There are 1,000s of products coming out every day for athletes that are either for pre-workout or post-workout. However, as an athlete, it can get pretty confusing to make the right choice for you. I’m here to talk abut one of my favorite post-workout products, which is tart cherry juice. As sports dietitians and students in sports nutrition programs, we are always reading research on cherry juice for recovery. Finally as a dietetic intern with Columbia Athletics, I was able to sample some product and really research more into the topic as a whole for providing recovery post-workout for athletes.
The tart cherries that are typically used in this sports juice product are Montmorency cherries. Montmorency cherries have a high ORAC (oxygen radical absorption capacity) value, which makes it a very beneficial fruit to consume for overall health. Sports nutrition research has looked at a wide variety of benefits of tart cherry juice made with these cherries. Most of the research shows benefits of muscle recovery, pain management, and improved sleep quality.
Muscle Recovery and Pain Management
The British Journal of Sports Medicine released a study that examined the impact that tart cherry juice had relieving the symptoms of exercise induced muscle damage. In the study 14 male college students drank either 12 oz tart cherry juice or a placebo twice daily for 8 consecutive days. The results showed that strength loss and pain were significantly less in the participants taking the cherry juice compared to the placebo. This shows that tart cherry juice has the potential to be effective in reducing exercise induced muscle damage symptoms. Another study, in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, looked at the efficacy of tart cherry juice on reducing muscle damage and pain for long distance runners. The study looked at 54 healthy runners that consumed either 355 mL bottles of tart cherry juice or placebo cherry drink twice daily for 7 days prior to the event and on the day of the race. At the end of the study, both groups indicated pain. However, the group that consumed cherry juice reported a significantly smaller increase in pain as compared to the placebo group. Overall, the results of these two studies and more have shown that cherry juice has the potential to be very beneficial for reducing muscle damage and pain.
Interventions for Sleep
An interesting fact about tart cherries, like Montmorency, is that they are one of the only known food sources that contains melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that anticipates the daily onset of darkness and helps synchronize the circadian rhythm. The European Journal of Nutrition released a study examining the impact of tart cherry juice consumption on urinary melatonin levels and improved sleep quality. 20 participants consumed either tart cherry juice concentrate or a placebo for 7 straight days. The results indicated that total melatonin content was significantly elevated in the participants of the tart cherry juice group when compared to the placebo group. Furthermore, there were significant increases in time in bed, total sleep time, and sleep efficiency total in cherry juice concentrate when compared to the placebo. This data suggests that tart cherry juice consumption increases melatonin, which in turn improves sleep quality. This is incredibly important for athletes since getting an adequate amount of sleep can help performance.
Due to the phytonutrients and anthocyanins in cherries, they are thought to have the ability to combat aches and pains.The theory behind this is that these antioxidants block the enzymes in the body that cause inflammation. In the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, a study was released looking at the effects of tart cherry juice in reducing inflammation and oxidative stress along with muscle damage and recovery. 20 recreational marathon runners consumed cherry juice or placebo 5 days before, the day of, and for 48 h following a marathon run. The results showed that inflammation was significant reduced in cherry juice group compared to placebo by looking at markers like IL-6 (interleukin 6), CRP (c-reactive protein), and uric acid. Tart cherry juice can have a significant impact on post-exercise recovery since inflammation is built up during exercise.
So what is one of my favorite tart cherry juice products? CheriBundi! I had the chance to try this while working with Columbia Athletics since the previous sports dietitian on staff had left a bunch of bottles in the cooler. On the first sip, you can definitely taste how tart it is. My lips puckered up a bit, but it was quite delicious. After a few more sips, the tart cherry juice was reminiscent of a freshly baked cherry pie. I was addicted. This stuff is amazing. The regular 8 fl oz bottle has 50 cherries per bottle, the light version has 40 cherries per bottle, and cherry rebuild bottle (with protein) has 45 cherries and 8 g protein. The cherry rebuild is probably the best option for athletes pre and post workout since it will not only reduce exercise induced muscle damage, but it will also help with the process of building back up the muscle.
If you aren’t already using tart cherry juice as a muscle recovery product then I definitely recommend checking it out. Just remember not to try it during competition times since you don’t know how your body will react to it. The best time to use it is during practices or in the off-season. My recommendation to sports dietitians is to definitely get this product on your fueling stations for the athletes! Have a cherrific day.