Electrolyte and plasma changes after ingestion of pickle juice, water, and a common carbohydrate-electrolyte solution

J Athl Train. Sep-Oct 2009;44(5):454-61. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-44.5.454.


Context: Health care professionals advocate that athletes who are susceptible to exercise-associated muscle cramps (EAMCs) should moderately increase their fluid and electrolyte intake by drinking sport drinks. Some clinicians have also claimed drinking small volumes of pickle juice effectively relieves acute EAMCs, often alleviating them within 35 seconds. Others fear ingesting pickle juice will enhance dehydration-induced hypertonicity, thereby prolonging dehydration.

Objective: To determine if ingesting small quantities of pickle juice, a carbohydrate-electrolyte (CHO-e) drink, or water increases plasma electrolytes or other selected plasma variables.

Design: Crossover study.

Setting: Exercise physiology laboratory.

Patients or other participants: Nine euhydrated, healthy men (age = 25 +/- 2 years, height = 179.4 +/- 7.2 cm, mass = 86.3 +/- 15.9 kg) completed the study.

Intervention(s): Resting blood samples were collected preingestion (-0.5 minutes); immediately postingestion (0 minutes); and at 1, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 45, and 60 minutes postingestion of 1 mL/kg body mass of pickle juice, CHO-e drink, or tap water.

Main outcome measure(s): Plasma sodium concentration, plasma magnesium concentration, plasma calcium concentration, plasma potassium concentration, plasma osmolality, and changes in plasma volume were analyzed. Urine specific gravity, osmolality, and volume were also measured to characterize hydration status.

Results: Mean fluid intake was 86.3 +/- 16.7 mL. Plasma sodium concentration, plasma magnesium concentration, plasma calcium concentration, plasma osmolality, and plasma volume did not change during the 60 minutes after ingestion of each fluid (P >or= .05). Water ingestion slightly decreased plasma potassium concentration at 60 minutes (0.21 +/- 0.14 mg/dL [0.21 +/- 0.14 mmol/L]; P <or= .05).

Conclusions: At these volumes, ingestion of pickle juice and CHO-e drink did not cause substantial changes in plasma electrolyte concentrations, plasma osmolality, or plasma volume in rested, euhydrated men. Concern that ingesting these volumes of pickle juice might exacerbate an athlete's risk of dehydration-induced hypertonicity may be unwarranted. If EAMCs are caused by large electrolyte loss due to sweating, these volumes of pickle juice or CHO-e drink are unlikely to restore any deficit incurred by exercise.

Keywords: acetic acid; hydration; osmolality; sport drinks.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Calcium / blood
  • Carbohydrates / administration & dosage*
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Dehydration / prevention & control*
  • Drinking / physiology*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnesium / blood
  • Male
  • Osmolar Concentration
  • Plasma Volume
  • Potassium / blood
  • Rehydration Solutions / administration & dosage*
  • Sodium / administration & dosage*
  • Sodium / blood
  • Thirst / physiology
  • Urinalysis
  • Water / administration & dosage*
  • Water-Electrolyte Balance / physiology*
  • Young Adult


  • Carbohydrates
  • Rehydration Solutions
  • Water
  • Sodium
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • Calcium