Researchers say the juice at the bottom of a pickle jar is more effective at staving off crippling muscle cramps than water.
To prove the salty premise long believed by some trainers and serious athletes, scientists induced toe cramps in male college students after forcing the subjects to bike to the point of mild dehydration. The average cramp lasted about two minutes and 30 seconds.
They then repeated the experiment and gave the cramp-afflicted athletes "2.5 ounces of either deionized water or pickle juice, strained from a jar of ordinary Vlasic dills," according to The New York Times' Well blog.
Those who downed the brine stopped complaining of cramping within 85 seconds -- about 37 percent faster than the water drinkers and 45 percent faster than when they didn't drink anything at all.
The study might come as a shock to some fitness fanatics, but it didn't surprise Brandon Brooks, who has been selling a dill-flavored athletic drink called Pickle Juice Sport for years.
"I rolled it out as a novelty beverage, but pretty soon the trainers and the teams were saying, 'You guys have the tiger by the tail here -- you don't know what you're dealing with,'" said Brooks, who's found a way to brew the drink without even using any pickles.
Brooks' beverage has become a common sight on the bike frames of cyclists, in the fridges of triathletes, and even on NFL sidelines, where he says the New York Giants have been his biggest customer.
He's even signed Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten to endorse the drink.
According to Brooks, Pickle Juice Sport offers athletes the right balance of salt, fluids and vinegar -- yes, vinegar -- that they need to keep cramps at bay.
"Too much vinegar can cause the system to purge in an athletic setting -- which is the last thing you want," he said. "We found a good balance."
Like regular sports drinks, Pickle Juice Sport is loaded with electrolytes, but Brooks argues that the addition of vinegar helps deliver the much-needed liquid to the parts of the body that crave it most.
"The salt retains the fluids and the vinegar penetrates the muscle," said Brooks, who urges athletes to down about 8 ounces of his beverage alongside their regular servings of water or sports drinks. "You really need both agents to make it work."
Dr. Kevin Miller, the lead author of the study, told the Times he thinks pickle brine helps cure cramps because it triggers a nerve reaction.
In fact, pickle brine seemed to ease cramp pains so quickly that he doubts it even had time to leave athletes' stomaches before it started to work.
Instead, Miller and the other researchers argued that pickle juice might spark some kind of "neurally mediated reflex" that helps give the right cues to misfiring muscles, which are thought to cause cramps.
Though the study offers some concrete proof that pickle juice can quickly treat muscle cramps, the salty drink is still just a drop in the ocean at major sporting events compared to water and other sports drinks.
In the New York City Marathon, for example, volunteers reportedly gave runners 62,370 gallons of water and 32,040 gallons of Gatorade in 2,250,000 paper cups -- but as far as New York Road Runners Club spokeswoman Drea Braxmeier knows, not a single runner has asked for pickle brine.
"No, we actually have never had that request," she said. "It seems like the Gatorade has been working pretty well so far."