Tart Cherries for Exercise Recovery
BY KATHLEEN ALLEAUME
Choose Red for Optimal Exercise Recovery
We’ve all been there – a tough workout, heavier weights, or a fitness event that leaves you sore, stiff and awkward for days. This tenderness that strikes anytime from 12 to 24 hours after exercise is called delayed onset muscle soreness, (aka DOMS). It’s also the stuff that’s got you dreading stairs and struggling to lift your arms to blow dry your hair. Although science can’t pinpoint exactly what the cause may be, most experts would agree that the pain is associated with micro tears in the muscle fibres (caused by mild inflammation) that are then repaired as part of the muscle growth process.
As for cure, there’s no tried-and-true treatment for DOMS either, however there are several steps you can take to help minimise its severity, including stretching, foam rolling, soaking in a hot bath, or replenishing your muscles with the right foods.
Tart cherries are receiving growing attention with regard to their application in both exercise performance and recovery. Two components within the stone fruit are of particular interest: melatonin and anthocyanins (a type antioxidant which give cherries their deep, rich colour).
The antioxidant advantage
The antioxidant strength of a food can be measured in Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) units. The ORAC analysis is a standard measure quantifying the “power” of antioxidants in foods and it’s thought that the higher the ORAC score, the better a food is at helping our bodies fight free-radical damage caused by strenuous exercise.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that sour cherries ranked 14 in the top 50 foods for highest antioxidant content per serve and data from USDA Human Nutrition Research Centre on Ageing at Tufts University confirmed tart cherries contained similar or higher amounts of antioxidants compared to certain berries, including raspberries, blackberries strawberries and blueberries.
Soothes exercise pain
The antioxidants within the fruit are shown to possess anti-inflammatory properties, which may have a protective effect in helping the repair of muscles that have been damaged by intense training, as well as reducing the severity of muscle pain and joint soreness associated with inflammation. They also help to “mop up” potentially harmful free-radicals in the body caused by mechanical and metabolic stress (i.e. HIIT training and prolonged endurance running and cycling), which in turn promotes faster recovery and improved overall training capacity.
Improved sleep quality
Tart cherries are one of the few natural food sources of melatonin, a hormone critical in regulating body’s internal clock and natural sleep patterns. And considering a good night’s rest is probably just as important as pushing yourself in the gym, a lack of shut-eye can not only undermine the muscle repair process (also known as muscle growth), but also compromise workout intensity and performance. Consequently, consuming cherries roughly 1 hour before bed could be an effective way to improve sleep and hence recovery from training and competition.
The takeaway: Choose Red
Tart cherries are a power packed food loaded with plant compounds that can be beneficial in exercise recovery, particularly in times of high volume training. They also provide a good source of vitamin C and a source of potassium and fibre. However, not all cherries are created equal and the evidence for a positive recovery response is only evident with tart (sour) cherry varieties.
Author: Kathleen Alleaume
Kathleen Alleaume is a trusted health expert and author in the field of nutrition and fitness. She is an exercise physiologist and nutritionist who has run her company, The Right Balance, for more than 10 years. She delivers fresh and cutting-edge health content to millions via her publications and as a spokesperson in print, broadcast, and online media. Highly regarded for her professional, yet easy-to-understand advice, Alleaume’s passion for translating “science-y jargon” into useful, bite-sized info has led to What’s Eating You?, her first book. Follow Alleaume @therightbalance.
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Efficacy of tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of the International Society Sports Nutrition 2010;7:17.