Saturday, June 12, 2010

Cramps? Maybe you should try switchel

On 9 June 2010 the New York Times reported on some research at Brigham Young University indicating that pickle juice was effective in relieving muscle cramps--more effective than water alone. In other research mentioned in the same article, pure vinegar relieved cramping even more rapidly than pickle juice.

Vinegar isn't an ingredient of any mass-market sports drink that I know of, especially the one with the name Florida's state reptile in its name. However, back before Dr. Robert Cade introduced sugary brine to sports, athletes drank a variety of other things. A couple of sources I stumbled across mentioned oatmeal water. In pursuing this further, I found out about switchel.

Switchel goes back hundreds of years, which is before just about anything we'd recognize as a commercial beverages industry or organized sports. Recipes vary, but the principal ingredients were water, vinegar, and some sort of sweetener (sugar, honey, molasses, fruit juice, or something else). Forget about sports; people worked back then. Laborers drank switchel. It probably cost less than short beer and was less likely to interfere with a day's work. Was the vinegar added for taste, or to treat muscle cramping?

The research on muscle cramping may just result in a revival of switchel as a sports drink. It'll have a new name and come with a fancy label and artificial color and artificial flavor and sports star endorsements, but it will still be water and vinegar and sugar. If you don't want to wait then you could mix up a batch in your kitchen today.



  1. Interesting article!! As I was reading this, something sounded familiar and I remembered what it was! A pickle sports drink I had seen:

  2. Vinegar is a weak electrolyte. I was surprised by the rapidity of response. Maybe the stomach mucosa can deliver the electrolytes to the blood quickly but I also wonder whether part of the response may be hormonal i.e. the body delivers an endogenous muscle relaxer after being signaled by the acid or something else in vinegar.

    There was a local 'sports drink' in Alabama in the 80's called Jogging-In-A-Jar. You can find the recipe on line but basically it's flavored vinegar and was thought to stem appetite and burn fat.