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True or False: Pickle juice can help alleviate muscle cramps.

Posted on November 29, 2016


Most of us have experienced muscle cramps at some point in our lives, whether being awakened from a deep sleep with hamstring spasms or being unable to finish a tennis match because of cramping calf muscles. Muscle cramps are fairly common, and the severity can range from mild to debilitating.

I experienced this firsthand during a football game when I was a junior in high school. We were playing our cross-town rivals, and it was a hot and humid September night.

I wasn’t the greatest of football players, but I had just sprinted the width of the field to make a touchdown-saving tackle late in the fourth quarter. As I got back on my feet, an immediate pain in my entire abdominal region first bent me over, and seconds later sent me tumbling to the ground, where I lay writhing in pain.

This severe abdominal muscle cramping was one of the most painful things I have ever experienced. After a few minutes of applying ice and stretching those muscles, the cramps subsided and I returned to the game, which we won by one point. e night was memorable because the win earned our team the conference championship—and because of the profound pain I had experienced.

Experts don’t fully understand the cause of muscle cramps. One possible explanation is dehydration and loss of electrolytes such as sodium, often due to sweating. Sodium and other electrolytes are important for muscle function, which could be why muscle cramps often occur near the end of practices or games.

Another possible explanation for muscle cramps is exhaustion or fatigue, again because cramping frequently occurs near the end of sports practices, games, or a long run or bike ride—times of significant exertion or overexertion. ere are small nerves in our bodies that keep muscles from over-firing or over-contracting, and these nerves might malfunction when muscles are fatigued.

The idea of giving athletes pickle juice to prevent cramping gained popularity in 2000 when an athletic trainer for the Philadelphia Eagles served it to his athletes on their way to a 41–14 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the Texas heat. e trainers reported no player cramping during the game.

Little research has been done on this topic, but one study conducted by Miller and colleagues (2010) showed that pickle juice significantly shortened the duration of electrically induced muscle cramps in dehydrated humans, whereas water had no effect on cramp duration.

It is unlikely that the pickle juice affected hydration or electrolyte levels. e authors speculated that the acetic acid (vinegar) in the juice might have triggered an “inhibitory oropharyngeal reflex shortly after ingestion, which reduces alpha motor neuron activity to cramping muscles.”

In other words, the acetic acid in pickle juice could break the spasm cycle by coming in contact with small nerves in the throat. However, I could find no evidence that consuming pickle juice prior to activity helps reduce muscle cramping.

Miller, K., Mack, G., Knight, K., Hopkins, J., Draper, D., Fields, P., and Hunter, I. Reflex inhibition of electrically induced muscle cramps in hypohydrated humans. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (2010), Vol 42, pp. 953-961.

True or False: You should not exercise when you have a cold?

Posted on November 16, 2016


You have spent the last nine months training religiously for your first triathlon, logging considerable
hours on your bike, in the pool and in your running shoes. Your workout this morning is supposed to be a fairly intense 40-mile bike ride up and down some pretty hilly terrain, but you wake up with an irritating cough and a scratchy throat. What should you do? Take the day off for fear that an intense workout might make your symptoms worse? Follow the adage “no pain no gain” and grab a protein shake for breakfast and a couple of packets of GU and your camel pack and hit the road? Substitute a light swim for the bike ride and attack the hills when your cough and scratchy throat are  gone?

This question of whether to exercise when feeling sick is a common one. Generally, fitness and medical professionals say it is OK to exercise when you are feeling a bit under the weather if your symptoms are at the level of your neck or above. So, for example, if you are experiencing a mild headache, runny nose, minor sore throat, sneezing, coughing or sinus congestion, you’re probably OK to continue your workouts.

On the other hand, if your symptoms are below your neck or more systemic in nature such as body aches, chills, chest congestion, diarrhea or an upset stomach, you would probably be wise to take some time  off.

It is also wise to refrain from exercise if you have a fever, as you can risk increasing your body temperature even more. Dr. Edward Laskowski, in an article at, states that mild-to-moderate physical activity is usually OK if you have a garden-variety cold and no fever.

Another thing you can do when you wake up with the sniffles on a scheduled workout day is simply ratchet down the intensity a bit. If you were planning on going for a run, take a nice relaxing walk instead. If you were headed to a spinning class at your gym, try sneaking into a yoga class, and don’t push yourself too hard. Or maybe just go float around in the pool for 20–30 minutes with your kids.

It is important to listen to your body. If you do decide to work out when you’re feeling a bit ill, and 5–10 minutes into it you start to feel really tired or light headed, stop, head home and consider having some chicken noodle soup. (See my first book 25 Ways to Cure the Hiccups: Uncovering the Truth Behind 101 Common Myths and Misconceptions to see if chicken noodle soup is helpful in treating the common  cold.)

And remember to use proper gym etiquette when you are battling a cold and decide to work out at a fitness center. Carry a towel with you to place on the equipment you are using. When you move to another exercise station, be sure to wipe down everything you touched. Finally, if you can’t stop sneezing or coughing when you’re in the gym, head outside for a walk. Your workout friends will appreciate it!

Laskowski, E. Exercise and illness: Workout with a cold? exercise/AN01097/. Website accessed June 24, 2012.