Get Pikl'ed

Pickle juice is a big dill for athletes. Here’s why they’re chugging it


Runners at the Palm Beaches marathon next weekend will be greeted at the finish line with packets of pickle juice. St. Thomas Aquinas High School football players are handed pickle juice pouches when they come out of a game, to help them prepare to go back in.

But the question is: Is the pungent green liquid really a magic elixir?

Long touted as a natural, low-calorie alternative, to sugary sports drinks, pickle juice received recent endorsements from athletes such as professional hockey player Blake Coleman and American tennis player Frances Tiafoe, creating a buzz with claims that it stops muscles from cramping.

Michael Kahn, a Fort Lauderdale financial adviser and marathon runner, drinks a pouch of pickle juice before he sets out on his daily run. “This is such a high concentration of sodium that it gives me what I need for the next few hours of running,” he said.

The dill-flavored liquid that most pickle lovers toss out contains sodium and potassium, and people drink it to replace electrolytes lost when sweating. The strong smell and taste of pickle juice makes gulping it hard for some people to tolerate. But the appeal is that pickle juice is thought to hydrate the body faster and keep it that way longer than plain water.

Researchers have found another health benefit, too. Pickle juice may trigger a reflex in the mouth that sends a signal to the nerves to stop muscles from cramping. This reaction is why athletes are drinking pickle juice at the onset of a cramp.

“Pickle juice is sour, pungent, bitter, and those things may trigger a reflex that signals to relax the muscle,” says Marilyn Gordon, a registered dietitian, nutritionist and associate professor at Nova Southeastern University Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine. “That is a different way of looking at the ideology of muscle cramping. Rather than hydration, they are looking at it from a nervous system perspective.”

“Compared with Gatorade or other sports drinks, there’s little that supports pickle juice as any better,” Gordon says, “but if you talk to people subjectively, they will say it helps them.”

At the same time, pickle juice — in larger quantities — could actually be unhealthy for some people. The high sodium level could be dangerous for people with high blood pressure or on sodium-restrictive diets.

Kevin Miller, a professor in Central Michigan University’s Department of Athletic Training, has been studying the health benefits of pickle juice for more than a decade. Miller has completed nine research studies and still has questions he wants to explore about the effects of pickle juice on the body.

Miller’s studies found 2 to 3 shot glasses of pickle juice will make a cramp go away faster, but it won’t necessarily replace electrolytes quickly.

“What we still don’t know is whether it is an ingredient in pickle juice such as vinegar that triggers the reflex,” he said.

While research continues, Kahn, the runner, swears by the brine. A running back coach for the St. Thomas Aquinas football team, he has given pickle juice pouches to the trainers to help players with cramping.

“Some kids would cramp and they wouldn’t be able to go back in the game,” Kahn said. “This is one of the choices to give them and it works. There are powders or pills, but this seems more natural and gets to their muscles much quicker than other things.”

In South Florida, Jay Churba’s Get Pikl’ed brand is tapping into the trend, selling kosher dill pickle juice in soft pouches — just unscrew the plastic cap and sip. Churba says the pouches also can be frozen and eaten like a popsicle.

“It is a bit of an acquired taste,” Churba admits. But because people are increasingly concerned about what goes into their bodies, Churba believes his option to sugary sports drinks is gaining fans. “Gatorade is engineered; ours is made in a pickle factory, and we sift out the pickles and sediment.”

The secret ingredient, he says, is Bronx water. The cucumber is never added.

Claims about the benefit of pickle juice go beyond athletes. The vinegary liquid contains antioxidants and vitamins C and E. In addition, the vinegar found in pickle juice can help lower blood sugar levels and relieve stomach aches. Fermented pickles that soak up the brine have health benefits, too.

Churba launched Get Pikl’ed in December 2018 after seeing the rise in health and, of course, social uses.

In bars, an increasingly favored drink is a pickleback — a shot of whiskey chased by a shot of pickle brine. “By selling pouches, bartenders don’t have to kill a jar of pickles to get the same amount of juice,” Churba says.

The internet is full of recipes for how pickle brine can be used as a chaser with whiskey, in cocktails such as martinis, or to help alcohol-induced hangovers. Along with pouches, pickle juice now comes in cans, bottles and jugs.

And buying the whole jar is an option, too, pickles included.

Cindy Krischer Goodman can be reached at, 954-356-4661, Twitter and Instagram @cindykgoodman

Originally Published:

Staying on top of your nutrition will help offset the cramping process.

Muscle Cramps: Causes and Remedies Based on Latest Science

CTS Coach Corrine Malcolm lays down the latest science

When it comes to cramping, especially exercise-associated muscle cramping (EAMC) almost everyone has a story. A story about that one time, in that one race, where that one muscle seized. Exercise-associated muscle cramps are defined as painful spasms, and involuntary contractions of skeletal muscles that occur during or immediately post exercise. So, for the purpose of this article, that would exclude cramps that occur outside of the context of exercise, or that are caused by underlying medical conditions such as nocturnal cramps, hypo/hyperthyroidism, and central or peripheral nervous system diseases such as Parkinson’s disease.

Cramping is by no means a new topic in the endurance community, and because EAMC can be debilitating in a race scenario cramping remains a hot topic. There have been decades of research dedicated to trying to figure out how we cramp, why we cramp, and how to stop cramps once they start. Despite our long affair with EAMC, we are not much closer to fully understand their etiology. If anything, our new understanding of EAMC is that they are complicated and likely stem from multiple compounding factors that make any one treatment or preventative technique unlikely to work for everyone, every time.

The Old Theories About Cramping

The advancement that has happened over the past 5 to 10 years however, is a clear move away from the original “dehydration & electrolyte imbalance theory” and an increased focus on the “altered neuromuscular control theory”. Starting in the early 2000s, study after study appeared that looked at hydration status and blood-electrolyte concentrations in endurance athletes, and over and over again there was no significant difference in the hydration status or blood-electrolyte concentrations of athletes who cramped and athletes who did not cramp on race day. Moreover, if you think about it, dehydration and electrolyte imbalances are a system-wide issue, which should cause system-wide muscle cramping. However, EAMC is most commonly localized two one or two major muscle groups and frequently occurs unilaterally. What that means is that EAMC primarily occur in asymmetry (one calf cramps). However, if muscles are cramping bilaterally (both calves) or become generalized/full body cramping, this can be tied more closely to extreme dehydration or hyponatremia, or a more serious medical condition.

What this means is that although we should not completely eliminate dehydration or electrolyte imbalances entirely from the EAMC guidebook, there is likely more going on. Most likely, hydration and fueling problems act as one of the many players that work together to lead to EAMC.

The New Theories About Cramping

The newest theory knocking at the door is the altered neuromuscular control theory. The premise of this new theory is that EAMC is most closely linked to the tenuous relationship between your nervous system and muscles contractions. This theory suggests that EAMC are a combination of several factors coalescing in a perfect (terrible) storm, overexciting your alpha motor neuron, ultimately resulting in a cramp. The variables that are seemingly most important to causing this heightened fatigued state are: inadequate conditioning (particularly for heat or altitude), muscle damage, previous injury to both the cramping muscle or in the compensating muscle group, and certain medications like albuterol, conjugated estrogen, and statins. These variables can easily build off each other, snowballing into that cramp-prone state we’ve all seen happen on race day. These factors also explain why EAMC seem to been seen more frequently at hot races where muscles fatigue more quickly at the same work load, and why athletes with a history of previous cramping are most likely to experience cramping again. This also explains why we almost always see EAMC in races and not during training because we are placing a heavier demand on our muscles than we normally do.

What Happens When A Muscle Cramps

So how exactly do cramps happen and how do we try and treat them?

As mentioned above, cramping is the result of your alpha motor neuron becoming overexcited. Your alpha motor neurons are the largest neurons in your spinal chord and they directly innervate your muscle fibers, the stretch sensor, of your skeletal muscle. Their job is to send the message to your muscle to, “Contract! Contract! Contract!” We only move, pedal, kick, or stride when our alpha motor neurons work in perfect harmony with our Golgi Tendon Organs (GTOs). GTOs are the other half of the contraction-relaxation pattern our muscles rely on.

When alph motor neurons and GTOs are both functioning properly, the GTOs act as the inhibitor to muscle spindle contractions. Basically, your alpha motor neurons and muscle spindles are the active “Contract! Contract! Contract!!!” command and action, while the GTOs are the inhibition to the contraction and allow the muscle to relax. As our muscles fatigue, there is an increased firing from the muscle spindles to keep “Contracting-contracting-contracting!!!” while, at the same time, there is a decreased response from the muscle GTOs to relax. When both of these things happen, we get an over excited alpha motor neuron that causes the contraction to win out time and time again, resulting in a contraction that won’t stop or, as we’ve all experienced, a cramp.

What Muscles Are Prone To Cramping

Muscles that are most likely to experience EAMC are muscles that are contracting in a shortened position. This is particularly true of muscles that cross two joints including your muscles that make up your hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, your biceps brachii, and the long head of your triceps. EAMC are not limited to biarticulated muscles but they are the most common locations of cramping in runners, swimmers, and cyclists. Part of the reason for this is that when muscles have to contract in a shortened position, or through a small arc of movement, your GTOs produce less inhibition to the contraction than normal, due to altered muscle tensions. This can be made worse if you have an injury or an imbalance that causes you to decrease your normal range of motion.

The beauty of this knowledge is that one of the ways to stop EAMC once they’ve started is to stop and give your muscles the opportunity to lengthen. You can do this by stopping and passively stretching the muscle or by moving that muscle through its full range of motion. What you accomplish by doing this is creating a change in tension in the muscle, thereby increasing the GTOs’ inhibitory input to the alpha motor neuron and relaxing the muscle.

So why do people drink pickle juice?

Pickle juice appears to be more than folklore when it comes to stopping EAMC in their tracks. In a now famous 2010 study, researcher Kevin Miller and his colleagues brought pickle juice mainstream. For decades, athletic trainers and coaches had anecdotally been prescribing pickle juice, apple-cider vinegar, and mustard to treat EAMC, but there had been no concrete evidence as to why these various concoctions were stopping cramps. Playing into the electrolyte and dehydration theory, it was initially believed that the sodium in pickle juice was aiding in correcting an electrolyte balance in the cramping athletes. However, the result was happening so rapidly (30 seconds) it was deemed unlikely that the small amount of pickle juice ingested could possibly alter the athlete’s blood sodium concentrations in that short timeframe. What the scientific community began to conclude was that something in the pickle juice was abating the cramps via another mechanism. A new idea emerged that a neural reflex in the mouth, oropharynx, or esophagus could quickly disrupt the alpha motor neuron, stopping a cramp. This discovery has led to the development of several new anti-cramping products.

This new area of research (and the associated sports products) is based on stimulating transient receptor potential (TRP) channels. TRP channels are ion channels in the body that help mediate a variety of different sensations including pain, tastes, hot, cold, and pressure. Many TRP channels that help us differentiate temperatures are also activated by various molecules found in spices, such as capsaicin (chili peppers), menthol (mint), cinnamaldehye (cinnamon), shogaol (ginger), and allyl isothiocyanate (wasabi). Two channels of particular interest to researchers in this are the TRPA1 and TRPV1 channels that are found in our mouth, oropharynx, esophagus, and stomach. Given how fast the acetic acid in pickle-juice works to abate a cramp, it is very likely it stimulates TRP channels above the stomach, which makes this a particularly interesting way to address cramps once they start.

What this means is that strong sensory stimuli activated at these specific TRP channels, by a TRP agonist, or activators for each channel, like capsaicin, could potentially cause the alpha motor neurons to become less excited, which would in turn diminish or stave off a cramp (16). There are two possible scenarios being considered by researchers and companies cashing in on this new theory: 1) pre-ingestion of a TRP agonist might increase the threshold one has to reach in order to cramp, thereby keeping the individual out of a cramp prone state longer, and 2) ingestion of a TRP agonist at onset of a cramp will “trip” our electrical wiring, causing our muscle spindles and GTOs to work in harmony once again by decreasing the excitability of our alpha motor neurons.

What You Can Do About Cramping Today

So what does this mean for us right now? What the literature is currently telling us is that, although there is not yet strong evidence to support the idea that ingesting a TRP agonist pre-activity will successfully stave off a cramp, there is fairly strong evidence that ingesting a TRP agonist at the onset of cramping is likely to help abate the cramp and temporarily prevent subsequent cramps from occurring. I would add that at this time more research needs to be conducted on the most researched TRP agonist, HotShot, and other products containing TRP agonists like mustard, apple-cider vinegar, menthol etc. We are just at the beginning stages of understanding the complexities of TRP channels, the electrical component of EAMC, and their physiological intricacies.

So what can you do right now?

  • Experiment! Anecdote is not science. The brain is incredibly powerful, and placebos can have very real effects on physiological symptoms and performance. It doesn’t mean that something will not work, but the reliability of such methodologies remains unproven.
  • Train yourself specifically for the event you are undertaking. It’s thought that when the demand you put on your muscles does not match up with the training you’ve done, you are more susceptible to cramping, as evidenced by most cramp occurring during a race or event. This applies to athletes who go into events without acclimating to heat or altitude, who go faster than they train, and who fail to prepare for the types of terrain they will be competing on. Nothing can protect you from being underprepared for an event, not even the powerful miscalculation of our own limitations.
  • Work on form, mobility, and range of motion. Muscles most affected by EMAC are those that are confined to a small arc of motion, in a shortened state, and used repetitively. For runners, avoid heavy braking and focus on manipulating your stride length (in training for race day) so that you can maintain adequate hip and knee flexion and extension. For cyclists, make sure you’re seat position is high enough to allow for greater range of motion.
  • Fuel adequately. Glycogen depletion and inadequate fueling can lead to premature muscle fatigue and increase your risk of cramping.
  • Learn to recognize your body’s pre-cramping state and respond accordingly. Slowing down or stopping to stretch cramp-prone muscles could save you from that DNF, or from crawling into the next aid station.
  • Be reflective. Evaluate the training or race-day scenarios that may have brought you to your knees. What factors may have combined to lead to the over-fatigued state? For me personally it’s been a journey of rejiggering my biomechanics and imbalances.

By Corrine Malcolm, CTS Coach

Originally Published:

2019 Kettle Moraine 100

Mind the Woods Trolls—A Reasonable Runner’s Guide to Finishing Your First Ultra

Five surprisingly useful tips you’ll only hear from a non-pro.

By Moriel Rothman-Zecher Oct 9, 2019

100 miles is a lot of miles to run.

Fortunately, if you google “how to run 100 miles,” you will find a lot of useful, sophisticated tips and guidelines by professional runners and coaches. I am not a professional runner. These tips probably shouldn’t be categorized as sophisticated, but they did get me through my first 100 at the Kettle Moraine Endurance Runs. Really, that might make them more useful, because again, I’m not a professional runner. I’m a dad. I chug Coke mid-race. And I tend to hallucinate in the woods (it helps).

1. Find a training partner who is also an infant.

So, unless you’re Zach Bitter or Camille Herron, or are planning to run your first 100 in Reykjavik during summer solstice, chances are that a good chunk of your race will be run at night. This means that you will likely be sleep-deprived, bleary, and bushes may start to look like squatting woods-trolls. I’ve heard that some runners address this in their training by doing a bunch of night runs, which sounds unpleasant. Lucky for me, I had a shortcut. Three months before I started training for my first 100, my daughter was born. This angelic little howler made sure, as my training cycle progressed, that I never ran on a full night’s sleep. (Hello, Mr. Bush Troll).

An additional benefit here is the cross-training. During a 100, you’ll engage parts of your body in ways you’ve probably never done before, so it’s a good to strengthen a variety of muscles in advance of your race. For me, weightlifting and burpees were subbed out by baby-lifting and burping, rock climbing replaced by rocking back to sleep, pushups by pushed-strollers, strategic fartlekking by strategic fart-listening (Do we have to change our 76th diaper of the night, or can we sleep for another 8 minutes?). You get the point.

If you don’t happen to have an infant on hand, you could always adopt a whole litter of puppies. Or a Chia Pet somehow hooked up to a bullhorn. Or just go ahead and do those night runs.

2. Find a training partner who is also a two-time Badwater finisher.

In addition to the aforementioned nonsleep-training partner, I strongly recommend doing at least some of your runs with a training partner who has run 135 miles through Death Valley on the hottest day of the year. Twice. In my case, this was Jay, who I met in the woods running one morning. After exchanging details about our planned runs, he asked me to extract a loose ear-bud from his ear-drum with an ear-stick (which, for the curious, is just a regular stick). Operation successful, we finished our morning runs together, and soon started doing most of our weekly long runs together, and eventually weekly back-to-back long runs. Every time I’d feel tired, say, 15 miles into a run through the slightly bumpy footpaths of the southwestern Ohio woods, I’d think about my present company trying to make sure he stayed on the yellow line in the middle of the road so that his shoes didn’t melt on the asphalt, running in heat so severe I’ve heard it described as “similar to that feeling when you open an oven set to 400 degrees,” for, you know, 120 miles longer than we’d just run. And then, all of a sudden, I wouldn’t feel quite as tired anymore.

Of course, your training partner doesn’t actually have to have finished Badwater (twice!?!). They just have to be tougher than you are.

3. Find a jar of pickle juice and chug.

Most 100-mile training plans will tell you to make sure to practice eating, in training, the foods you plan to eat on race day. And indeed, for the first 37 miles of my 100, I managed to stick to my strict regimen of ingested 100-125 calories every half hour in the form of Salted Caramel GUs, Maple Sea Salt RX Bars, Honey Stinger waffles, and Spring Energy ElectroRide, pow, blam, zop, UltraFood, et cetera. And that went great. Until mile 38, when I couldn’t swallow another bite or swallow of any of the aforementioned delicacies, and my stomach began to seize up like there was a miniature woods-troll implanted therein, squeezing at my stomach lining and neighboring organs with all of his stumpy might.

Not a nice feeling.

Fortunately for me, the race directors and volunteers at the Kettle Moraine 100 had been doing this longer than I had, and when I stumbled miserably into the 40-something-mile aid station, I was offered a cup of pickle juice.

Would that I could write a psalm or sonnet about pickle juice.

Pickle juice!

Shall I compare thee to a sweet milkshake?

Thou art more lovely and more tasty, at least at mile 40-something.

For whatever scientific or mystical reason, within five minutes, almost all of my stomach cramping had cleared, and I was able to run and to eat again. I made the decision, then, to go with my gut, quite literally, and spent the rest of the day (and night) eating bagel bites, watermelon, veggie soup, bean burritos, and downing obscene quantities of Coca Cola. Should I have trained with a jar of pickle juice in hand? Perhaps. Or maybe we just need to make peace with the fact that over the course of 100 miles of running, one cannot plan for things to go as planned.

4. Find a big package of bite-size candy bars and meditate on their significance.

Okay, so this metaphor is going to be a bit of a stretch, but I think this is actually the most genuinely useful piece of advice I have to offer. A few years ago, Karl Meltzer set the fastest known time on Appalachian Trail fueled by beer and candy bars. But most of us are nothing like Karl Meltzer, and this tip actually has little to do with his AT record, other than that I love that fact about his diet and wanted to sneak it in here somewhere. This tip has to do with the concept of “bite size.”

When you run 100 miles, you should make sure to spend as little time possible thinking about the fact that you are running 100 miles. In other words, if, at mile 22, you feel tired, and you think, “I’m tired and I’ve got 78 more miles to go,” yikes. Not good. But if, at mile 22, you feel tired, and think, “I’m tired, but I’ve only got 2.6 miles to go to the next aid station,” (where I’ll get to drink some pickle juice? Or at least get a smile and a high five from a volunteer), that seems doable. You’re an ultrarunner, after all. You can always run another 2.6 miles. Same goes for mile 43, and mile 71, and mile 86. Break it up into bite-size sized pieces, and your chances of finishing the race skyrocket.

Sounds strange, because of course, on some level, your brain knows that you’re trying to run 100 miles. You’ve been training for this for months and months, maybe years. But your brain’s ability to trick your brain is phenomenal, and critical. Perhaps more phenomenal and more critical, even, than any bodily feat required to run 100 miles.

When I stumbled into the 62-mile turnaround, just before 8:00 PM, I felt my mind starting to slip into panic mode. I was arguably more tired than I’ve ever been, and had unarguably just run farther than I ever had. . . and I had another middle-of-the-night trail marathon and a half to go. Possible? No way. Impossible. Maybe I should just stop here. But I caught hold of my mind just before it spiraled down this fluffy, downy, warm, soothing, beckoning rabbit hole that ends in a DNF. So, I sat down. Changed my socks. Asked a volunteer at the aid station for a cup of coffee. Brushed my teeth. Put on a new shirt. Nodded to Jay, who had flown to Wisconsin to pace me from mile 62 until the end, and I said, “Hey, look at this, we’re just starting another weekend run together. How’s it going, man? I’m feeling great.” And we set off, as the sun set, with just a few miles to go until the next aid station.

Bite size. You can always run another few miles. And though I’ve never tried it, I am confident it’d be easier to eat an entire package of bite-size candy bars than to eat one super-long candy bar. Not that I recommend doing either. (Although after your 100, you may want to. Or you may never want to look at anything sweet ever again, your teeth rotting from having just imbibed ~62 liters of Coca Cola (and pickle juice).)

5. Laugh throughout the process.

Running 100 miles is something you have to prepare for seriously, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be serious the whole time you prepare, or while you race.

Because let’s face it: You will probably end up pooping or at least think about pooping in some very strange places. (Let’s pray this three-leafed plant is not poisonous.) Let’s face it: There will almost certainly come a time in which you feel like you are running as hard as you can, but are, in reality, moving about as fast as your 96 year-old great uncle Merv. After his CrossFit class. Let’s face it: Running is a funny way to spend so many hours of your life. And a beautiful one, too.

When you stumble out of the 96 mile aid station, the first rays of dawnlight cracking over the hills, you might find yourself on the brink of tears as you realize that you are going to finish this run, that there’s only one more bite-sized chunk to go, zero more cups of pickle juice.

And you might laugh through the tears welling in your bleary eyes, and then glance over to smile at the photographer crouched between the trees, and then realize that the photographer is not a photographer, but a tree stump.

And you might finish, and give a huge, sweaty hug to your infant training partner, and to your two-time Badwater-finisher training partner who paced you through the night, and to your partner who supported you throughout this crazy process, and your family members and friends who think you are nuts but love you anyway, and are proud of you. You might then eat a whole bag of bite-size candy bars, or you might just crawl down the rabbit hole of furry, downy sleep that ends not in a DNF, but rather begins in having just f’ing F’ed your first 100-mile ultramarathon.

Because let’s face it: it’s quite strange to be alive, to be human, but in the midst of all this strangeness, it’s a pretty damn beautiful gift to get to spend hours running, on pavement or on treadmills or on trails, alone or with company, for 100 miles or for one, laughing as you go.

Moriel Rothman-Zecher is a writer and trail runner based in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

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