Remember doing pickle-back shots in college? Or did reading that sentence just made your stomach turn? Either way, those days are gone, and pickle juice has grown up. Lately, it’s been making waves among some athletes as their new drink of choice. Sorry, coconut water.
Although there isn’t sufficient research backing pickle juice’s effectiveness, nutritionists and dietitians are noticing more and more athletes going for the green stuff. Even 21-year-old professional tennis player Frances Tiafoe turned to pickle juice during the Australian Open to assuage cramps between sets, going on the reach the quarterfinals.
New Jersey Devils winger Blake Coleman told Sports Illustrated he began drinking pickle juice when he played in college. He now has his own signature line of pickle juice, P20, and he drinks 16 ounces of it before every match. “Gatorades, electrolyte packets—I’ve tried it all,” he says. “Pickle juice is the one thing that allows me to not cramp through an entire game.”
With more and more athletes picking up the pickle, here’s what we know about the positive effects of pickle juice.
A relief to post-workout muscle cramping may be in sight. A 2010 study published by Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that store-bought pickle juice helped to quickly stop muscle cramps in dehydrated cyclists. Subjects were electrically induced to get cramps, and those given 2.5 ounces of the juice stopped seizing after 85 seconds, while water drinkers continued to cramp. The study showed that pickle juice relieved cramping 37 percent faster than drinking water, and 45 percent faster than drinking no liquid at all.
Athletes like Tiafoe swore by pickle juice in the Australian Open, and even more athletes are turning to the green liquid for comfort. When it comes to the pickle juice helping during training, there’s a logical explanation, according to Dr. Mayur Ranchordas, a senior lecturer in sport nutrition and exercise metabolism at Sheffield Hallam University in the U.K., who has used pickle juice with professional soccer players and cyclists.
“Pickle juice contains sodium, potassium, and vinegar, and the obvious conclusion would be that it replaces sodium and salts lost when playing sport in a hot and humid environment like the Australian Open, thus prevent cramping,” Ranchordas told the BBC. “However, how it really works is that it triggers a reflex in the mouth, which sends a signal to stop muscles from cramping. That’s why it is drunk at the onset of cramp.”
According to a 2016 report by The Washington Post, high school and collegiate football players across the United States were chugging pickle juice before practice and games to help with cramps and dehydration. But be wary. Pickle juice is high in sodium, and while it’s not good for everyone, it can help signal to the kidneys to retain fluids, keeping the body hydrated during warm weather workouts.
It’s more brine for your buck! You can even make your own pickles and pickle juice with cucumbers, vinegar, garlic, and salt. Or you can just go to the back of your fridge and pour yourself a tall glass of the pickle juice in the bottle of your pickle jar.
Pickle Juice contains antioxidants and vitamins C and E, which can seriously boost your immune system. It’s also packed with electrolytes. Toby Amidor, M.S., R.D.Opens, told The Vitamin Shoppe’s that the electrolyte and water content of pickle juice make it a good post-workout drink. The brine also has potassium, which helps support heart, nerve, and muscle function. Overall, Amidor says it’s safe to drink—unless you have frequent heartburn or high blood pressure. “Pickle juice has a good amount of sodium, but falls short on the potassium,” Amidor said.
The best candidates are endurance athletes and athletes who wear lots of clothing or heavy equipment, like football players. “This beverage would be most appropriate for athletes who are most prone to cramping due to sodium loss,” says sports dietitian and author Marni Sumbal, R.D., C.S.S.D.
The vinegar found in the brine of pickle juice has been shown to improve the body’s response to insulin and help reduce blood sugar levels after meals. This can be due to slowing down digestion. Talk with your doctor if you are thinking of drinking pickle juice to help with high blood sugar.
A study from Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry found that the vinegar found in pickle juice can promote healthy weight loss. In the study, those who consumed a low dose and high dose of the vinegar each saw a decrease in body weight and body mass index after the fourth week. Additionally, body weight and BMI levels were significantly lower in the high-dose group than in those who had a lower dose.