freshly cured pickles on a table

Don’t let that leftover pickle juice go to waste. Research shows that pickle juice can help with muscle cramps, potentially even eliminating them.

It’s not about hydration. It’s not about electrolytes. There’s something special about pickle juice!

Let’s see what the big deal is – and if it’s gross.

The Problem: Cramps

Cramps suck. They’re no fun, they’re often painful, and sometimes you can’t seem to get rid of them. (Cramps leave some people sore for days.)

And don’t they always happen at the most inconvenient time?

It would great if we could prevent cramps, but…

Cramps are tough to prevent!

While most of the evidence points towards overexertion as the cause for cramps, it’s still nearly impossible to prevent cramps if you’re doing hard training or racing.

That’s because, no matter how well-prepared you are, it’s simply human nature to push yourself harder in a big event than you do during your regular training. And if you do that too long, you’ll cramp.

So you have to look for ways to fix the cramps once they begin.

How do you get rid of cramps?

The thing with cramps is that they still are not fully understood. The theories and supporting evidence get better every year, but overall, cramping has an air of mystery about it.

The common solutions just aren’t cutting it. I mean, there are TONS of electrolyte supplements to choose from, yet we still get cramps.

We’ve come to the point where some people will try anything – even pickle juice – for cramps. I’m not kidding. Pickle juice for leg cramps.

male athlete opening a jar of pickles

The Solution: Pickle Juice

Apparently, pickle juice can stop muscle cramps. That’s one of the many benefits of pickle juice (along with aiding weight loss and improving gut health).

And just to be clear, this has nothing to do with hydration or electrolytes. Remember, proper hydration alone won’t prevent or cure cramps, so it’s irrelevant if pickle juice is better or worse than other drinks to get you hydrated or provide electrolytes. Plus, numerous scientific studies on pickle juice show no difference compared to similar electrolyte beverages for hydration.

Somehow, though, pickle juice can cure your cramps.

What is pickle juice?

So, what is pickle juice? What’s in there that could be so special? Let’s think about this.

To make pickles, you start with cucumbers, pickling salt, vinegar, and water. Eventually you end up with pickles in a jar of vinegar. (According to a recipe at The Kitchn.)

Once you have eaten the pickles, you’re left with a jar half-full of liquid – that’s pickle juice.

Still wondering what’s so special about it? Me too. So let’s review the literature…

What the research studies show

When it comes to scientific research studies, well, there’s one. One single study. So we will look at the pickle juice study – a 2010 study named “Reflex inhibition of electrically induced muscle cramps in hypohydrated humans” which was published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

It goes straight to the heart of the issue. Here’s their introduction:

Anecdotal evidence suggests that ingesting small volumes of pickle juice relieves muscle cramps within 35 seconds of ingestion. No experimental evidence exists supporting the ingestion of pickle juice as a treatment for skeletal muscle cramps.

So, they got to work on producing that missing piece – the actual, experimental evidence.

To make it feasible, the researchers induced muscle cramps in the test subjects. Then the subjects drank either deionized water or pickle juice. The researchers found that cramp duration was shorter when followed with pickle juice.

It’s not nearly as exciting as the anecdotal evidence, though. (Remember, people anecdotally reported relief in a mere 35 seconds.) In this study, the pickle juice provided relief in about 90 seconds (compared to over two minutes with the water).

That means it works too quickly to be due to re-hydration. The pickle juice is providing relief in your muscles before it even gets through your stomach!

How?

The scientists believe something in the pickle juice triggers a reflex that eases the cramping. Essentially, your mouth senses the pickle juice, and then your brain tells your cramping muscle to relax.

This is great, right? It’s time to stock up on pickle juice?

Not so fast!

The pickle juice apparently helped. But even without it, subjects’ cramps went away within a few minutes.

In real life, when you’re doing a hard bike race and start to cramp, can you just stop for a few minutes and then you’re good to go? Doubtful. Not in the athletes I’ve worked with.

So these electrically-induced cramps in the laboratory are not comparable to the types of cramps endurance athletes are facing in the wild.

To sum it up: if you experience very slight, minor cramping, drinking pickle juice is marginally better than doing nothing.

I was very intrigued by the study, but the evidence in favor of pickle juice is not very impressive at all.

It’s all in your head

I think what’s most interesting to me is how pickle juice works so quickly, to the point that the benefits can’t be due to re-hydration.

It reminds me of those “carbohydrate mouth rinse” studies that showed performance improvements by swishing a sports drink in your mouth and then spitting it out.

Instead of being nutrition-based, it’s about what these substances signal to our brains, and in turn, what our brains signal to our muscles.

So we don’t really know for sure. It’s not about hydration or electrolytes. It’s something else!

You can find more details and thoughts from the authors of the study in this New York Times post. I HIGHLY suggest reading it. It’s more informative than reading the actual study excerpt in PubMed.

How: Pickle Juice Shots, Pickle Pops, and More

One thing we learned from the study is that pickle juice works when consumed as soon as the cramp starts. Sipping pickle juice each night, or taking a shot of it before your event begins, might not do a lick of good.

But how are you going to have pickle juice handy during your training and racing?

Unless you’re riding your trainer, it’s not like you can stop, hobble over to the kitchen, and take a swig out of the pickle jar.

Fortunately, they have commercialized pickle juice specifically for athletes in this situation. You’ve got pickle pops, single-serve pickle juice shots, and more. Yes, these are for real!

Here are all the ways you can buy pickle juice without the pickles:

  • Pickle Power shots
  • Van Holten’s Pickle Ice Freeze Pops
  • Bob’s Pickle Pops
  • Bob’s Pickle Potion

Continue for details of each product…

Pickle Power

This is a pickle juice shot, which comes in a little single-serving container, just like a 5 Hour Energy. This makes it convenient for carrying and allows you to consume the pickle juice as quickly as possible.

You can learn more at www.PicklePower.com and you can buy them on Amazon. They get great reviews!

Van Holten’s Pickle Ice Freeze Pops

Van Holten’s is a company that sells individual pickles in pouches, as well as pickle juice drink mixer for a “pickleback” shot. Now they have added these pickle pops for athletes.

I like that the company has been around for a long time, so they probably really know their pickles. They aren’t just here to capitalize on the recent pickle juice trend.

Learn more about them at VanHoltenPickles.com and order some on Amazon.com – only $19.99 for a 48-pack (the best value I’ve seen in packaged pickle juice).

Bob’s Pickle Pops

Another brand of pickle pops making waves is Bob’s Pickle Pops. They’re like the freeze pops you probably had as a kid – little plastic sleeves full of pickle juice which you can put in the freezer.

You could carry the liquid pops with you during workouts in case of emergency, or you can grab one from the freezer for a savory post-ride treat. (FYI, pickle juice popsicles are pretty popular.)

Check out their site at www.BobsPicklePops.com. You can also find them at certain Wal-mart stores (and online).


I taste-tested these pickle pops, both at room temperature and frozen, and I discovered they are not for me! The packaging is convenient, but I found the taste to be absolutely disgusting. I couldn’t even finish one. And I really like pickles!

I will say, it tastes better frozen than it does in a liquid state. But I still couldn’t finish one.

Bob’s Pickle Potion

If you’re not into the frozen pickle pops, Bob’s also offers a “pickle potion.” It is pickle juice packaged as a sports drink.

You can find it for sale on Amazon.

Best value: leftover juice from Vlasic pickles

In the research study that proved pickle juice works, they simply took jars of Vlasic pickles and strained them to isolate the juice. (If you asked the scientists where to buy pickle juice, they’d probably say to go to your local supermarket!)

You can do the same thing. Just strain the excess juice into one of those refillable gel canisters. It’s cheaper, and it tastes better!

Refillable gel flasks are available from Hydrapak ($12.62, buy one here) and Salomon ($12.45, buy one here).

Does is really have to be pickle juice?

I know my fellow pickle-lovers are excited, but if you don’t like pickles, you might be bummed. You’re looking for alternatives.

Unfortunately, you don’t have any other options. Don’t bother with Gatorade, coconut water, or beet juice. The results are only associated with pickle juice.

The only other possible alternative is vinegar. But straight vinegar is even more potent than pickle juice!

Conclusion:

I’m going to eat pickles because they are delicious. And I’m going to save the leftover pickle juice every time we finish a jar of Vlasic pickles. This way, if I suffer a post-workout cramp (or worse, start cramping overnight), I can sip a couple ounces of pickle juice and hope the cramp goes away quickly.

However, I won’t be carrying name-brand pouches of pickle juice with me when I’m on bike rides or climbing a rock wall.

You will need to decide if the potential benefits are worth it for you.

If you’ve never tried drinking pickle juice, though, I urge you to give it a try!

Would you drink pickle juice? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!

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