Pro football players promote the power of the pickle

Friday, September 8th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Kevin Lowery is relishing all the attention. Lowery, the vice president of public affairs for Vlasic Foods, returned to his office after the Labor Day weekend to find 500 phone and e-mail messages.

It seems everyone wants to know about pickle power, thanks to the Philadelphia Eagles' 41-14 victory over the Cowboys on Sunday.

"People all over the country were calling," Lowery said. "Media, consumers, other teams. You wouldn't believe how many people in Philadelphia are eating pickles these days. We are definitely not disappointed by all this."

More than 20 players from the Eagles drank pickle juice before their opener in Dallas to stave off dehydration. It seemed to work. Philadelphia dominated the Cowboys. Late in the game, the Eagles seemed charged and energetic. The Cowboys were drained.

The Eagles said it was the juice that kept them going in the 109-degree heat, although running back Duce Staley, who rushed for 201 yards, was among the players who did not drink the juice. The Cowboys contend it was the fact that their defense was on the field for most of the game. The Cowboys training staff said it used just two IVs for dehydrated players and that the Eagles used five.

"The first time I heard about pickle juice was six to eight years ago," Cowboys trainer Jim Maurer said. "It's kind of like using Epsom salt for a sprained ankle. It's an old grandma's remedy."

The Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society issued a release Thursday warning that effects of pickle juice are exaggerated. They recommend drinks that contain the proper amount of salt to help replace electrolyte losses.

"What we fear is that the fun the media is having with pickle juice may be doing a public disservice by overstating the need for fluids,'' said Ronnie Barnes, head trainer for the New York Giants.

Other teams aren't so skeptical.

From high school to college to the pros, football teams around the country are reaching for a little pickle power.

Players drink two-ounce shots of pickle juice before the game to fight dehydration. Hurst L.D. Bell coach Ross Dodson was already planning to break out the juice for his team's opener Friday. Dodson said his teams have used it since 1991. When a player cramps up on the field, Dodson slips them a little pickle juice. Seconds later, they are up and ready to go.

He was more than a little surprised at all the hoopla the Eagles created on national television last weekend.

"A few other people I had known have used it," Dodson said "But no one really knew about it."

They do now. And soon, even more teams will know about it.

Vlasic, located in Cherry Hill, N.J., a suburb near Philadelphia, now has a formal agreement with the Eagles. The company supplies the pickles and gets a little advertising out of the deal. It also has the same agreement with the Green Bay Packers.

"That same offer is open to any other NFL team," Lowery said. "Even America's Team."

NFL players aren't the only ones jumping on the juice. Texas coach Mack Brown said six of his players tried it during practice on Tuesday.

When word got out that the Longhorns were interested in pickle juice, an Austin restaurant brought them 10 gallons of pickle juice. Another offered to deliver pickle juice.

"We have enough pickle juice to last us the rest of the season,'' said Tom McVann, the Longhorns' head trainer. "We don't want to jump to any conclusions, but if it works, we'll keep it in stock.''

Brigham Young University already used pickle juice in its first two games. BYU didn't have quite the same success as Philadelphia did in Dallas. The Cougars lost to Florida State, 29-3. Still, BYU's head trainer George Curtis said he believes the pickle juice made a difference for his players in the Jacksonville, Fla., heat.

Only two players struggled with cramps. Those were the only two that didn't drink the juice. Curtis said other programs at the university are trying it as well.

"We did not use one single IV on one player in Florida or at Virginia," Curtis said. "Even players that have a long history of cramping were feeling good. The only thing we've done different this year is the pickle juice. We must be doing something right."

It's just that no one seems to know exactly what it is.

"Everybody knows it works, we're just trying to find out why it works," said Biff Williams, Ph.D.

Williams, the athletic training education program director at the University of Northern Iowa, spoke on the subject at this year's National Athletic Trainers' Association meeting. He has tested the pickle juice theory on 200 athletes the past four to five years. He has had a 100 percent success rate. But that's far from an exact test. And since the Eagles' success, Williams said he has heard from hundreds of other people who have tried it as well.

They can't figure it out, either. Williams said it could be the mix of sodium, calcium and potassium in the juice. Williams has even tried straight vinegar, an ingredient in pickle juice. That works even faster, he said.

Steve Farrell, Ph.D., the associate director at the Cooper Institute in Dallas, hasn't seen any studies on the topic either. The one ingredient he said might help is the sodium. One shot of pickle juice has 25 times more sodium that one sports drink. Water and salt are two things the body loses through sweat.

Farrell and Williams are quick to point out, however, that a shot of pickle juice is not a substitute for water or sports drinks. Athletes still need to drink plenty of those when competing.

"You will have more benefit from a sports drink than pickle juice," Farrell said. "It has more important things in it, like glucose, which helps you in the long run."

For some, it tastes better too. And pickle juice doesn't work for everyone, Williams said. Some athletes can't take the taste and vomit when they drink it. There are, however, several flavors from which to choose.

It doesn't seem to matter what kind of pickle juice is used, Williams said.

Bread & Butter, Sweet, Kosher dill, Polish dill, traditional. The Eagles like them all. The Packers, Lowery said, are a heavy dill favorite.

Staff Writers Chip Brown and Jean-Jacques Taylor contributed to this report.