From consuming human breastmilk to taking creatine supplements with “meth-like” ingredients, some gym rats will cut every corner available in the pursuit of a perfect beach bod. Unfortunately, cutting some of those corners could mean jeopardizing their health. Luckily, there are some natural products available for the supplement-shy, including pickle juice. With the help of The Pickle Juice Company, I decided to test the effectiveness of this briny beverage on my exercise recovery.

Muscle Cramps

If you’ve ever dealt with muscles cramps, then you know they’re awful. Every athlete has dealt with a sudden and involuntary contraction of their muscles. I know I still shudder at the term, “Charley Horse.” It can happen after a workout, in the middle of the night, or even in the middle of your workout. Muscle cramps are generally harmless, but don’t expect to be using the affected muscle group at your next workout.

Muscle cramps tend to be the result of long periods of exercise or physical labor, especially when performed in hot weather. The majority of muscle cramps develop in our leg muscles, making running a nearly impossible feat. This brings us to where pickle juice popularity all started: The Philadelphia Eagles opening game of the 2000 season against the Dallas Cowboys.

The Pickle Juice Game

Dallas is well known for its scorching temperatures and dry heat. Teams that go to play in Texas and places with similar temperatures are advised to make sure they are well hydrated before kickoff. In the preseason build-up to this meeting against their divisional rival, the Eagles training staff had begun experimenting with a new supplement that they thought could stop muscle cramps in their tracks. The players were understandably skeptical, but with temperatures reaching 109 degrees at kickoff, they decided to give it a shot.

So, how did the Eagles’ secret weapon work out in the end? The game ended in a 41-14 rout in favor of the Eagles. In what would be considered the hottest game in NFL history at the time, the Eagles offense held the ball for 39 minutes and 30 seconds while taking up nearly two-thirds of the game clock. Eagles running back Duce Staley earned 201 rushing yards on top of 61 receiving yards. Not one player was forced to sit out for even a single play due to muscle cramps.

Pennsylvania Governor at the time Edward G. Rendell likened the effectiveness of this new pickle juice supplements to a placebo effect. Little did he know there was actual science to back up pickle juice’s physiological effect on muscle cramps.

My Muscle Cramp Conundrum

Believe it or not, I was a college athlete for a time, (lacrosse), and muscle cramps on a daily basis were all too real. Let me set the scene: You just get out of a two hour-long practice that consisted of mainly running. You’re sitting on your couch trying to decompress and watch SportsCenter when BAM! One of your legs seizes up and you go crashing to the floor with a muscle that feels like it’s being choked to death. After 10 minutes of keeping your leg as straight as possible, the cramp finally subsides, but you're left feeling like someone just gave you a dead leg.

I thought my muscle cramp days were over after I graduated college, but I was wrong. With no organized sports to keep my body in check, I turned to weightlifting and cardio to stay fit. A few muscle cramps after especially long and tiresome workouts have turned into something that hinder my exercise routine on a weekly basis. I’ve always been good about staying hydrated, and at the age of 25, I thought I had a couple more years before my body started to fail me.

Aside from dehydration, muscle cramps can be caused by a variety of different factors, including overuse of muscles, muscle strain, holding a position for too long, or an underlying medical condition. Although these are all causes for muscle cramps, scientists are still trying to figure out the exact physiological cause of cramping. Dehydration and the depletion of minerals, such as potassium and calcium, are seen as the biggest contributors to muscle cramps so I figured, besides drinking water, there’s nothing I can do to remedy this little predicament.

My Pickle Juice Plan

I was content with ignoring the pain, drinking a lot of water, and dealing with muscle cramps as they presented themselves. Then one day I got an email from The Pickle Juice Company asking me if I would like to try a supplement I had never even considered, but was sitting in my own refrigerator. With the promise of no artificial ingredients and 10 times more electrolytes than your average sports drink, I decided to give it a shot. After all, I’ve done some outlandish stuff in the past in the name of fitness, and this had a lot of scientific backing.

One study conducted by researchers from the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Science at North Dakota State University asked a group of male college students to bike until the point of mild dehydration which induced toe cramps that lasted an average of two minutes and 30 seconds. Participants who were given the brine at the bottom of a pickle jar had their cramps alleviated within 85 seconds of consumption. This was 37 percent faster than participants given water and 45 percent faster than participants who didn’t drink anything.

Following a little bit of research and taste testing to see if I could stomach the briny juice (I could), I decided to go 10 days of using 100% Natural Pickle Juice Sport either before or during my workouts and 10 days without any pickle juice. Full disclosure: I expected to use pickle juice for 10 days and maybe see some changes toward the end. No one was more surprised than me when it actually started working on the very first workout.

The Results

After my first cramp-less day, I looked at the nutritional labeling to find out what this magical elixir was made of. Ingredients: Purified Water, Vinegar, Natural Flavor, Potassium, Zinc, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E. Nothing out of the ordinary, so what was the groundbreaking ingredient they included? Muscle cramps are fundamentally the result of sodium and potassium levels becoming out of whack, so potassium as a main ingredient made sense. But what about vinegar? That’s when I did some more digging and found that, in addition to hydration, pickle juice was actually tricking my body into not cramping. The vinegar in pickle juice can actually block the neurological signal that triggers muscle cramps.

Even though I used the 100% Natural Pickle Juice Sport product and swear by its benefits, there’s good news for people who shy away from buying workout supplements, or are skeptical of their safety. If you want to give pickle juice a try as a workout supplement because water and Gatorade just aren’t cutting it, try buying a jar of pickles, eating them all, draining out the brine, and drinking it. You can also tailor your workout to prevent cramps by starting off light and adding in the tough exercises toward the end. You may still cramp up and need pickle juice to prevent the dreaded post-workout Charley Horse, but cramps won’t ruin your workout.