athlete, nutrition, sports

Pickles and Chocolate: Not Just for Pregnancy Anymore!

Go, Go, Go!


The day starts with a 6am swim practice for Suzie. As soon as school lets out you pick up Jimmy and his two teammates to get them to soccer practice, Suzie then goes to dance. All the while they are eating a granola bar as a snack to tide them over until dinner. The schedules can be exhausting for both parents and young athletes alike. This is when the guilt factor sinks in for us all: are we providing enough good food to keep our athletes healthy and strong?

The Young Athlete

There are currently more than 21 million kids between the ages of 6 and 17 that participate in competitive sports in the United States. Many students compete in sports nearly all year which will take a toll on even the healthiest of athletes. Sore muscles and growing bones are often affected by the impact of frequent play. What does this mean for your athlete? Should you stop your child from participating in these sports? Of course not!

Too Much Sugar

We all know that obesity is a major problem in the United States. Keeping kids active in sports can help them stay lean, and has many other benefits as well such as building confidence and giving kids a sense of belonging in a group.  As a parent, one of your toughest jobs is providing your athlete with proper nutrition to compete while running them from school to practice or games often on the run. The best diet consists of the old standards including fruits, veggies, lean protein, and whole grains. But when time is short and athletes muscles are stressed to the limits there are a few tricks to help them keep their muscles strong.

chocolate milk

Got Milk?

This is where chocolate milk comes into play. Chocolate milk has got a bit of a bad reputation because it has sugar which can be unhealthy. But in the case of the competitive athlete chocolate milk has been shown to be one of the best muscle recovery drinks. Researchers have shown that the 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein found in chocolate milk is optimal for muscle recovery and better than other commercial sports drinks or water. To get all of chocolate milk’s benefits, the best time to drink it is within 20 minutes of completing activity and no more than 30 to 60 minutes after.

How does it work?

Not to bring up horrid memories of high school science class but the bottom line is in the sugar in the chocolate milk gets transported into the muscle where it gets converted into glycogen which was depleted during exercise. When chocolate milk is consumed 20 minutes after exercise it results in a spike in insulin levels. The insulin transports sugar to the muscles when glycogen stores are at their lowest levels. The sugar becomes glycogen that then allows for muscle protein repair and growth.  Simply amazing. It’s a win-win for parents and young athletes. Kids get to drink something they perceive as a treat and parents can feel great about it!

So how much is enough?

The amount of chocolate milk that is needed for recovery is based on number of factors. Age, weight, and intensity of activity all factor in to how much your body will need. Experts say that 8-16 ounces of chocolate milk is sufficient to aid in post-workout muscle recovery. For young athletes it would be safe to say that 8 ounce of chocolate milk should be adequate.  Let your athlete enjoy their chocolate milk after their activity. It is just another small way of encouraging them to continue to lead active lifestyles. Eight ounces is a short glass of milk (about the size of the old sippy cups she used to have when she was a baby) or the little carton you used to get in school for lunch. Too much and you will run the risk to extra calories!

Pickle Juice and football


It is not unusual to hear athletes and trainers discussing the benefits of pickle juice. The brine that gives us great tasting pickles for our burgers has been noted to help athletes with performance. Pickle juice fame began back in 2000 with the opening football game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles. The trainer for the Eagles had encouraged the players to drink pickle juice prior to the game. The players were skeptical, as you might imagine. However there was a heat wave in Dallas and the temperatures on the field at kick off had reached 109 degrees so they complied. The result was the Eagles beating the Cowboys 41-14. During the game not one Eagle player had to sit out for cramps, a remarkable achievement given the scorching temperatures. As so began a trend.

Muscle Recovery

As the pickle juice craze began so did the research. Inquiring minds want answers. Can pickle juice really help your muscles recover and enhance performance? Most experts believed that the salt in the pickle juice helped restore the electrolytes. It would make sense since sweat contains salts and it must be replaced. It turned out though that this was not the benefit that pickle juice provided. One popular study done in 2010 looked at pickle juice, carbohydrate drinks, and water. The end result was that there was no difference in electrolyte replacement with the three drinks. In other words, the salt was not the answer. Pickle juice had no effect on insulin spikes or glycogen stores either. Pickle juice is not an effective beverage for muscle recovery. But the Eagles won and didn’t have any cramps? How could that be?

Cramps! Ouch!


Do not lose faith in the little green delicacy yet. There is still benefit to drinking pickle juice. Studies found that drinking pickle juice during muscle cramps resulted in relief quickly. Muscle cramps have been shown to halt within 85 seconds of drinking the juice. Anyone that has ever suffered from muscle cramps knows that they are excruciating. Anything that can quickly relieve the discomfort is a welcome treat.

It’s in the Brine


Experts again were on a mission to find answers. They found that they resolution of the cramps was not a direct result of the sodium or potassium that can be found in pickle juice. It was the vinegar, or acetic acid, in the brine that resulted in muscle cramp relief. The vinegar is thought to trigger a nerve reflex that sends a message to disrupt the misfiring muscle. It only took 2.5 ounces of pickle juice to provide the quick relief.

Enjoy their passion

So next time you are heading out to a hectic weekend of dance competitions, soccer tournaments or gymnastics meets be sure to pack properly. Every cooler should be full of water, granola bars, cheese sticks, and fruit. But this weekend remember your muscle recovery and cramp relief remedies, chocolate milk and a jar of pickles (well everyone likes a pickle for a snack right?). When your athlete is competing you will be confident knowing you are continuing to help them stay strong and compete well in the activity that makes them happy.

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