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.