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Medical Mythbuster: Does Eating Bananas Help Prevent Muscle Cramps While Exercising?

It’s fine to have a banana or two before a big race, but if you are expecting that they will prevent painful muscle cramps you will probably be disappointed. Increasing the intake of foods that are high in electrolytes like potassium has not been shown to have much of an effect in warding off muscle cramps. While electrolytes such as potassium do play a key role in keeping water properly balanced inside and outside of your body’s cells, most researchers now believe that muscle cramps are caused by more than an imbalance of electrolyte levels. In fact, two studies of Ironman triathletes, done in 2005 and 2010, did not show any association with the electrolyte levels of the athletes and muscle cramping during exercising.

Most researchers now believe that muscle cramps are actually caused by overstimulation of the motor neurons in the nervous system that relay messages and control our muscles. There is some evidence that drinks that contain vinegar, such as pickle juice, can help prevent and relieve muscle cramping while exercising. This has nothing to do with electrolyte levels, it is because the vinegar triggers a reflex after ingestion that reduces the motor neuron activity that leads to cramping muscles. (In other words, vinegar sends a signal to the brain to tell the muscles to stop contracting and relax.) In fact, a number of studies have confirmed that pickle juice is more effective than sports drinks at treating muscle cramps, including this study at the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Science at North Dakota State University. So you may be better off drinking a little pickle juice instead of a sports drink before or during your next athletic event.

5 Responses

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  1. Posted by Felix

    This is really surprising to me. A friend told me about the banana trick (though she said if you can eat it when the cramp is just getting started, as early as you can, that’s the most effective) and initially I was very skeptical. I’ve thrown ibuprofen, paracetamol, heat, stretches, some very powerful opiate painkillers, and CBD at them so you can understand my skepticism that somehow eating a little banana was going to help! But no, so far this trick has reliably worked better than all of the listed things I’ve tried. I hope it continues to help now that I’ve potentially busted any placebo effect, because i HATE vinegar haha!

    November 16, 2021 5:22 am Reply
  2. Posted by Sharon

    I do not suffer cramps during excercise but in the night AFTER i tense excercise. Is it important to have the vinegar before the excercise or before the cramp please?

    August 6, 2021 4:10 am Reply
    • Posted by Reliant Medical Group

      Hi Sharon. The study mentioned in the article had the subject drink the pickle juice just after the cramp began, but you could try drinking pickle juice just before nighttime to see if it helps prevent cramping.

      August 6, 2021 9:30 am Reply
  3. Posted by Russell

    Well i can say i work a trade that is extremely exhausting ,during the summer i could get cramps so bad id have to pull over on the side of the road while trying to make it home. It was like having seizures from my neck to my toes last for hrs. For the last couple of years ive earen as many as 10 bananas in 5 hrs during the summer pouring sweat and not have one cramp anywhere on my body… Therse something to it i garrentee it !

    July 1, 2020 3:52 am Reply
  4. Posted by Carole Kearns

    I get terrible leg cramps-the ones that wrap around my quads are the worse. A friend told me about pickle juice and it does work!!! Every leg muscle from the tiniest one in the feet up to the quads. Luckily not all at once.

    June 29, 2020 12:17 pm Reply

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