Friday, May 1, 2009

Pickle Juice for Performance

Gloucester Catholic cross country team enjoys pickle juice before a recent practice

It doesn’t come in Glacier, Lemon-Lime or Riptide Rush flavors yet, but the next time you are looking for a sports drink to stave off dehydration and cramps, you may want to reach past the Powerade or Gatorade in your refrigerator and grab a jar of pickle juice.That’s right-- pickle juice!

Trainers of many college and professional sports teams (including the San Francisco Giants and Philadelphia Eagles) are now passing out 2 oz shots of pickle juice to their athletes before warm weather games and practices. Some trainers say it’s the 600 mg of sodium that provides the benefits of reduced cramping and improved hydration. It is true that beverages with sodium cause fluid retention and that leads to better hydration. Some trainers and coaches say the vinegar in pickle juice is just the right concentration to restore electrolytes.

Some pickle juice aficionados even tout an unknown performance enhancing ingredient in the juice. Others just wonder if the main benefits are psychological.While looking for a competitive edge for our boys and girls cross-country team I decided to go to the source—local pickle purveyor KZ pickles in Camden New Jersey. Stu Taylor, the owner of KZ reminded me that fresh pickles are the best source of the beneficial elixir. “The juice replaces electrolytes-- processed pickles have more preservatives—our pickles will turn to mush much quicker, but I think the fresh juice is much better for you.”

So, armed with 3 quarts of pickles (and plenty of the owners anecdotes about the restorative/fountain of youth benefits of pickle juice-- from baseball pitchers (for blisters) to daily imbibers; I headed home to experiment. And yes, the owner did look to be 20 years younger than his professed age. Preserved in pickle juice I guess.

Our cross-country team said they noticed an increased ability to run in the heat in practice before the pickle juice ran out. No cramps and no sore muscles despite using it early in the season. (New Jersey cross-country season goes from tropically hot and steamy to biting cold in the flick of a switch.) I think pickle juice would be especially valuable for anyone running in the hot and poorly ventilated venues in indoor track.

Not sure about the taste? The San Francisco Giants have been known to mix pickle juice with a little water and sugar to make it more palatable to their players.

Runners with high blood pressure may want to check with their doctors before drinking pickle juice because of the high sodium content. I would advise anyone curious to experiment with pickle brine before a practice and not a race to see if it agrees with you.

Soon you may be wondering what do with all of those left over pickles in the jar.

Note: This article appeared in Runners Gazette in 2004. Soon after this article appeared, Reuters reported on Northern Iowa's use of Pickle Juice:

Much of the world watched in late September as Great Britain's sprinter, Dwain Chambers, buckled due to cramps in the Olympic track and field quarterfinals. The grimace on his face was enough to telegraph the intense pain.

Darryl Conway has seen it all before - athletes who succumb to heat or dehydration, and experience leg or full-body cramps that can bring tears to the eyes of even the strongest. But Conway knows what to do about it. "We give our athletes pickle juice," says the head athletic trainer at the University of Northern Iowa. The Northern Iowa Panthers have been using this tangy treat as a way to cure - and prevent - body cramps for a couple of years now, and Conway swears by it. "It works so well our athletes ask for it now."

He suggests that high school coaches, trainers and athletes consider making it part of their regimen as well. Conway says cramps typically occur when the body is severely dehydrated and electrolyte levels have dropped. Muscles in the body then tend to tighten or spasm. "It's incredibly painful," says Conway who, as a former athlete, has experienced his share of cramps.

High school athletes can develop cramps for any number of reasons. "They may be dehydrated because they haven't been drinking water, or they've been sick earlier with diarrhea or vomiting It might even be that their knee brace is too tight, making the muscle work overtime and become rapidly fatigued."

He notes too that winter sports at the high school level are typically performed in a gymnasium, which may not be well-ventilated or well-cooled. High schools, unlike universities or pro teams, don't have the funding to provide an onsite trainer or the electrolyte drinks throughout practice, so the chance for cramps increases at this level.

Conway administers about two ounces of the juice half an hour before any athletic event, typically during the pre-game meal. In the event that a player didn't get the pre-game treatment and ends up cramping during the game, Conway offers Pickle Juice now available sans picklesanywhere from two to six ounces during the cramp. "It eliminates the cramp in about a minute," he says. Athletes at the elementary age don't need more than one-half to one ounce.

It's possible to give too much of a good thing, but Conway says an overdose of pickle juice usually won't result in anything more serious than an upset stomach. "And that could cause vomiting, which would exacerbate the dehydration and cause another cramp. "
Glacier and Lemon Lime pickle juice may not be that far off-- Pickle Juice has recently been marketed by Pickle Power and is available at their site:

To read about another hydration option, Coconut Water:

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