The main ingredient in pickles is used to clean parquet, it has a disgusting taste and is fashionable among athletes.
First round of the Miami Masters 1000. The young promise of Spanish tennis, Nicola Kuhn, faces Mischa Zverev. After enjoying several match balls in the second set, he faces the final sleeve with 2-2 and 30-40 in his service, a situation in which the emotion of this sport is maximum. There are barely four strokes after the serve and, as he moves towards the ball, the Valencian falls down. Bocabajo, hieratic, the pain takes over his legs and he writhes on the floor crying inconsolably. Full Time.
All because of the cramps, an enemy of athletes that arises from a combination of dehydration, loss of electrolytes, fatigue and heat (a factor that we all must know how to face if we do not want to end up in the emergency room). The spasms caused by the sustained and involuntary contraction of the muscles usually occur due to lack of oxygenation, added to the loss of mineral salts and fluid during a prolonged effort. The most effective ‘antidote’? Take a drink of pickle juice, or, what is the same, a shot of the brine contained in a jar of pickles … If you dare.
It is a practice deeply rooted in the US, where athletes seem to have a special creativity to recycle this liquid; For example, the New York Mets baseball player Nolan Ryan, a classic pitcher of the team, used to put the tips of his fingers in this juice because he said he avoided blisters. Currently, and in Spain, the tendency is not to pick your fingers, but it does begin to extend the use of this brew as a remedy for cramps. A standard bottle of elixir contains about 75 milliliters of filtered water, organic vinegar, salt, dill oil, potassium, zinc and vitamins C and E. It is estimated that this combination contains ten times more electrolytes than isotonic drinks, one of the alternatives to the most common water.
One of the keys that have been proposed to justify the effectiveness of pickle juice is that, according to the doctor specialized in the digestive system Luis Miguel Benito, “improves ion transport through muscle fibers.” That is to say, it restores the levels of sodium and potassium (ions) lost during the physical exercise of high demand, which are responsible for the transmission of the electrical impulses that enable the correct contraction of the muscles. In addition, adds the presenter of the TVE Saber Vivir program, “they are prebiotics, since they feed the good bacteria of the intestine”. These microorganisms play a key role in metabolism because they facilitate the breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins and fiber. The idea is that all of this directly affects resistance and recovery, as well as mental strength, which are decisive factors to succeed in sport.
Hydration 37% faster than water
Another strength of this juice is its speed of action. According to a study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, in 2010, the cramps disappear 35 seconds after ingesting the liquid. The results of Kevin Miller’s research, which according to the book explains The first 20 minutes, go in the same line. The work includes an experiment in which ten men were asked to pedal at half-hour intervals, with five minutes of rest, in a warm environment that caused them to lose 3% of their body weight by sweating. After the effort, the scientists stimulated their tibial nerves, located in the ankles, with sequences of electrical discharges that produced cramps in the big toes.
At that time, some subjects were offered 70 milliliters of deionized water while others drank the same amount of gherkin juice. The discomfort disappeared at 85 seconds in the last case, 37% earlier than among those who hydrated in a conventional manner. And the hydration speed is not the only difference; water can aggravate dehydration because, if the cramp is caused by lack of potassium (a fundamental micronutrient for athletes and very abundant in bananas), adding fluid to the body can cause the mineral to dilute even more in the body, points out the specialist of the digestive system Luis Miguel Benito.
Of course, however interesting the data collected in the laboratory may be, these experiments do not provide a satisfactory explanation about the mechanisms of action of the remedy that we all throw when we open a jar of gherkins in vinegar. It is impossible for pickle juice to recover the body within a few seconds, as suggested by the South African sports physician Martin Schwellnus since 1997, when he formulated his theory that the power base of the elixir may be in its ability to influence the neurotransmitters – which are molecules that transmit nerve impulses between cells.
The acetic acid in vinegar, which is the active principle of this remedy, stimulates a set of receptors in the mouth, throat and stomach that inhibit the electrical signal of the cramp. “By ingesting something so sour you disconnect the switch … At that moment the brain is thinking that it has to contract the muscle, but if you take something very strong the channel is cut and that makes it relax before. last less “, explains the dietitian-nutritionist of the Leganés Bárbara Sánchez. Getting shorter cramps is a relief when your body reaches its limit, but the professional football team warns that this remedy is not infallible, but says it works. “In some American marathons tubes are given at the refreshment points,” he says.
A ‘miraculous’ tonic that football players do not swallow
Not all are virtues. The American tennis player Frances Tiafoe confessed that he reached the quarterfinals of the last Australian Open, after defeating Dimitrov, thanks to this powerful ally. But he also admitted that it was not easy … to ally with this tonic. “I kept myself alive swallowing pickled juice, it tastes terrible,” he said at the end of the duel. The power of its acidity makes it a delicacy not suitable for gourmets. “The athletes, just to scratch seconds, take it without problems, but with the players I have not succeeded, they complain about everything, either they taste good or they do not want it,” Sanchez reveals. Although there are exceptions. For example, a few months ago the distorted image of Arsenal footballer Lucas Torreira went viral, spitting the anticalambres elixir on the turf.
Maybe in the future there are alternatives for those who understandably refuse to swallow an elixir like the vinegar used to pick pickles. Neurobiologist Bruce Bean and Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Rod MacKinnon discovered three years ago that other substances such as mustard and capsaicin from hot peppers act more vigorously, improving the formula.
In any case, and as much as innovation is unstoppable, the balance between diet, training and rest continues to provide the strongest shield against injuries. There are no miraculous formulas that allow us to forget one of the fundamental maxims, that of prevention. “The main thing is to get hydrated to the competition because the muscles need water for all the chemical processes they do, it’s convenient to warm up and stretch well at the end,” concludes Sanchez.