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Tart cherry

Tart Cherry Juice: Cherry Good News on Race Recovery

Exercise Causes Inflammation

If you have ever run harder, longer, or faster than usual, you likely know the feeling of sore muscles! This soreness results from acute disruption to your muscle fibers which causes an inflammatory response in your body. This inflammation then further increases the damage to the fibers. In addition to pain, your muscles temporarily lose the ability to produce as much force. This can make running, working out or even just walking down stairs painful for a few days after a race.

Tart Cherry Juice: High Levels of Anti-Inflammatory Substances

Tart Cherries on a plate

In the above situation, many runners reach for “Vitamin I”, but ibuprofen can have negative side-effects. What if there was a way to decrease some of that soreness with a natural food instead? Enter tart cherry juice! Both tart cherries and sweet cherries have high levels of anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant substances. These compounds may offer a protective effect against muscle damage by lessening the inflammatory response to exercise. Tart cherries have been more widely studied than sweet cherries over the past 20 years due to their lower cost and greater availability.

Research on Tart Cherry Juice and Recovery

The best research study protocols had subjects ingest either tart cherries (in the form of juice, concentrated gel or powder) or a similar tasting placebo before, during and after exercise of sufficient intensity to cause muscle damage. Following the exercise, researchers looked at different measures of muscle function, including maximal force production, soreness or pain, and the amount of inflammatory markers in the bloodstream of participants.

One study had runners ingest cherry juice or placebo before and after the London Marathon. The cherry juice drinkers recovered their isometric muscle strength faster and displayed lower levels of inflammatory substances in their blood following the race. Another study looked at subjects running multiple legs in the Hood to Coast relay, a race known for its tough uphill and downhill segments. The cherry juice subjects in this study reported significantly less pain and soreness during and after the race compared to those runners given the placebo. The study’s author equated this benefit to an 800 mg dose of ibuprofen.

In most of the studies, the cherry juice needed to be ingested for 5 days before the event to be effective. The optimal dosage has not yet been determined, but 8-12 oz of juice twice per day is one of the most studied protocols. One review paper even dubbed cherry juice a “precovery” drink, although drinking it the day of the event and for 2 days afterward may still be beneficial.

Final Thoughts on Tart Cherry Juice and Recovery

Before you rush out to stock your fridge with cherry juice, note that some of the inflammatory changes induced by a training block may be beneficial as they signal your muscles to adapt to your workouts and get stronger. So it may not be helpful to drink cherry juice all the time. But if you are looking to recover more quickly after a race in order to get back to training, participating in a multi-event race (like the TC Loony Challenge) or even another race on short notice, ingesting some tart cherry juice a few days before and after the race may help.

Women runners celebrate after race

In Stride Physical Therapy will be at the finish line festival for Women Run the Cities on May 18 in Minneapolis. Stop by my table to toast your success with—what else—tart cherry juice!

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