friend did. To put the sodium content into perspective, one fluid ounce of pickle juice contains ~855 mg of sodium. [R]
The recommended daily amount of sodium for the average person is ~2,300 mg per day. That being said, the baseline recommendation of sodium for athletes comes in around 500-700 mg of sodium per hour and can bump up to over 2,000 depending on the condition of the individual and the activity. [R]
We do however recommend not just relying on sodium as your electrolyte replenishment from activity, but also incorporating potassium that is lost during a workout, in order to maintain electrolyte balance.
Pickle Juice Benefit #2: Vinegar
Another reason why pickle juice can be a good post-workout for muscle cramps as a go to replenishment drink is because the naturally occuring calcium chloride and vinegar. Calcium chloride and vinegar present in the pickle juice can make sodium and potassium have a better uptake and absorption rate. By balancing electrolytes in the body, especially after they’re lost from purposeful activity, heat, or other reasons, you can help reduce, and even avoid muscle cramps, altogether.
Muscle Cramps and Electrolytes - Making The Connection
When you workout hard, engage in strenuous activity, or are in hotter climates, your body becomes dehydrated. Sweat leaves the body to cool the body down during activity, but as it admits, it takes electrolytes with it (like sodium and potassium). If you don’t replenish electrolytes, then your electrolyte balance can become, well, unbalanced, which leads to things like muscle cramps and involuntary muscle contractions.
Does Pickle Juice Really Help With Muscle Cramps
Technically speaking, pickle juice isn’t really juice, and instead it’s considered a brine (which is salt and water combined). While there aren’t a lot of studies on the effectiveness of pickle juice and hydration, the benefit really just comes from salt replenishment. In a small study, researchers gave a group of men water and the other group of men pickle juice. The study concluded that the men who were experiencing muscle cramps that drank the pickle brine experienced the cramps for ~49 seconds less than the group that only drank water. [R]
Our thoughts? Drinking pickle juice isn’t much different from just drinking, yep you guessed it, salt water. Want some flavor with your salted water? Toss in some citrus fruit to infuse the water and give it a little boost of flavor.
That being said, if you experience hypertension, adding additional salt to your diet without the discretion or approval of your doctor isn’t exactly the best idea. Additionally, if you’re only drinking pickle juice after your workout and not something like water, whey protein isolate, or Clean Carbs for example, you’re going to get dehydrated and your muscle tissue will break down due to a lack of nutrients. Yikes. So let’s avoid this, shall we?
How Much Pickle Juice Should You Drink
If you’re still wondering to yourself, ‘does pickle juice help with muscle cramps’, we recommend just giving it a go and seeing how it works for you. A couple tablespoons post workout or throughout the day might help you stay more hydrated, but don’t forget to drink water, too. If you’re sensitive to acidic foods, we don’t recommend trying it, in all honesty.
Since drinking pickle juice to help with muscle cramps is more of a ‘woo woo’ fix, there isn’t a recommended daily intake or even recommended amount. If you do give it a go, just keep in mind the sheer amount of almost 1,000 mg of salt in 1 fluid ounce.
Pickle Juice Alternatives
If you’re not too keen on the salty, vinegar rich taste of pickle juice for post workout hydration, we recommend replacing lost electrolytes with other things, like sports drinks or supplements. You can also choose foods that are higher in things like potassium, such as a banana which can help alleviate muscle cramps, too. Gatorade just came out with a Gatorlytes, their electrolyte drink, and there there are also products like NUUN hydration tablets, Electrolit, Pedialyte, and quite a few other options as well.
Want to keep it simple and avoid the extra sugars? Grab a pinch of salt and put it in your water to help absorb water more efficiently. Have a banana on the side. Boom — sodium and potassium replenishment.
One thing to note about long workouts, strenuous activity, and/or hotter climates and water loss that eventually leads to muscle cramps, is that you don’t want to get yourself into a position where you’re losing muscle, too. This is where a product with BCAAs (branch chain amino acids) and electrolytes can come in handy to preserve muscle mass breakdown while keeping you optimally hydrated. We recommend using Swolverine’s BCAA + Electrolyte powder pre-, intra-, and post-workout for that extra boost your body is looking for to not only alleviate muscle cramps, but to maintain and build lean muscle mass.
RECOMMENDED PRODUCT: BCAA + Electrolyte (50 servings) 2:1:1 ratio
Other Ways To Prevent Muscle Cramps For Muscle Cramp Relief
Preventing muscle cramps with food and basic habits can be the ultimate key. Staying hydrated and eating whole food is step number one. Fluids are going to be what help the muscle contract and release with ease, which alleviates the need to cramp or to get irritable from movement patterns or exercise. If you’re more active or live in a hotter climate, make sure you’re paying attention to the amount that you’re sweating so that you can replenish with both water and electrolytes if you're dehydrated.
Another way to prevent muscle cramps is to stretch and improve your mobility so that your muscles don’t ball up and get angry. If you experience movement-induced muscle cramps, stretch or foam roll that area prior to exercise. If you get cramps before bed, stretch your extremities like your arms and legs, before you hop into the sheets. If you experience muscle cramps from a medication, speak with your PCP or attending physician to see what options you have there.
Does Pickle Juice Help With Muscle Cramps: Takeaway
Sure, in theory, added salt can help hydrate the body and help with muscle cramps. If you’re a person who loses more sodium through sweat than the average person, pickle juice can help. That being said, our conclusion is to opt out and opt for either real food like a pinch of salt and a banana, or a product like a BCAA + Electrolyte powder. This will help you as an athlete or active person not unintentionally break down muscle mass while training and sweating at higher volumes. If you have issues with cramping, adding sodium and potassium to your diet is going to be a big benefit for you. All in all, pickle juice is more anecdotal than scientific.
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