Why Do Runners Eat Mustard and Other Odd Cures for Running Ailments
My son recently began running cross country for the first time. Of course, like any 12-year-old, the first place he turned when he needed information on how to become a better runner was Google. He is particularly interested in nutrition, and so he began typing in random running- and food-related searches. I was frantically typing away on a writing deadline when he asked me a question that stopped me cold.
“Mom,” he said with a look of confusion on his face, “why do runners eat mustard?”
What? I looked up from my computer and asked him to repeat the question. Puzzled, I got up and walked over to him to see what he was looking at. Sure enough, when you type in “why do runners eat” into Google, one of the top options that comes up is “why do runners eat mustard.” Thoughts of deadline flew out of my head. I had to know more about the mustard mystery.
My son and I conducted a thorough investigation. Turns out, some people think mustard can magically cure one of runners’ most annoying problems. The mustard query led us down a rabbit hole of running-related superstitions, involving things such as eating ants (!), pickle juice and diarrhea charts. Safe to say, we both learned a lot that day. Here’s what we discovered.
Why Do Runners Eat Mustard: The Definitive Answer
First, a bit about mustard. You probably already know it contains mustard seeds, but did you realize it also includes vinegar? Vinegar apparently acts as the catalyst for mustard’s secret power for runners.
Vinegar’s acetic acid sparks the production of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, which tells the muscles in your body to stop slacking off. It gets them to work harder, and because of that, it can help prevent leg cramps. For years, football players have used mustard as their secret weapon against leg cramps. Coaches will keep it around practices and games, and squeeze out a couple spoonfuls for players who begin to cramp.
The good people of the internet got ahold of this information, and runners began using the trick to stave off cramps as well. You can also find “testimony” from people who say they have downed a couple teaspoons of mustard in the middle of the night to cure night time leg cramps, which are fairly common.
Should you tote a bottle of Grey Poupon on your next run? I’m not quite advocating for that yet. I don’t get many leg cramps, so I have yet to test out this theory for myself. But if anyone has, I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.
My son, for his part, is staunchly anti-mustard. Though he’s suffered a few leg cramps building up his mileage for cross country, he told me he’s not willing to sacrifice his taste buds to test mustard’s effectiveness against cramping. Still, once we’d found all this information about runners and mustard, it made us curious what other folk cures floating around have other runners tried. And that led us to our second stop.
Why Do Runners Eat Ants: Even Stranger Than Mustard
We typed in “why do runners eat” again, and this time another question caught our eye: “Why do runners eat ants?”
It took me a few minutes to reassure my son that eating ants would not be necessary on his cross country team, unless they had a really strange hazing program. Then we read about why some runners actually do.
Turns out this really isn’t common and probably is just a quirk of Google analytics that it shows up high in search engine results, because there’s no evidence this is widespread. The claim seems to track back to a post on antprotein.com, a site that claims to traffic in “Ant Protein Resources and Ant Protein Information.” It hasn’t been updated since 2015, so it’s probably safe to say the ant protein craze never fully caught on.
Anyway, the article in question claims that “lots” of athletes and healthy people, including bodybuilders and, yes, runners, eat ants because of their high protein content. The site says you should just feast on the ones trudging around your backyard, though. It recommends buying ant powder extract, which is a lot easier to cook with.
My son and I decided to leave this one alone and let others decide what they think of eating ants. We’re not that adventurous.
The Legend of Pickle Juice and How It Can Help Your Runs
The next thing we came across in our great online search for odd running cures was pickle juice. I’d heard of this one before.
Pickle juice has very high sodium levels. Drinking it after a hard run can help prevent dehydration on long run days. It also fights leg cramps, reducing the length and severity, according to anecdotal and some scientific evidence.
My son and I decided this one was worth trying out. He runs hard days at practice on Friday, so we’re going to have him (and me) fuel up with pickle juice after, and we’ll let you know the results next week. I’m intrigued, to put it mildly.
Diarrhea Charts to Cure Your GI Woes
Finally, we came across something that makes every 12-year-old boy giggle—the word “diarrhea.” His entire team is fast learning the dangers of GI issues that can plague you when you run. All runners have developed their own defense against this problem—I favor popping a preventative Pepto Bismal, others just chart out the port-o-potties on their route—but one site we came across argued every runner should make a diarrhea chart.
This records when your belly got upset, as well as what workout you were in the midst of and what foods you ate beforehand. The aim is to find common threads throughout these workouts, so you can avoid them in the future. The approach makes a lot of sense. It forces you to pay attention to your prerun habits, which is good, and it suggests you can overcome runner’s trots, always a pleasant notion.
My son wouldn’t commit to building his own, but I have a feeling he shared the concept with his teammates at their next practice. Whether they just chortled like tween boys or realized the genius of the plan, I do not know. But I’m sure there were a lot of jokes about cutting the mustard.