On any given Thursday night during the fall months, hundreds of high school football players across the country can be found downing a glass of pickle juice in an effort to prevent muscle cramps the night before their next big game.
Other athletes—in various sports at various levels—try additional methods. Stretching, focusing on hydration, and devouring bananas are common rituals.
When it comes to actually preventing or treating cramps, though, how effective are these strategies?
Pickle juice has become somewhat of an urban myth among athletes. There are even specialized sports drinks that feature it as the main ingredient. But does drinking this sour green liquid really help?
Although it's possible for someone to feel relief from drinking pickle juice, it's not a proven method to prevent the cramp altogether, or halt the negative effects immediately. In a 2013 study based on anecdotes, cramps lasted about 49 seconds less when participants drank pickle juice rather than water.
When muscles cramp, one assumption is they must be tight. Stretching prior to competition, or once a cramp occurs, has become a common practice for athletes.
While loosening the muscles can help prepare the body for physical activity, it doesn't eliminate the possibility of cramping. On a similar note, stretching and massaging a muscle at the onset of a cramp can relieve discomfort for some people, but no studies have proven their effectiveness, as these actions don't address the root cause of the issue.
There isn't direct evidence that dehydration causes cramps, but it can help create conditions where muscle cramps often occur. Many athletes cramp in higher temperatures, when dehydration is most prevalent. For this reason, they tend to focus on drinking as much liquid as they can before and during competition, or once a cramp appears.