Vibrant yellow and green liquids may be a familiar sight when it comes to Gatorade or other electrolyte workout beverages, but there’s another contender with potential health and hydration benefits: pickle juice.
Since not all cucumbers are created (or rather pickled) equal, “Good Morning America” tapped registered dietitian Matthew Black, who has published his pickle findings at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, to break down what people should know about the ingredients, probiotic properties and myths surrounding the highly-buzzed-about beverage.
“With the increase in public interest for consuming pickle juice, there are newer products on the market that are formulations of pickle juice with added ingredients, which may include vitamins, minerals and electrolytes,” Black told “GMA.”
Pickle juice ingredients, explained
Right off the bat, Black said the possible benefits on the body “depend on the type of pickle juice.”
“Some pickle juice products are made from packing cucumbers into a mixture of mostly vinegar and salt, which would not contain probiotics, as this does not involve the process of fermentation,” he explained. “The natural way for pickle juice to contain probiotics is for the cucumbers to be packed in a solution of salt water — also referred to as brine — and allowed to set until bacteria growth occurs and consumes most of the carbohydrates present in the cucumber.”
The bacteria convert carbohydrates into various byproducts, including carbon dioxide and acids that produce the tart vinegar-like flavor, and help preserve the cucumbers, as well as add to their flavor.
Pickle juice and athletic recovery
“Many athletes use strategies these days to improve athletic performance that have little or no scientific support,” Black said. “Studies have indicated that athletes consuming varying amounts of pickle juice pre or post workout [saw] little to no effect on metrics such as performance, core temperature and hydration.”
Some research reviewed by Black, however, has shown that pickle juice can aid in the reduction of and recovery from muscle cramps in mildly dehydrated subjects.
“Interestingly, the mechanism of action behind this was not due to pickle juice replenishing fluid and electrolytes as previously thought,” he said. “Instead, researchers suspect that ingesting pickle juice plays some role in inhibiting the firing of alpha motor neurons from the cramping muscle.”
“Muscle cramps can be caused by numerous factors, including electrolyte imbalance, dehydration, and muscle fatigue,” he continued, adding that this is why drinks with sodium, potassium, magnesium, and chloride or calcium “may help reduce muscle cramps.”
Black reiterated that “athletes should ensure they are properly hydrated before, during and following workouts to help prevent cramping.”
Benefits of pickle juice for the body
“If you are consuming pickle juice from [naturally] fermented pickles, there could be some benefit from the probiotics it contains,” Black said, cautioning that “most commercially produced pickles on store shelves are not fermented.”
In order to find a fermented pickle product, Black said it will likely “be clearly labeled as such and may also use the term ‘probiotics’ on the package.”
“They may also list the number of CFUs, [or colony forming units], on the label, which indicates the number of viable bacteria present. In theory, the higher the CFUs, the greater the benefit for intestinal health.”
Probiotics are natural sources of healthy bacteria that help promote gut health. Black said this is why “some probiotics may aid in the reduction of inflammatory processes,” which could be beneficial for athletes trying to prevent muscle cramping.
The sodium and potassium in pickle juice can also serve as a hydrating way to replenish lost electrolyte stores in the case of a hangover, Black wrote last year for the OSU Wexner Medical Center.
Additionally, he said that according to some research, pickle juice that contains vinegar could improve the body’s response to insulin, which controls the body’s blood sugar level. However, he clarified that “there aren’t any established guidelines for how much pickle juice you should drink and whether you should drink the juice before or after meals.”
How to make natural electrolyte drinks at home
“There are different recipes online for making homemade concoctions of sports electrolyte drinks,” Black said. “If desired, it is possible to combine different 100% fruit or vegetable juices — orange, pineapple or tomato — with additional ingredients such as lemon, lime juice, coconut water, and small amounts of honey or syrup, along with the addition of salt.”
When using tomato juice as a base, Black said “the addition of salt may not be necessary” because “it already contains high amounts of sodium.”