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Pickle juice - are there benefits for sports performance?

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Pickle juice - are there benefits for sports performance?

When tennis pro Medvedev was seen drinking Pickle juice during the Australian Open men’s final the search engines went into overdrive. Let's check the science to see whether Pickle juice is a product you need to grab, or not, next time you head to the gym, track, court or field?

What is Pickle juice?

Pickle juice is the salty liquid that you drain off the jar or can of pickles before you eat them. This liquid is also slightly acidic. The purported benefits of drinking pickle juice is that the salt (sodium chloride) and vinegar (acetic acid) theoretically reduces the duration of exercise-induced muscle cramps while helping to rehydrate the body.

According to the channel 9 coverage of Saturday’s match, Medvedev was seen drinking “Pickle juice”, which was not rescued pickle water, rather a specifically formulated, commercially available electrolyte beverage.

Does it work?

Pickle juice, and other foods such as mustard contain Acetic acid, as well as salt (sodium chloride). It is suggested that the acetic acid in these drinks act upon sensors in the mouth and throat to reduce or stop the messages telling a muscle to contract, therefore stopping or reducing the duration of muscle cramps. Only a few human based studies have been conducted that evaluate the specific role of Pickle juice on exercise induced muscle cramps. The other studies looking at the possible role that Acetic acid may have in reducing the duration of exercise induced muscle cramps have used animals.

One study involving 10 male college students used electrically induced muscle cramps to simulate the cramps likely to occur during exercise. Participants undertook a sequence of activities until they had each lost around 3% of their body weight, to be equally dehydrated, and then a sequence of cramps initiated. After the induction of a second cramp, participants drank deionised water or pickle juice. Those who drank the pickle juice experienced a shorter cramp duration than those who drank the water. Whilst the study did show that the muscle cramp that participants experienced was shorter, there have been limited other studies to replicate these results.

Another theory behind why exercise induced muscle cramps occur suggests that being dehydrated and having a loss of electrolytes may have an influence. Sodium is an electrolyte your body uses to help control fluid balance. You lose fluid and electrolytes when you exercise and when you urinate. When exercise is intense, you lose more fluid. And when you exercise for a long time or in hot weather, like in the tennis final, you lose even more again. Being dehydrated or losing electrolytes may be a cause of exercise induced muscle cramps, along with other factors, such as how fatigued your muscles are.

To drink Pickle juice or not?

Fluid and electrolytes lost during exercise need to be replaced. If fluids aren’t replaced, then performance during exercise reduces, meaning you will not play your best tennis. Also, muscle recovery post exercise is likely to be slower, which would make it hard to back up in another tennis game the next day.

While some athletes swear by using Pickle juice to reduce muscle cramps, the evidence behind its use is not strongly supported. There are times when drinking an electrolyte supplement to help with rehydration after exercise may be useful. For now, most armchair athletes would be wise to give the pickle juice a miss and rehydrate with water.

Your Personal Healthy Eating Quiz

What you eat or don’t eat affects how you look, feel and perform. Take our short quiz to find out what foods you could introduce to help you be your best.

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What is healthy eating?

Eating healthy is making sure you enjoy a wide variety of foods from each of the five major food groups daily, in the amounts recommended. The five major food groups as recommended by the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating are:

  1. vegetables and legumes/bean
  2. fruit
  3. lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, legumes/beans
  4. grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties
  5. milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives, mostly reduced fat.

Foods are grouped together because they provide similar amounts of key nutrients and eating a variety of foods from the list above helps to promote good health and reduce the risk of disease.

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Is my diet healthy?

Dietary habits are different between people. Some people choose to follow a particular diet (i.e., Keto diet or vegan diet) while some have to make changes due to certain food restrictions or health conditions. If you want to know if what you usually eat is healthy, then do the Healthy Eating Quiz today to give you the answers in less than 10 minutes.

Why is healthy eating important?

Your HEQ score and personalised feedback report is based on the frequency and variety of healthy core foods you usually eat. This is important because no single food contains all the nutrients we need to stay healthy. Some foods are higher in nutrients than others and people who have a lot of variety in the foods they eat are more likely to be healthy and to stay healthy. In other words, if you can eat a large variety of vegetables as opposed to only 2-3 types of vegetables, the benefits are much greater. This type of diet also helps you to feel better, think better and perform better during your usual daily activities.

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