While there are a number of theories as to what causes cramps—including hydration, form and electrolytes—they seem to happen more in races than in training.
Despite the lack of answers as to why cramps occur, a number of remedies have cropped up in recent years. Some of them are probably already in your pantry.
Research, as far back as several decades ago and as recently as 2013, suggests pickle juice relieves cramps. In the 2013 study, cramps lasted about 49 seconds less when participants drank pickle juice rather than water.
- The first assumption is that fluids and sodium are anti-cramping agents. However, other studies have concluded that the plasma volume and plasma concentrations of sodium remain unchanged after pickle juice consumption, leading researchers to believe something else is causing the cessation of the cramps.
- Most experts think it’s the vinegar. It’s believed that the vinegar triggers a reflex that alerts our brains to tell our muscles to stop contracting and relax, and the muscle cramping is reduced as soon as the vinegar touches receptors in the mouth.
- Bring a small amount of pickle juice with you on your next training session (2 ounces is usually enough).
Mustard contains vinegar in smaller, but potentially effective amounts as well. However, it has not been as well studied as pickle juice. Packets of yellow and honey mustard are portable on the trail or road, and often easier to consume than pickle juice. Mustard has up to 100 milligrams of sodium per packet and also contains turmeric, which is helpful for muscle soreness and inflammation.
Beyond the cramps, pickle juice and mustard provide other benefits for athletes:
Sodium: Adequate intake can improve hydration and reduce cramping, at least in practice. Just 1 tablespoon of mustard has 200 milligrams sodium and 2 ounces pickle juice has more than 400 milligrams sodium. Just 2 ounces of the pickle juice sports drink has about 225 milligrams sodium.
Glycogen Replenishment: Vinegar, which is chemically known as acetic acid, can provide the acetyl group. This is a fundamental building block helping to metabolize carbohydrates and fat to produce energy and ATP for cells.
If you’re prone to cramps bring a bottle of pickle juice or packet of mustard to your next training session or race. Consume them at the first sign of cramps and you might be able to keep training or racing and full speed.
-Kelli Jennings | For Active.co