Tart Cherries and Exercise Recovery

Hardcore and recreational athletes alike are always on the lookout for the latest edge in sports nutrition, whether that be for training, fueling, or recovery.  Lately there has been some buzz about tart cherries and their implication in recovery from strenuous exercise.  Not to be confused with the regular dark red cherries you’re probably used to, tart cherries are bright red and, well, tart tasting.

So what’s the big deal? Well first of all they are a great source of antioxidants.  Although exercise is great for you, it does create free radicals and antioxidants can help fight back which is why it’s important to have a diet full of antioxidants (i.e. fruits and vegetables, not from supplements).  The main antioxidant in tart cherries, anthocyanin, is what gives it the bright red color.
Tart cherries are also anti-inflammatory, which may explain why they have been associated with a decrease in heart disease risk.  Decreasing inflammation is also helpful for athletes, as strenuous exercise can cause inflammation.  Tart cherries are also thought to help reduce the pain from inflammation, and therefore can be helpful for conditions such as arthritis and gout.
Lastly, tart cherries help reduce muscle damage after exercise and help athletes recover more quickly.  This was demonstrated in a study of marathoners which found that runners who drank cherry juice 5 days before, the day of and 2 days after running a marathon experienced a faster recovery of strength, increased total antioxidant capacity and reduced inflammation.  Another study gave college-aged men participating in a weight lifting program 12 ounces of cherry juice or a placebo twice day for 8 days and then measured strength loss after performing 2 sets of 20 repetitions of a specific exercise.  This study found that strength loss after exercise was only 4 percent with the juice compared to 22 percent with the placebo beverage, and pain significantly decreased after cherry juice consumption.
So how do you incorporate tart cherries into your diet?  The studies I found had athletes drinking the juice several days before and after workouts, so one drink right after a workout may not be enough to gain any noticeable benefit, but it certainly won’t hurt.  The studies used an average of 8-12 oz of juice (100% real tart cherry juice) at a time.  You could drink the juice straight up if you prefer, or follow one of these “recipes” below.
  •  Blend 8-12 oz 100% tart cherry juice with frozen mixed berries (or freeze the cherries and mix with milk) for a post workout smoothie; add protein powder for a protein boost.
  •  Toss dried cherries in cooked quinoa.  Add sliced almonds and sautéed spinach to make it awesome.
  • Toss a handful of dried cherries into your post exercise breakfast oatmeal.
  •  Make your own trail mix with tart cherries, almonds, and dark chocolate pieces (or whatever else sounds good).
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