If you want quick and easy, you’ll love this week’s Healthy Fuel Recipe. Or actually, it’s more of a task. There’s some interesting research out there regarding mustard, pickles, and one of my favorite folk-medicine all-in-one-remedies, vinegar. Specifically, these foods and their effects on muscle cramps. Research like this is music to my ears. Here’s what we’ve got this week:
Recipe of the week: The Lowly Mustard Packet
- Mustard Packets
Find mustard packets – at the grocery store, fast food restaurant, maybe even in your glove compartment.
Stick them in your jersey pocket, or in your sag wagon, and roll.
If you’re prone to cramping, consume one before your ride, then one per hour, or when a cramp strikes.
Nutrition info: Each packet provides vinegar to stop cramps, turmeric for antioxidants and anti-inflammation, and up to 100 mg sodium.
You may have noticed that this week’s non-recipe is a bit different from what I usually deliver in on Tuesdays. And actually, I deliberated with whether or not to use mustard in some sort of recipe for training fuel, but decided that keeping it simple was the best way to go with a strong flavor like mustard. Especially when you’re cranking out miles on the bike.
In the last few months, I had explored the whole pickle juice phenomenon for a podcast, and its effects on cramps. Turns out, in research, pickle juice relieves cramps effectively and quickly. It had been hypothesized that the very high sodium content was the reason. However, researchers found that the relief was much too fast for the sodium to have even been digested and absorbed by the gut. It was something else. Something acidic. Something I happen to love: the likely hero is vinegar.
Although it’s not clear how, vinegar seems to work at a nerve-level, beginning its action as soon as it hits the mouth. Researchers from North Dakota State University have speculated that the muscles are cramping due to exhaustion, and misfiring. The vinegar may somehow send nervous system signals that stop it.
Mustard has not been as well studied as pickle juice, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence out there among athletes to give it a try. Many say just one packet is enough to stop cramps in their tracks. And, mustard’s a bit more portable on the trail or road, and often easier to quickly consume than pickle juice.
However, if you’d like to go the pickle juice route, you can drink it out of the jar, or you can try the Pickle Juice Sport drink.
A few other things stand out with mustard and pickle juice:
1) Sodium: Although we’re not giving sodium the spotlight or accolades for stopping these particular cramps, it is still an electrolyte that I strongly recommend as part of your training nutrition regimen. In my experience it has certainly played a role in reducing cramps and improving performance. Just 1 Tbsp. mustard has 200 mg sodium, 2 oz. pickle juice has 400+ mg sodium, and 2 oz. Pickle Juice Sport drink has ~225 mg sodium.
2) Glycogen Replenishment: It’s always important to remember that our bodies are wonderfully complex, and real foods often support them best in replenishing muscles and recovery. Somehow, it seems that vinegar promotes energy production and glycogen replenishment, at least in animal studies. Vinegar, which is chemically known as acetic acid, can provide the acetyl group that is a fundamental building block during the Krebs Cycle, metabolizing carbohydrates and fat to produce energy/ATP for cells. Yes, more reasons to love vinegar.
If you’ve missed all the other reasons for my vinegar-obsession, you can find them here. In this post, I specifically point out all the benefits of apple cider vinegar for health, fat loss, and colds/sinus issues.
Bonus Recipe: Apple Cider Vinegar Health Tonic
Lastly, although I’m don’t know of any studies showing reduced cramping when vinegar is consumed daily and proactively, I do know that there are enough reasons to do so that I recommend it strongly. Just one serving of our amazing Apple Cider Vinegar Health Tonic per day can work wonders, and may just proactively prevent cramps. Of note, I don’t recommend a daily high-sodium drink (like pickle juice) or diet both for health reasons and for an increased risk of cramps when training. When you consume a daily high-sodium diet, your sodium output in sweat increases to deal with it. When training, the increased output can put you at an increased risk of cramps. So, drink vinegar tonic daily, and only sodium pre-load beginning about 24 hours before a big ride/race.
Folk-medicine meets science meets training. I love it. Have you tried pickle juice, Pickle Juice Sport, mustard, or vinegar to stop cramps? If so, what have been your results? This week, keep pedaling, running, and climbing, cramp-free.
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