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Perk Up With Pickle Juice!

Following my recent blog regarding fluid balance and cramp, I’ve been researching – and testing – the use of pickle juice and vinegar to stop cramp during exercise.  So, it was interesting to see Kieran Trippier drinking pickle juice in England’s opening game in the Euros…

However, he’s not the first athlete to come across this.  A couple of mountain-bikers I treat, mentioned carrying a sachet of mustard (containing vinegar) in case of cramp; ultra runners at the Transylvania100 race apparently love pickled gherkins provided at aid stations along the way, and my husband happily reminisces about munching on pickled beetroot during a 12-hour biking event well over 15 years ago....

As mentioned in my previous post, there doesn’t appear to be a clear cause for cramping, but along with dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, muscle ‘misfiring’ – or neuromuscular hyper-excitability - is now being accepted as another possible cause1.  It’s not known exactly what the cause of this is - although I think it’s partly due to a lack of physical conditioning - but research suggests that pickle juice and other such vinegary substances can help avert it2,3

Those who know me will already be aware that I trial hypotheses on myself, especially if I’m to give a view or advice to others…so I duly purchased a selection of Crampfix shot sachets which, says the company, provide “a specific blend of astringency and pH level that provides reliable and rapid relief from muscle cramps by quenching neuro muscular fatigue”.  They’re also vegan, gluten-free and without chemicals or colourants.  But they are vinegary!

I took a sachet (expresso with caffeine) about 10 minutes before a 2-hour run and again after an hour.  The taste was very strong, despite the addition of raspberry, and not particularly pleasant. But you don’t actually swallow the liquid: you simply swill it around the mouth to stimulate the oral-pharyngeal sensory nerves at the back of the throat, and then spit it out.  The good news is that only a small amount of liquid is required (much less than a typical sports gel) but definitely enough for me to pull a ‘lemon-face’.  Not attractive. 

But - was it effective?  Well, I didn’t get cramp - but then I don’t often get cramp anyway.

Would I use it again? Probably, but I’d need to test them further (cue more lemon faces). I’d likely use them during a long, hot run and as a ‘get out of jail’ card if I felt cramp coming on.  I still maintain prevention is better than cure, so I’d favour being fit enough, well hydrated and having sufficient electrolytes as the basis of good performance first.

And although you don’t swallow these vinegary 'shots', I’d definitely advocate caution for anyone with upper gastro-intestinal issues, Barrett’s oesophagus, hernias, stomach ulcers or other acid-related issues.  You want to stay well-clear of any vinegary or acidic liquids (including digestive enzyme supplements with hydrochloric acid). 

I’m a big believer in a healthy diet being the basis for optimum performance.

So, if the neuro-muscular hypothesis is partly about pH levels, I’d recommend adding a bit more apple cider vinegar to your cooking, if tolerated.  And including sauerkraut and kimchi in your diet, which are excellent for gut health and happen to be pickled.  Gherkins, cornichons and pickled onions might be useful too.  Beetroot, whether pickled or not, increases nitric acid levels4, which helps open up blood vessels – helpful for everyone, athlete or not!



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