If you are not currently including cherry juice as part of your nutrition plan to support your endurance training, it is well worth considering, in my opinion. In this blog post I take a look at the properties of cherries, specifically the tart Montmorency variety, which research suggests can be of value to people training for endurance sports events, and suggest a number of ways to incorporate cherry juice into your training and recovery routines.
Tart cherry juice appears to be of benefit in two main areas: muscle recovery and sleep. Looking at muscle recovery first, Montmorency cherries contain high levels of substances known as polyphenols. These include flavonoids and anthocyanins, which are known to have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. A 2006 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine tested the efficacy of tart cherry juice in preventing symptoms of exercise induced muscle damage. It found that strength loss and pain were significantly less when participants performed eccentric arm exercises after 4 days of drinking cherry juice compared with placebo.1 Another study in 2011 found that consuming Montmorency cherry juice improved the recovery of isometric muscle strength after intensive exercise and suggested that its polyphenolic compounds attenuated the oxidative damage induced by exercise. 2 Lastly, and of particular interest to endurance sports participants, a 2010 study involving twenty recreational marathon runners found that post-run inflammation was reduced more in those who took cherry juice for five days before a Marathon than in those taking a placebo, and isometric strength recovered significantly faster. Total anti-oxidant status was found to be increased in these subjects. 3 These studies suggest that there may be benefit in consuming tart cherry juice to help promote muscle recovery after exercise.
Moving onto support for a good night’s sleep, which is a vital part of recovery for those undertaking heavy training. Montmorency cherries contain melatonin, a substance which is critical in regulating your sleep-wake cycle. A randomised, double blind, placebo controlled, crossover study in 2011, where 20 volunteers consumed either tart cherry juice concentrate or placebo for 7 days, found that there were significant increases in time in bed, total sleep time and sleep efficiency with cherry juice supplementation. Total melatonin content was also significantly higher in the urine of those taking cherry juice. 4 This suggests that tart cherry juice might be of benefit in managing disturbed sleep.
To promote muscle recovery, I suggest the following:
- Mix 30ml of tart cherry concentrate with 250ml of water and drink within 30 minutes of finishing exercise. You can also include concentrate in a homemade recovery smoothie. The Cherry Active brand is available from health food shops and online (www.cherryactive.co.uk). You can buy 30ml sachets of concentrate as well as large bottles – great for travelling to races.
- Include 30ml of tart cherry concentrate in a homemade sports drink, together with sources of glucose, fructose and electrolytes.
- Try using a gel which includes tart cherry juice as an ingredient. Try the Cherry Bomb Kicks gel from Mule Bar (www.mulebar.com)
- Consume dried tart cherries while undertaking long slow runs, or eat as part of your recovery snack.
To help you sleep better, dilute 30ml of tart cherry concentrate in 250ml of water (hot or cold) and drink 30 minutes prior to going to bed. Alternatively, take 2 Cherry Active capsules.
I hope you find these suggestions beneficial. Let me know by leaving a comment on my blog.
Jo Scott-Dalgleish BSc (Hons) is a BANT Registered Nutritionist, writing and giving talks about nutrition for endurance sport. Based in London, she also works as a Registered Nutritional Therapist, conducting one–to–one consultations with triathletes, distance runners and cyclists to help them eat well, be healthy and perform better through the creation of an individual nutritional plan. To learn more about these consultations, please visit www.nutritionforendurancesports.co.uk
1 Connolly et al. Efficacy of a tart cherry juice blend in preventing the symptoms of muscle damage. Br J Sports Med. 2006. 40(8): 679-83
2 Bowtell et al. Montmorency cherry juice rduces muscle damage caused by intensive strength exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011. 43(8): 1544-51
3 Howatson et al. Influence of tart cherry juice on indices of recovery following marathon running. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010. 20(6): 843-52
4 Howatson et al. Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality. Eur J Nutr. 2011. Epub ahead of print