You’re probably aware of the tasty goodness of summer cherries, but there’s a new popular cherry you may not be aware of: the tart cherry. Compared to sweet cherries, tart cherries have a more intense red color and strong sour-sweet flavor, as well as significantly higher levels of antioxidants. They can be found fresh or dried and are commonly turned into juice. These cherries are quickly gaining interest due to their health and performance benefits.
THE BENEFITS FOR ATHLETES
Tart cherries, or tart cherry juice, may not be the first thing you think to reach for after a workout, but research shows you may want to rethink that. Tart cherries and tart cherry juice are nutritionally dense. A cup of juice provides ample carbohydrates, vitamin A, vitamin C, manganese and potassium. Furthermore, tart cherries are rich in polyphenols and anthocyanins, which are involved in antioxidant and antiinflammatory cell activities.
Levels of anthocyanins in tart cherries exceed those found in sweet cherries and other fruits. The antioxidants in tart cherries can help with muscle recovery and play a role in reducing the inflammation and oxidative stress that exercise can induce on the body. When exercising and putting muscles under stress, inflammation and muscle function loss may occur due to the mechanical and immune stressor stimuli. The anti-inflammatory properties of tart cherries can lessen inflammatory muscle responses, thereby leading to faster recoveries after exercise.
In a study among elite male athletes, the group who supplemented with tart cherry juice concentrate experienced reduced muscle soreness and inflammation after intermittent sprint activity as well as faster performances, compared to the control group.
Similarly, a study among marathon runners published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found a 10% greater antioxidant status among those who consumed cherry juice versus the placebo. Those who consumed cherry juice also recovered isometric strength significantly faster than those who did not consume the cherry juice. This is consistent with other research studies, which have shown an improved recovery of isometric muscle strength after intense exercise with the consumption of tart cherry juice, likely resulting from the decrease in oxidative damage to the muscles.
However, tart cherry juice can benefit more than just athletes. The high antioxidant content of tart cherry juice is also believed to help with reducing inflammation and decreasing symptoms in chronic conditions such as arthritis and osteoarthritis, as well as strengthening the immune system. Tart cherries may also reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain, which may be protective against cognitive declines seen in aging populations.
There is also research linking consumption of tart cherry juice to improved sleep quality, due to its natural concentration of melatonin, though no systematic studies have yet been published. We can expect more exciting research in the future on the health benefits of tart cherries.
So the next time you’re looking for a post-workout recovery drink, look no further than tart cherry juice.