Coaching Management, 9.4, May 2001, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm0904/bbpickle.htm
Although it has enjoyed a long history as a folk remedy in some parts of the country, pickle juice earned increased notoriety last fall when the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Dallas Cowboys 41-14 in the season-opener on a 100-degree-plus day in Dallas. Some of the Eagles credited the team’s use of small amounts of pickle juice, which they say helped them stay hydrated during the game and avoid cramps. But experts warn football coaches to be aware that pickle juice by itself is no protection against the heat.
“It’s critically important that the general public understand that the first and foremost means to avoid dehydration and its associated maladies, including cramps, is an aggressive fluid replacement program,” Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society (PFATS) President and New York Giants Head Athletic Trainer Ronnie Barnes said in a PFATS statement shortly after the Eagles win. “What we fear is that the fun the media is having with pickle juice may be doing a public disservice by overstating the need for sodium and understating the need for fluids.”
The truth is, in addition to supplements of pickle juice, the Eagles also benefited from an effective hydration regimen which included ingesting large amounts of water and Gatorade in the days leading to the game. And once at the game, the Eagles took other steps to combat the heat, such as shortening pre-game warm-ups and staying in the shade whenever possible.
But these other, more mundane, measures were overshadowed by the coverage of the “miraculous” pickle juice. In June 2000, well before the Eagles-Cowboys game, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association had released a position statement on fluid replacement for athletes, including 19 specific recommendations for athletic trainers to follow. In addition to recommending that athletic trainers work with individual athletes to determine specific plans for their hydration needs, the statement also suggested that athletes consume 17 to 20 ounces of water or sports drink two to three hours before a game or practice and another 7 to 10 ounces 10 to 20 minutes before hand. In addition, it stated fluids lost during exercise need to be replaced at a rate of 7 to 10 ounces every 10 to 20 minutes, although they noted this varies based on circumstances. The position statement also discussed the benefits of including carbohydrates, electrolytes, and sodium chloride (salt) during the hydration process, typically through the use of sports drinks.
But while fluid intake is an athlete’s best weapon against heat and dehydration, athletic trainers acknowledge that pickle juice may serve a purpose in that regimen. Some athletic trainers have reported that, when used in moderation as a supplement to a sound hydration routine, pickle juice has helped to avoid cramping, and even treat cramps after they have occurred. Other athletic trainers have offered anecdotal reports of mustard and vinegar doing the same thing. But no scientific studies have been conducted to establish why these folk remedies sometimes work.
So while coaches should feel free to ask their athletic trainers about pickle juice, it’s probably not wise to start raiding the supermarket aisles in preparation for the start of two-a-days. “We believe that, for the vast majority of athletes, the first line of defense against cramps and other dehydration-related problems is to adopt an aggressive hydration regimen with properly formulated fluids,” Barnes said. “While pickle juice may anecdotally work in selected cases, it is a public disservice to overstate the role pickle juice could or should play when we need to underscore the value of total fluid intake.”