Have you ever been woken up in the middle of the night by what feels like your calf muscle trying to tear itself in half? It’s awful! The worst cramp I ever had was in my oblique (the muscle along the side of your stomach). It lasted for hours making every roll and every breath hurt worse than the worst kidney stone I’ve ever had.
Here’s something I wish I would’ve known about back then: acetic acid. Acetic acid is what gives vinegar its noxious taste. It turns out that you can get rid of most muscle cramps/spasms in about 30 seconds by ingesting ~1 tsp seconds thanks to acetic acid.
Consuming a teaspoon of anything that has that noxious vinegary taste will do the trick: yellow mustard, vinegar of any kind, and pickle juice. There’s even research to say that you only need to swish it around in your mouth for it to work.
Why Does It Work?
Let’s start with why it doesn’t work. It does not work because it helps with electrolytes because our digestive system doesn’t work that fast. Our stomach takes 2-4 hours to empty. If you consume something rich in electrolytes now it will be hours before those electrolytes begin to reach your bloodstream.
Additionally, scientists have analyzed people’s blood during muscle cramps and found that they usually have normal levels of hydration and electrolytes. Our muscles have cramps, most likely, because of in appropriate signals from our nervous systems. In other words our muscle that cramps receives too strong of a signal telling it to contract, and it obeys even though it hurts like hell.
This – the brain/nervous system – is actually why the noxious tasting acetic acid stops your muscle cramps so fast. The acetic acid stimulates the TRP receptors in your mouth, throat and/or nose, and these receptors reset the signal to your muscles. It’s sort of like hitting the reset on your phone when it is acting up.
Ingesting anything high in acetic acid will usually stop a cramp in about 30 seconds. A teaspoon is usually plenty. If you get cramps throughout the day you can keep little packets of yellow mustard with you just in case.