After my recent minor cramping incident, I poked around online a bit to find out more about cramps, and electrolyte replenishment, and staying hydrated.
It turns out that loss of electrolytes is NOT the likely cause of cramps. What is? Some form of exhaustion.
The scientific experiments into cramping are interesting, but they’re limited. At Brigham Young University, male athletes pedaled with one leg on recumbent exercise bikes until they lost three percent of their body weight. Then, a gizmo was affixed to their toe, and electrical stimulation applied to their tibial muscle, which caused the toe to cramp.
Long story short — when they drank pickle juice, the cramps stopped in about 35 seconds. Those that drank ionized water continued to cramp.
Dr. Kevin Miller of North Dakota State University speculates that something in the acidic makeup of pickle juice is sending a message to disrupt the cramping. He says the cramp isn’t because of loss of electrolytes — it’s because muscles start misfiring when they’re suffering from symptoms of exhaustion. The pickle juice was still in the athletes’ stomachs — it hadn’t gone into the blood stream yet — so it wasn’t replenishing lost electrolytes.
And it’s probably not the pickle juice that stops the cramping anyway. It may be the vinegar in the pickle juice. One study had athletes drink vinegar while cramping (I don’t think I’d volunteer for that one!), and it worked even faster than pickle juice.
I’ve tried both juice from pickle jars and the commercially-bottled pickle juice, and I gotta tell ya, it’s an acquired taste. Each time I tried it, I didn’t get cramps, but since I’d been stopping at every rest stop and having something, I don’t think my muscles were in that state of exhaustion that would make them susceptible to cramping. Pickle juice is not a regular part of my hydration regimen.
And if muscle exhaustion is what’s causing the cramps, then build up the muscles. You might have to hit the gym in addition to the bike rides.
But hey — next time you’re out on an organized ride, and you come across a jar of pickles at a rest stop, pour some of the juice into a cup. Or even try some Pickle Juice Sport — it’s often available on those rides. Your cramping problems might become a thing of the past.
Loving the Bike says
Cool….I didn’t know my comments would lead to a new post by you. Awesome. Yeah, I first came across pickle juice last year when I was in Austin and stopped in at Bicycle Sport Shop. They told me about it, but I really don’t get cramping so didn’t pay much attention.
Nice post, Mr. Noob.
Thanks for the idea, Darryl. It gave me a chance to pull out a half-formed post that had been sitting in my “evergreen file.”
I tried the pickle drink at a rest stop at the Atlas ride. Urghhhh. I didn’t cramp though. I do take a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar twice each day which has helped lower my cholesterol 30 pts. I wonder if its’ helping avoiding cramps also?
Wow, I never figured you for an ascetic.
I’ve not yet been on many rides long enough to cause me to experience muscle cramps, but I’m not sure I could not do the pickle juice. Even the thought of it is a bit repulsive. It’s good to know about though.
I’ve heard of the magic of pickle juice … and I’m fine having a pickle with a sandwich at lunch or something, but the thought of actually drinking pickle juice is not pleasant at all. Especially if you followed it with a swig of Gatorade, any time in the next half hour or so. Yuck! Maybe it works though … I’ve never heard of “pickle juice sport” — that’s pretty hilarious!
Pickles have been one of my weapons against snacking for a year now. When I get a craving for something to eat usually cause I’m bored or whatever, pickles do the trick. Sometimes it’s one, but it could be a lot. Like 9. Whatever it takes. I think 9 is about 15 calories.
I’ve heard of needing electrolytes to prevent cramps so I invested in Hammer Nutrition products. They worked amazingly on my last right, I did start to cramp up at hour 5 only because I wasn’t drinking as much as I should have. After a little battle and some constant pedaling the cramps went away and didn’t return. My calf didn’t even feel tight after the fact. Hope this helps!
I’m having a sort of visceral approach-avoid response to the idea of pickle juice on a ride. On the one hand, I love pickles. On the other hand, the thought of pickle juice straight up, especially of I’m already sweating, makes me wince a little bit. Maybe a pickle-peanut-butter sandwich??
Kenny Flanagan says
I’ve been taking 2 teaspoons of Apple cider vinegar every morning now for months. Pickle juice has to be easy to drink, if you start with Apple cider vinegar. The very worst tasting stuff ever!