As polarizing as the salty-sour crunch of pickles may be, there’s no denying these fermented veggies pack some noteworthy health benefits. For instance, they’re filled with probiotics and can help decrease blood sugar spikes after eating.
Another potential benefit that’s got people talking: muscle recovery. A growing number of athletes and gymgoers swear by drinking pickle juice to prevent and alleviate cramping. We spoke with the experts to find out if this trend is legit.
How Pickle Juice Got Popular
In 2016, The Washington Post reported that high school and college football players across the country had taken to chugging pickle juice before practices and games to ward off dehydration and muscle cramps. Despite a lack of research backing pickle juice’s pre-workout benefits, coaches and players alike swore it helped.
Soon thereafter, all sorts of fitness enthusiasts started jumping on the trend, trading their usual brightly-colored sports drinks for giant deli-style jars.
The Potential Benefits Behind The Brine
In theory, it makes sense for hard-training athletes to drink pickle juice. Many believe that pickle juice’s electrolyte and water content make it a good post-exercise recovery beverage, says Toby Amidor, M.S., R.D., Wall Street Journal best-selling cookbook author.
The brine contains tons of sodium, which is touted for its ability to rehydrate the body by signaling the kidneys to retain fluids. It also contains potassium, another electrolyte, which is crucial for heart, nerve, and muscle function, along with fluid balance. So it’s no wonder athletes report that drinking pickle juice helps shorten or alleviate muscle cramps (which are often dehydration-related) when they pop up.
But it may not only be just the electrolytes at play there. “There may also be a neurological component,” explains sports dietitian Marni Sumbal, R.D., C.S.S.D., author of Essential Sports Nutrition. “The sourness of the juice may signal your brain to direct its focus on that tart flavor and, by confusing the central nervous system, help the cramp relax.”
What The Experts Say
Ultimately, pickle juice isn’t a worthy replacement for your usual electrolyte drink mix. “Pickle juice has a good amount of sodium, but falls short on the potassium,” says Amidor. According to a 2009 study of nine healthy men published in the Journal of Athletic Training, drinking a pickle juice-carbohydrate combo drink did not substantially affect electrolyte levels in the body.
Separately, a 2014 study confirmed that men who drank roughly five and a half ounces of pickle juice and about 13 ounces of water before running in the heat did not see performance benefits. However, the study authors noted that further research should look into using larger quantities of pickle juice and water.
In better news, one 2010 study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that participants who drank pickle juice after being given electrically-induced muscle cramps experienced relief quicker than those who didn’t drink pickle juice.
The Bottom Line
Though some of pickle juice’s believed benefits lack scientific support, its powers against muscle cramps seem legit. “This beverage would be most appropriate for athletes who are most prone to cramping due to sodium loss,” says Sumbal. The best candidates: endurance athletes and athletes who wear lots of clothing or heavy equipment, like football players.
How much pickle juice should these athletes sip on? It’s not quite clear. The Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise study mentioned earlier, though, suggests one milliliter per pound of bodyweight helps. That’s roughly two ounces for a 130 pound women or two and a half ounces for a 170 pound man.
If you’re a marathoner or triathlete (or just sweat a ton), consider sipping on pickle juice before or after exercising. Just remember that the sour stuff is no replacement for good ol’ H2O!
(Note: If you have frequent heartburn or high blood pressure, Amidor recommends staying away from the pickle juice trend.)