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Watermelon, Beetroot and Pickle Juice Improve Performance?

Posted Aug 23 2013 3:06pm
Many athletes are on the "Juice" and not just the illegal anabolic kind.  Watermelon, beetroot and pickle juice are gaining a reputation amongst athletes and the scientific community for their supposed performance enhancing properties.  Though not likely found in your refrigerator, these 3 juices are popping up in athletic rooms and gyms all over.  What's all the hype about?

One Caveat: I believe most humans don't need any fruit juices  in their diets.  They are chock full of fructose ( arguably the worst sugar for weight gain ) and empty calories. Personally,  I rarely if ever juice because it strips most if not all the insoluble and soluble fiber from the fruit/vegetable leaving you to contend with a fructose bomb (this is especially so with juicing fruits). From what I understand using a blender is just a just a little better but not by that much...the super fast blades literally decimate the insoluble fiber  (much more than your teeth are capable of doing).  This potentiates the rate of absorption so much so if you are blending fruit, you get a fructose bomb again. Our bodies aren't equipped to deal with the huge sugar spikes from lets say 3 apples and 2 carrots all at once.  Elite athletes with no insulin issues or weight control problems may however benefit from some juices.

Watermelon Juice 

This is usually the red juice that stains the front of my son's shirt when he eats a big wedge of this pit-less super fruit. Remember when watermelons used to have pits? I digress. Watermelon is a rich natural source of lycopene and L-citrulline, a carotenoid and amino acid of great nutritional interest because of their and potential health benefits.  L-citrulline is specially interesting because it potentiates muscle protein synthesis (mechanism by which the body affects repair and muscle growth). A 2013 study in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry showed that ingesting watermelon juice can have beneficial effect on muscle soreness and recovery.  Researchers compared watermelon juice, watermelon juice with added L-citrulline and a control (a placebo fruit flavored drink with no watermelon or L-citrulline) to test their effect on delayed onset muscle soreness.  The participants who consumed both types of watermelon juices experienced substantially less muscle soreness and recovery heart rate than the control group. It seems to work.  Hmm....
Take Home Message: If you are interested in decreasing your muscle soreness drink a glass of fresh (not pasteurized) watermelon juice prior to a workout.  It just may speed up your recovery time. I would not, however, make a habit of it due to the juice's high sugar content.  Do a bit of self experimentation and see if eating a cup of watermelon (more fiber which will slow down your insulin response ) will have the same effect as the watermelon juice on your post workout soreness).  The research is promising but further study is necessary before watermelon juice can be added to the list of true egogenic aids.

Beetroot Juice

I love myself some beet and goat cheese salads and even the occasional borscht soups, but beetroot juice? Sounds a little unappetizing. Yuck! The performance enhancing claims of beetroot juice are backed by plenty of well executed peer reviewed research, making it one of the the most promising ergogenic (& medicinal) aids to come down the pike in awhile.  Several 2012 Olympic teams consumed beet juice regularly as part of their training.  Beets are a great source of inorganic nitrates (not the kind in deli meats and hot dogs). These nitrates are converted to nitric oxide, which improves blood pressure , muscle contractions, neurotransmission, among other things.  Drinking beetroot juice seems to increase one's tolerance to high intensity exercise and enhances  stamina by up to 16% . Professor Andy Jones of the University of Exeter’s School of Sport and Health Sciences  said, "We were amazed by the effects of beetroot juice on oxygen uptake because these effects cannot be achieved by any other known means, including training." Exactly which mechanisms contribute to the enhanced performance boosts remain unclear but is likely due to multiple factors working concurrently. Apparently, eating beets will not give you the same benefit as drinking the juice.  The research also demonstrates that drinking it regularly will produce the positive cumulative results.  Having a quick glass before a race will likely do nothing but necessitate a visit to the port-o-potty sooner than expected. 

Take Home Message: Drinking 1 to 2 cups of beetroot juice daily may lower your blood pressure and boost your cardiovascular exercise response.  The science is strong and I'd be surprised if we don't start seeing beetroot juice at the local bodega right next to the Gatorade. 

Pickle Juice

Open up any pro athletic team's fridge and you are likely to find some pickle juice sitting there.  Yup, the same type found in a jar of Vlasic Sour Dills.  It has been discovered that pickle juice can get rid of a muscle cramp faster than any other known method. Bananas relieving cramps is a old wives tale. The Journal of American College of Sports Medicine recruited 10 volunteers to have their big toe subjected to a electrostimulated painful muscle cramp.  Half were given water and the other half pickle juice.  The results fleshed out two interesting points
  • For those who drank pickle juice the muscle cramp was relieved so quickly (before the beverage was even digested), it is postulated the acid from the vinegar had an immediate effect on the nervous system receptors within the mouth.  This is just a theory. 
  • Muscle cramps are not solely the result of dehydration as previously believed.  Cramps may be caused by biochemical muscle fatigue which cause misfiring contractions or spasms. It seems likely the vinegar acid in pickle juice activates nervous system receptors in our mouths that immediately affect the cramping muscle.   
Take Home Message:   If you are prone to muscle cramps it may be a good idea to have some pickle juice on hand.  Besides, eating a pickle now and then is good for you.  They are a very low calorie snack filled with beneficial probiotics and they taste great!

Sesame Street taught me that everyone is special and unique in their own way.  Evidently this means we may not all respond the same way to a stimulus or supplement.  Depending on your genetics, bacterial makeup, medication regimen, activity level and so on these juices may or may not work for you.  When in doubt consult your doctor.

I think before my next athletic competition I will pre-load up on beetroot juice and a maybe gulp down some watermelon to see if I notice a difference.  To ability to perform safe self experimentation will help you discover what works best for you.  Salute!
Doug Joachim - NYC
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