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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(Note: this is less of an informative blog and more of a me pondering my fitness choices and ultimately life itself blog!)
I may have done something a bit crazy. I signed up for the Pikes Peak Ascent. Just thinking about it gives me a mixture of excitement and fear that is hard to sit with. It felt like a logical decision at the time. After all, I love hiking 14ers and I like running half marathons…might as well combine them! But as my lungs burned and my legs dragged while I ran up Mt Falcon this past weekend, a run that is a measly 1/5 the distance of Pikes and not even close to the elevation, I had to ask myself: Why are you doing this?
And in the moment I couldn’t answer. I’m not a total stranger to endurance activities that others might find insane. I somehow made it through the 120 miles and 10,000 ft of elevation gain in the Triple Bypass. That was hard, but doable. Of course I barely rode my bike at all the entire next year I was so exhausted afterwards! The Pikes Peak Ascent, however, is billed as “America’s Ultimate Challenge” which is even more intimidating. So why am I willing to subject myself to such potential heinousness?
When it comes to athletic endeavors that challenge both the mind and body, why do we do it?
We’ve all heard of the natural endorphins that kick in after running or other exercises, and maybe that is a factor. There are also studies about the beneficial effects of nature on your psyche. So clearly there is a mental benefit to such athletic endeavors. But I don’t believe that’s the prime answer. Is it the sense of accomplishment? Winning a battle with ourselves (isn’t that technically also losing a battle with ourselves?!) Does it give us a sense of purpose? Is there one right answer?
I think that if you were to ask a lot of athletes why they do what they do they would not be able to give a beautifully articulated answer that made sense to the general population. Clearly, I can’t either. Maybe I’ll be able to say when I reach the top of Pikes on August 17, I mean assuming I can even talk at that point! What I do know is the feeling. And the feeling is probably a big part of the reason. Unfortunately I cannot put into words the feeling I got when I reached the summit of my first 14er (as an adult, I don’t count my summit of Grays Peak at age 7), but I remember exactly how it felt. It was a mixture of excitement, triumph, beauty, and something else. I literally almost cried. There isn’t a word that accurately describes the experience. There isn’t one perfect word to respond to the “why”.
I’ll leave you with a quote from someone I’m a big fan of, mountaineer Ed Viesturs, on the topic of “why”. In his book “No Shortcuts to the Top” he addressed the question of why he chooses to risk life and limb to climb these treacherous and potentially deadly peaks (a question that I would imagine a lot of mountaineers get). I think his answer pretty much sums it up what I’m trying to say. Ed’s answer was “If you have to ask, you will never know”.
I’m moving to a new neighborhood! Virtual neighborhood that is, from my Google blog to this one. I plan on transferring all of my old blogs over here, but that could take some time, so please bare with me in the meantime. I also apologize that it will likely take me quite some time to figure out how to spruce this thing up, add pictures and cool features etc. But my hope is that this will ultimately be a good move, and one that will help Mountain Girl Nutrition and Fitness grow.
To new journeys!