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Tart Cherry Juice for Runners

If you’re looking for dietary ways to help performance and recovery, tart cherry juice is a great addition. There are many science-backed benefits to tart cherry juice for runners, let’s review them all.

tart cherry juice in glass

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Tart cherry juice is known for its powerful antioxidant properties and is nothing new among athletes as a way to help muscle recovery post-exercise.

Let’s take a look at the research and see how tart cherry juice works, when and how much to take, and who it is most beneficial for.

Benefits of Tart Cherry Juice for Runners

Tart cherry juice is full of phytonutrients, which are natural compounds found in plants with antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are typically found in fruits and vegetables, especially the ones that are dark, deep colors such as spinach and berries.

Antioxidants help to protect the body from damage from stress, environmental factors, injury, and more. This is a major reason that many athletes include tart cherry juice in their recovery drinks after running.

tart cherries in container on blanket

Anthocyanins are one of the specific nutrient groups in tart cherry juice. Anthocyanins reduce inflammation that damages joints, muscles, and organs.

Tart cherries actually have the highest antioxidant content of all fruits and vegetables, and can help repair oxygen damage from endurance exercise.

Cherries are naturally a gluten free carb, and are also a source of Vitamin C, which can aid in iron absorption and collagen formation.

The flavonoids protect against damaging free radicals and blood vessel ruptures, while the natural melatonin balances the sleep–wake cycle for faster recovery.

Due to its polyphenol and antioxidant properties, tart cherry juice may also help lessen pain, accelerate muscle recovery post-exercise, and decrease blood markers of inflammation and oxidative stress.

man running on grass

When to Take Tart Cherry Juice for Running

Most studies on tart cherry juice for runners focus on using 8 to 12 oz (1 oz of concentrate form) of tart cherry juice twice a day. This is in addition to a loading phase of four to five days before the exercise event, and continuing two to three days after the event to promote recovery.

However, the timing and dosages do vary widely in research studies.

Most studies on tart cherry juice have included supplementation both pre and post-exercise.

One study found that supplementing before exercise only found no significant differences between groups in muscle soreness, inflammatory markers, or performance or recovery scores, indicating that perhaps it is best to supplement before and after exercise.

Key Takeaway

There appears to be a cumulative effect to tart cherry juice benefits and athletes may get the most benefit with daily consumption of 8 to 16 ounces per day leading up to the event and after.

While beta alanine for running and creatine are usually touted for their performance aspects in short term events, tart cherry juice can help with the recovery and inflammatory aspects.

tart cherry juice mixed into smoothie

Research on Tart Cherry Juice for Athletes

There are several studies on tart cherry juice in endurance athletes. We’ve summarized a handful below.

Post-Exercise Strength Loss

In 2006, one of the first studies on tart cherry juice showed that taking 12 oz twice a day for four days before and four days after eccentric exercise reduced pain and helped minimize post-exercise strength loss in recreationally active young men.

Therefore, using tart cherry juice for muscle soreness and pain may be a viable alternative to speed up recovery.

Pain Reduction

A 2010 study in well-trained men and women during a mountain relay running race (average distance/runner 26.3 km) similarly showed less pain and more satisfaction with pain reduction in those taking 10.5 oz of tart cherry juice twice a day for seven days before and on the day of the race.

Tart cherry juice may be a healthful alternative to taking NSAIDs, such as Aspirin or Ibuprofen when managing pain. The anti-inflammatory substance found in the peel of Montmorency cherries contains the same enzyme as over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen.

NSAIDs may still be indicated for short-term use for reducing inflammation from injuries (always speak to your healthcare provider), but shouldn’t be used chronically as they can have adverse health effects when used long-term.

Performance

A handful of studies have found a relationship between tart cherry juice and performance amoung endurance athletes.

A 2016 study found 13% faster half-marathon times in aerobically trained individuals. These subjects supplemented one time daily (480 mg/day) for ten days, including race day, up to 48 hours post-run.

Most studies on tart cherry juice have been focused on long-distance endurance athletes, usually ranging from the half marathon distance (13.1 miles) or more.

knee getting massage

However, there have been benefits shown regarding tart cherry juice and shorter-distance runners, such as sprinters.

A 2011 study found that tart cherry juice consumption improved the recovery of isometric muscle strength after intensive strength exercise and a study in 2015 found a beneficial effect of powdered cherry juice supplementation (480mg/day) in both strength and endurance events.

Tart Cherry Juice for Recovery

Among studies looking at tart cherry juice for recovery, researchers typically analyze blood levels of inflammation, oxidative stress and muscle damage in athletes.

Here is some research looking at those indices.

  • A 2010 study of recreational male and female runners competing in the London Marathon gave 8 oz of tart cherry juice to participants twice a day for five days before, the day of, and two days after the marathon. These athletes showed improvements in multiple parameters, such as faster strength recovery, reduced inflammatory markers, greater total antioxidant status, and reduced oxidative stress as compared to the placebo.
  • A 2009 study looked at twenty recreational marathon runners and used either tart cherry juice or a placebo for five days before, the day of the race, and for 48 hours following a marathon run.
  • Researchers found that in the tart cherry juice group, inflammation was reduced and total antioxidant status was greater compared to the placebo group.
  • A 2015 study found that after a marathon, both groups (tart cherry juice and placebo) had similar losses in strength. However, the tart cherry juice group had a significantly faster recovery in strength when compared to the placebo group.

Remember, you’ll still need carbs and protein for recovery, and electrolytes, especially if you’re a salty sweater.

Tart cherry juice may be a good addition to your half marathon recovery plan, along with an epsom salt bath. While a variety of fruits can be beneficial for antioxidant content, tart cherries do contain melatonin and other compounds to help with recovery.

Here’s more about the benefits of fruit for athletes.

overhead shot of runners during race

Sleep

Many studies also focus on tart cherry juice for sleep, due to its natural melatonin content.

A majority of research shows that tart cherry juice can help with sleep, including overall sleep time and sleep efficiency. This may also contribute to tart cherry juice’s beneficial effects on pain, inflammation, and overall muscle strength recovery.

silver alarm clock on night stand with person sleeping behind

What Amount of Tart Cherry Juice Should You Take?

It is challenging to conclude an optimal dose of tart cherry juice for each person, as the antioxidant content can vary widely depending on product preparation, processing, and shelf-life factors.

Furthermore, the amount to take may vary depending on lifestyle factors, diet, time training, and aerobic capacity on race day.

A sprinter may drink some before or after a race for extra carbohydrates and antioxidants.

Based on the available research, the general recommendation is 8 to 12 oz of tart cherry juice (1 oz of concentrate) twice a day for at least four days before, the day of, and two days after the competition may be beneficial.

The general recommendation is to take 8 to 12 oz of tart cherry juice (1 oz of concentrate) twice a day for at least four days before competition, the day of competition, and two days after competition for optimal benefits.

Should All Endurance Athletes Take Tart Cherry Juice?

As with anything nutrition, the answer is always nuanced and “it depends.”

Here are some things for athletes to consider.

  • Tart cherry juice is known for and most often used for its anti-inflammatory properties. Consuming a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables in your runner diet plan will give the body plentiful phytonutrients, which will help manage inflammation.
  • However, given that most of the US population does not consume the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, adding in tart cherry juice could be a tool to help with inflammation, especially around an athletic event.
  • Tart cherry juice may be a healthful alternative to taking NSAIDs, such as Aspirin or Ibuprofen when managing pain.

Tart Cherry Juice vs. Beets

Beets and beet juice also contain antioxidants but ultimately act in a different way than tart cherries and tart cherry juice.

In contrast to tart cherry juice, beet juice increases blood nitrate levels, which may help improve exercise stamina and endurance. It can be taken any time of day, but is typically taken prior to exercise.

woman athlete holding water bottle

Beet juice may also turn your urine or feces pink or red, which is not harmful, but may be alarming to some people.

Furthermore, beet juice may also cause low blood pressure in some and may lead to kidney stones. Always check with your healthcare provider before supplementing.

Final Takeaways

Tart cherry juice has powerful antioxidant properties and is often used among athletes as a way to help muscle recovery post-exercise. Tart cherry juice may help lessen pain, accelerate muscle recovery post-exercise, and decrease blood markers of inflammation and oxidative stress.

It is most often used among endurance athletes, such as runners and triathletes. But it also appears to have benefits for sprinters, cyclists, and strength athletes as well.

Additionally, due to its anti-inflammatory properties, tart cherry juice may be beneficial for individuals with rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, and gout.

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References:

  1. BOWTELL, JOANNA L.1; SUMNERS, DAVID PAUL1; DYER, AMY2; FOX, PATRICK1; MILEVA, KATYA N.1. Montmorency Cherry Juice Reduces Muscle Damage Caused by Intensive Strength Exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 43(8):p 1544-1551, August 2011. | DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31820e5adc
  2. Connolly DA, McHugh MP, Padilla-Zakour OI, et al. Efficacy of a tart cherry juice blend in preventing the symptoms of muscle damage. Br. J. Sports Med. 2006; 40:679–83.
  3. Howatson G, McHugh MP, Hill JA, Brouner J, Jewell AP, van Someren KA, Shave RE, Howatson SA. Influence of tart cherry juice on indices of recovery following marathon running. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010 Dec;20(6):843-52. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2009.01005.x. PMID: 19883392.
  4. Kuehl KS, Perrier ET, Elliot DL, Chesnutt JC. Efficacy of tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial. J. Int. Soc. Sports Nutr. 2010; 7:7–17.
  5. Levers K, Dalton R, Galvan E, et al. Effects of powdered Montmorency tart cherry supplementation on an acute bout of intense lower body strength exercise in resistance trained males. J. Int. Soc. Sports Nutr. 2015;12:41.
  6. Levers K, Dalton R, Galvan E, et al. Effects of powdered Montmorency tart cherry supplementation on acute endurance exercise performance in aerobically trained individuals. J. Int. Soc. Sports Nutr. 2016; 13:22.
  7. McCormick R, Peeling P, Binnie M, et al. Effect of tart cherry juice on recovery and next day performance in well-trained Water Polo players. J. Int. Soc. Sports Nutr. 2016; 13:41.
  8. https://news.ohsu.edu/2010/07/07/tart-cherry-juice-reduces-muscle-pain-and-inflammation
  9. Vitale, Kenneth C. MD1; Hueglin, Shawn PhD, RD2; Broad, Elizabeth PhD, APD3. Tart Cherry Juice in Athletes: A Literature Review and Commentary. Current Sports Medicine Reports 16(4):p 230-239, 7/8 2017. | DOI: 10.1249/JSR.0000000000000385
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