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Some athletes swear by pickle juice and bananas, but how do they help? Quick Questions explains!
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Athletes do some weird stuff, or at least it looks kind of strange from the outside when you see a marathon runner chugging dill pickle juice before a race or downing a 10-banana smoothie for breakfast. Sporty types have sworn by these foods for decades claiming they prevent the dreaded charlie horse and other muscle cramping during intense workouts. But why even bother eating normal food when you got scientists engineering fancy sports drinks and energy gels in the lab, they probably taste at least a little bit better than ice-cold glass of briny cucumber juice. 

Well lots of athletes do use those energy gels and sports drinks but pickle juice and bananas are useful too. Scientists don't actually agree on the exact mechanism that makes muscles cramp after intense exercise but one of the more popular theories is that as we sweat, our muscles dehydrate losing electrolytes like sodium and potassium. Those electrolytes are important because they transmit nerve signals inside our muscle tissue telling it when to relax or contract. That's why sports drinks and energy gels are full of them, plus carbohydrates for extra fuel. 

A single pickle spear contains twice as much sodium as an 8-ounce cup of Gatorade and just one serving of banana has 10 times the potassium, so these foods are popular with athletes hoping to pack their muscles with electrolytes before a hard workout.

But recent studies suggest that these foods might actually be good for athletes for other unexpected reasons. In a 2010 study, 10 athletes from Brigham Young University were made to exercise until they were dehydrated which is kind of sad, and then the researchers induced muscle cramping using electricity and gave some of the subjects pickle juice, and some water, and others no drink at all. The athletes who drank pickle juice got rid of their cramps a whopping 45% faster than those who didn't drink anything and 37% faster than their buddies who drank plain water.

Oddly enough, it took only about 85 seconds for the pickle juice to take effect, not even enough time for it to be absorbed by the stomach, much less make its way to the muscles. One possibility is that the juice hitting the back of the throat somehow triggers nerves to instruct the cramping muscles to relax. With only 10 subjects though, it's hard to draw too many conclusions so more studies will have to be done before we know for sure.

Now bananas are pretty awesome too. One study in 2012 gave 14 cyclists either a sports drink or half a banana every 15 minutes over the course of a 75 kilometer bike ride. Both groups performed similarly but the group who ate bananas ended the trail with more elevated dopamine and antioxidant levels so it seems like we have plenty more to learn from bananas as well.

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