Loving the BITE: Vinegar, Mustard, Pickle Juice and Cramp-Free Cycling


mustardIf you want quick and easy, you’ll love this week’s Loving the Bite 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 Loving the Bite.  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 pickejuicesportUniversity 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 bike, and often easier to quickly consume than pickle juice.

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 cycling.  I love it.  Have you tried pickle juice, Pickle Juice Sport, mustard, or vinegar to stop cramps on the bike?  If so, what have been your results?  This week, keep pedaling, cramp-free.

Fuel Your Ride. Nourish Your Body.

Enjoy Your Ride
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3 Responses to “ Loving the BITE: Vinegar, Mustard, Pickle Juice and Cramp-Free Cycling ”

  1. Kirk potter on August 2, 2016 at 5:58 pm

    How can I buy Pickle Sport pictured above?

  2. Kristine on October 2, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    I thoroughly enjoyed your Loving the BITE recipes. This one is quite interesting. I assume I can use the mustard packets for my marathon training.

    • Kelli, RD on October 2, 2013 at 5:06 pm

      Hi Kristine – I’m thrilled you enjoy the recipe! yes, this absolutely applies to runners and any athlete, really. Let us know how you like it if you decide to try a mustard run:)


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Sugar Alternatives for Energy and Hydration

Question: I am using the homebrew sugar formulations (sometimes added to green tea).  I am also trying to wean myself off 1/2 dose adrenalean “lip tonic delivery system” (biorhythm brand- caffeine, hoodia g, synephrine, yohimbe) capsule for energy.

My question is other than juice, can you suggest modifications in lieu of table sugar for energy and hydration.


Both raw/organic honey or agave can work great in the homebrew (substitute in the same quantities for the sugar, or to taste), but you do have to shake well in order to make sure they don’t settle out.  Have you tried either of these?  Also, make sure to use at least the minimum amount of salt recommended in the homebrew as the temps rise, you need the sodium replacement if you’re sweating.

Sports Drink Homebrew

Please send us your questions for our Expert Sports Nutritionist, Kelli Jennings to “Ask the Sports Nutritionist“. Kelli Jennings is a Registered Dietitian with a passion for healthy eating, wellness, & sports nutrition. For more information go to www.apexnutritionllc.com.

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