WHY SOME ATHLETES ARE TURNING TO PICKLE JUICE DURING COMPETITION
FRANCES TIAFOE was struggling. Up two sets on Grigor Dimitrov in the fourth round of last month's Australian Open, the 21-year-old felt his body starting to falter.
"I was trying to stay alive," Tiafoe recalled after the match. "I was downing pickle juice."
Sipping during changeovers, Tiafoe ended up beating Dimitrov in four sets. As bad as it might taste (Tiafoe's verdict: "terrible"), the brine seems to have helped him fend off cramps to reach his first Grand Slam quarterfinals.
"There's not a ton of research out there, which doesn't mean it can't be effective or doesn't work," says Stacy Goldberg, a nutrition consultant who previously worked for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons. "It's not going to be a replacement for water or Gatorade."
It's not clear why pickle juice relieves cramps. Like traditional sports drinks, it contains high concentrations of sodium, which athletes lose when they sweat, and potassium, an electrolyte. But studies have suggested pickle juice actually provokes a neurological reflex that prevents muscles from cramping.
"There are a lot of athletes that swear by it—they don't care exactly how it's working," says U.S. Olympic Committee senior sport dietician Alicia Glass. "As evidence-based practitioners, we would like to know exactly what it is before we start recommending it."
Tiafoe isn't the only athlete quaffing pickle juice during competition. New Jersey Devils winger Blake Coleman started drinking it at Miami (Ohio), and he's continued guzzling it in the NHL. He readies two eight-ounce bottles of P20 pickle juice—his own signature line—before every game.
"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."
Glass is wary of pickle juice's acidity, so for athletes seeking a similar sodium fix without risk of reflux or indigestion, she suggests adding a couple of pinches of salt to a sports drink. There's also the matter of taste, which—well, to each their own.
"I don't mind it," Coleman says. "But I do it more for the effect than the flavor."
GULP FOR CARE
Pickle juice isn't the only odd drink that purportedly helps athletes. Hold your nose before trying these.
Tart cherry juice, which is rich with antioxidants, reduces inflammation and boosts immunity. Studies have also suggested it can help reduce muscle pain after exercise.
Apple cider vinegar is often portrayed as an elixir, but beware claims that it can lower blood sugar or high blood pressure. Some evidence suggests that consuming small amounts can improve digestion.
Beet juice has dietary nitrates that assist with the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to cells. Studies indicate that drinking it can increase stamina and improve muscle efficiency.