This is a Big “Dill”... Can Magic Pickles help?
First, any ironman, marathon, or endurance training plan will work hard to disrupt your hydration and electrolytes. I personally do not know any nutritionists that would disagree. So, based on that assumption, why is there so much controversy and discussion around pickle juice and its potential training benefits? These magical vegetables are loaded with positives that range from helping your digestion to improving your athletic performance. So let's dive in to talk more about what's the big “Dill''!
Pickles, what are they?
Pickles are cucumbers. Whether by accident, or design, they are fat free and low in calories making them the perfect healthy snack. In addition, since pickles are fermented, they are high in sodium, containing around 450mg or nearly 20% of the daily recommended value in a single serving.
Doctors always say eat your vegetables. Good news, pickles are cucumbers. Therefore, loaded with vitamins, minerals, as well as powerful antioxidants, which guard against free radical damage and chronic disease. In addition, they are rich in iron, calcium, potassium, and vitamins A, C, and K.
What’s the BIG “DILL” - Benefits of Eating Pickles
1. Helps keep Electrolytes in Balance
A major benefit of pickles is the amount of sodium they contain. Not everyone will need or want the extra sodium, however if you need electrolytes, then pickles are a great option. Electrolytes are salts that everyone needs for healthy bodily function. Pickles are high in sodium, making them robust in electrolytes, which can be extremely beneficial for athletes, and restoring electrolyte balance after a workout, or during endurance performance, such as an Ironman or Marathon.
2. Treating Muscle Cramps
Pickle juice to treat cramps (EAMCs - Exercise associated muscle cramps) seems pretty far fetched. However, due to popular culture making the idea mainstream, there has been some research to investigate its effects. However, currently they have been unable to explain why it works. The theory that electrolytes and sodium were the cause was disproven in a 2014 study citing that drinking the juice did not actually replace lost salts in a timely fashion, and would take longer than the onset and resolution of an EAMC. However, a study by Kevin Miller from North Dakota State University in 2010 cited that after drinking pickle juice the EAMC duration was shortened to just 1.5 minutes. In addition, a study was run comparing the benefits with a placebo to shorten cramps, and the pickle juice was in fact beneficial and was not just enjoying a placebo effect. So why does it work? The best we have to date is the theory that when acidic acid in pickle juice contacts the nerves in the back of your throat, it triggers a reaction in the body that shuts down any overactive neurons throughout the body. Thereby shortening the duration of the EAMC. All this being said, there is still more research needed to scientifically prove its effectiveness. However, I would trust the anecdotal evidence of ultra-endurance athletes that say it works all day over a study. After all, tasting a little pickle juice shouldn’t hurt.
3. Supports Weight Loss
Great news! Pickles are low in calories and fat free, making them a perfect snack if you are watching your calories. In addition, vinegar used in the pickling process has also been shown to enhance the thermic effect, which can increase caloric burn and help regulate blood sugar to level out cravings and increase fullness.
4. Good For Gut Health
Fermented pickles and the liquid they come in are packed full of helpful organisms called probiotics. These are beneficial bacteria that help keep your gut in balance which can have a beneficial effect on digestion, immunity, anxiety, depression , and even mood. However, pay special attention to whether the pickles are refrigerated or not, have yellow dyes, and if they are fermented in water or vinegar.
Pickle Benefits: Takeaway
In summary, pickles are a great low calorie, tasty, fat free, snack that is great to help you manage your calories, replace some electrolytes, squeeze in some extra probiotics, while having the potential of helping you through or just avoiding one of the more painful experiences in endurance sports, the EAMC.