Pickle juice sports drinks may be a “hack” utilized by some athletes to prevent cramps and fatigue, but what do studies actually say? Are there any benefits to drinking pickle juice?
Most experts agree that more research focused on the potential beneficial effects of salty drinks for athletic performance are needed. However, there are some studies that have shown pickle juice (PJ) may work just as well as water at reducing legs cramps and exhaustion. It might also possibly help to blunt spikes and dips in blood sugar levels, providing more steady energy and offering other metabolic perks.
What Is Pickle Juice?
As the name implies, pickle juice is the liquid left behind in a pickle jar once you’ve eaten all the actual pickles.
What is pickle juice made of? It depends on the exact kind of pickles and how they are made. Most often, commercially-made pickle juice ingredients include water, sea salt and vinegar, and sometimes garlic, peppercorns, herbs and/or spices.
Real, fermented pickles are made in a “brine” solution that is very salty but does not contain vinegar. The salt helps to transform sugars in the cucumbers via fermentation, resulting in a crispy, tangy treat.
Does pickle juice have electrolytes? Most standard pickles and their juices are high in sodium and contain potassium and water, but otherwise are lacking nutrients.
Pickles themselves (made from cucumbers) do contain some vitamins and antioxidants, such as vitamin A and E, so it’s best to have both the pickles and their juices if possible. Fermented pickles also supply probiotic bacteria which have a multiple of benefits.
According to the USDA, roughly 1/2 cup (or 4 ounces) of pickle juice contains about:
- 20 calories:
- 0 grams protein or fat
- 4 grams carbohydrates
- 920 mg sodium
According to recent studies, below are some potential benefits and uses for pickle juice:
1. May Help Reduce Leg Cramps Caused By Dehydration
While there’s many potential causes of leg cramps, they’re often associated with fluid and electrolyte loss or disturbances. This is especially true following vigorous exercise, which depletes fluids due to increased sweating.
Certain athletes report experiencing good results when drinking pickle juice for leg cramps, but study results have been mixed overall.
While there’s evidence demonstrating that drinking small volumes of PJ (about 1 mL per kg body mass) prior to exercise may help reduce the duration of electrically induced muscle cramps and, therefore, allow athletes to perform better, other results have not found this to be true.
In one study, of 337 athletic trainers that were polled, 63 (19 percent) reported haven given PJ to their athletes to prevent exercise-associated muscle cramps. The study found that most of these clinicians reported haven instructed athletes to ingest 70 to 200 mL of PJ about 30 to 60 minutes before exercise.
After researchers tested the effects of PJ consumption on aerobic performance or thermoregulation, they concluded, “Ingesting small volumes of PJ with water before exercise is unlikely to affect athletic performance or select thermoregulatory variables.”
But a separate 2014 study found conflicting results. A key takeaway of the study? “Ingesting small volumes of PJ may be ineffective in alleviating exercise-associated muscle cramps by replenishing electrolytes if the cramps are due to Na+ (sodium), K+ (potassium), or fluid imbalances.”
The bottom line? You can probably help prevent cramps by drinking enough water throughout the day and also eating nutrient-dense foods, but if you’re doing something like endurance training, salty juices can be a good way to keep you hydrated since sodium causes you to retain more water.
2. Possibly Helps Athletic Performance
Is pickle juice good for you if you’re looking to boost your stamina?
According to researchers, drinking high-sodium drinks can cause blood volume expansion which may allow athletes to sweat at higher rates and exercise with greater skin blood flow, leading to longer exercise duration. This might potentially prevent premature fatigue by helping to regulate the body’s core temperature.
As researchers from one study explain, “This may explain why some participants can exercise longer when they ingest beverages containing sodium.”
While some experts worry that PJ could worsen dehydration, one of the studies mentioned above found it did not exacerbate exercise-induced hypertonicity (muscle tension) or cause hyperkalemia (high potassium). But, consuming small volumes of PJ did not fully replenish electrolytes and fluid losses, either.
3. May Have Gut Health and Digestive Benefits
Real pickles are made via the process of fermentation, which creates healthy microbes (probiotics) that can help support gut health and digestion.
Does drinking pickle juice help you lose weight? This of course depends on how it fits into your overall diet. Because it’s high in sodium, it may cause you to retain water and experiencing bloating.
On the hand, there’s some evidence that eating fermented foods, including pickles along with their juice, may help to slow the process of gastric emptying, leading you to feel fuller, and to support other metabolic processes.
4. Can Support Blood Sugar Balance and Metabolic Health
Although it’s best to consume fermented pickle juice for the most benefits, the type made with vinegar does offer the benefit of helping to promote insulin sensitivity.
Certain studies have found that vinegar taken before meals can support those with metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes by assisting with glucose (sugar) uptake in muscles. There’s also evidence that consuming vinegar may be helpful for maintaining a healthy weight.
Is pickle juice good for your kidneys and liver? Because it may lead to better hydration (when consumed in small quantities) and blood sugar management, it can potentially prevent complications tied to metabolic dysfunction, which can include kidney, heart and liver damage.
5. May Ease Hangovers
Does pickle juice for hangovers really work? If you can stomach downing a few ounces, you may find it reduces symptoms like headaches, fatigue and heartburn following a night of drinking.
This is due to its ability to replenish lost electrolytes and fluids. Some speculate that an increased need for salt and minerals is the reason why pregnant women crave pickle juice, especially if they’re experiencing symptoms nausea, bloating and fatigue, which are common during hangovers, too.
For the best results, try having a small amount with extra water or juice, which will further help to counteract dehydration.
How to Make
Fermented pickles and their juices (or lacto fermented pickles) require a curing process that usually takes a few days to a few weeks. Fermentation is a pickling method where the acidity comes from lactic acid fermentation. The starches and sugars in the cucumbers are converted into lactic acid by the bacteria lactobacilli, giving the pickles a sour smell and taste.
If you’re interested in making your own salty pickle concoction, try this basic pickle juice recipe:
Fermented Pickles Recipe
This includes both pickles and their juices, resulting in one 16-ounce jar:
- 7–8 small, unwaxed cucumbers (3–4 inches long) — pickling or “Kirby” cucumbers are usually the perfect size
- 6–8 sprigs of fresh dill
- 1.5 cups filtered water
- 1.75 tablespoons sea salt
- (optional for flavor) 2–3 cloves of peeled garlic, cut in half, then smashed, 1 teaspoon mustard seeds, 1 teaspoon dried celery leaves, 3/4 teaspoon peppercorns
- To start, combine the salt and water. Allow it to sit until the salt dissolves.
- Thoroughly wash the cucumbers. You may leave them whole, cut the tips off on both ends, cut them in half or chop into quarters like spears.
- In the jar, put half the sprigs of dill, garlic cloves, mustard seeds, dried celery and peppercorns. Tightly pack the cucumbers into the jar, then top them off with the rest of the dill.
- So the cucumbers stay below the brine, cut one cucumber in half and place the pieces horizontally at the top.
- Now, pour the salt water into the jar, completely covering the cucumbers.
- Place the lid on the jar, but do not seal it. Place the jar on a countertop and wait for fermentation to take place.
- Wait for about 4–10 days. You can taste the pickles throughout the process to see if the texture and flavor is where you want it to be. Once you are happy with your work, tighten the lid and refrigerate.
- The pickles and juice will last about 7–8 days in the refrigerator. If you don’t find the salty taste of the juice alone appealing, try combining it with other flavors or some water. You can also save the brine to make more pickles, or use it to ferment other vegetables such as green beans, carrots, peppers and beets.
Prefer not to buy your own and wondering where to buy pickle juice?
The easiest way to obtain this drink is by purchasing a jar of fermented pickles and keeping the liquid that remains once the pickles are gone. However, due to the rise in popularity of this drink, it’s now possible to find pickle juice sports drinks, shots and even slushies in some health food stores.
How much pickle juice is too much? You’re most likely to experience benefits of drinking pickle juice while minimizing the risk for side effects if you consume it in small amounts. About 1.5 to 3 ounces of pickle juice per day is a good amount for most healthy adults.
What are the side effects of drinking pickle juice? While it depends on the person and a number of factors, such as their level of hydration and physical activity level, some some scientists have advised against drinking PJ due to concerns related to high sodium consumption.
Salty drinks can be problematic for certain people, such as those who have high blood pressure, so these types of drinks should be avoided if you’re following a low-sodium diet. The USDA recommends that adults consume up to 2,300 milligrams a day of sodium, and about three ounces of pickle juice will provide one-third of this amount.
It’s possible that drinking PJ may cause reactions including: negatively affected performance due to increased dehydration, a harder time getting rehydrated, stomach upset and nausea, issues with blood pressure. Another issue is that regularly consuming salty foods and drinks builds your “tolerance” to the taste of salt, making you crave saltiness more and reducing the pleasure you get from moderately seasoned, natural foods.
- Health benefits of pickle juice are debatable, but may include: helping to prevent leg cramps and exhaustion, supporting athletic performance and gut health, and providing some enzymes and antioxidants.
- The best way to make pickle juice at home is to ferment your own pickles and then keep the juice. This is easy to do and requires cucumbers, water, salt and optional herbs.
- Is pickle juice ever bad for you or likely to cause side effects? Because it’s very high in sodium, it may contribute to dehydration or increased blood pressure in some people. Nausea and an upset stomach are also possible, especially if you drink too much.