Tart cherry juice and tart cherry juice concentrate are pretty amazing. You look at the small little cherry and think “it’s a healthy fruit,” but it’s so much more. It’s an anti-inflammatory, an antioxidant and even can help you sleep. Tart cherries are different from the normal cherries you find in the grocery. Those are sweeter varieties like Bing. And while they are delicious and provide many nutrients, the tart cherry is different. So you’ll need to look specifically for it.
As we train, especially for long and intense events like ultra marathons and Ironman, our body undergoes inflammation induced pain and swelling. Many athletes turn to things like NSAIDs to provide relief, while they should be looking away from the medicine cabinet and instead to food sources. They are many great natural anti-inflammatories, but tart cherries are among the best. A 2010 study of marathoners showed that consuming tart cherry juice concentrate 5 days before the marathon, the day of the marathon and then 48 hours post race provided reduced inflammation and pain post marathon. The study concluded that “tart cherry juice appears to provide a viable means to aid recovery following strenuous exercise by increasing total antioxidative capacity, reducing inflammation, lipid peroxidation and so aiding in the recovery of muscle function.”
One of the great things about tart cherry juice is that it has multiple studies which back up these claims. This was not a singular study that showed some benefit, there are dozens of reputable studies to examine.
Tart cherries provide an abundance of the antioxidant compound anthocyanin. Anthocyanins are a specific group of compounds found in various plant foods which also give fruit their characteristic red, blue and purple coloring. Antioxidants are crucial to athletes because as we train, our body produces free radicals causing oxidative damage. These compounds combat the free radicals, and are anti-oxidative. In addition to athletic benefits, they also provide protection against cancer, cardiovascular disease, degenerative disease, cognitive brain function and protect our gene DNA integrity.
Tart cherries are one of the foods that provides us with the hormone melatonin. Melatonin is responsible for our sleep cycles and regulating our circadian rhythms. Our body has an internal clock that tells us when to wake up, and when to go to sleep. It is often thrown off when we travel time zones causing sleep disturbances, or just when we can’t sleep. Melatonin can help to re-regulate our circadian rhythm. As athletes know, getting sleep is so important to recovery. A 2012 study with 20 subjects (in the European Journal of Nutrition) concluded that “the consumption of a tart cherry juice concentrate provides an increase in exogenous melatonin that is beneficial in improving sleep duration and quality in healthy men and women and might be of benefit in managing disturbed sleep.” Melatonin should not be taken on a regular basis in a pill form, however I am fine with athletes taking tart cherry juice on a regular basis.
Tart cherry juice vs tart cherry juice concentrate:
Either method of consuming tart cherries is acceptable, however I find the concentrate easier to manage. The studies have shown that 8-12oz of juice, or 2 tbsp of concentrate provide the same benefits. I’d rather put the concentrate in a smoothie, or stir into some yogurt. You can feel free to drink the juice however.
*Fun side note: 1 serving (2tbsp) of tart cherry juice concentrate provides the equivalent of 80 cherries*
Tart Cherry Recovery Smoothie: (Serves 1) GF, DF and Veg
- 1 cup unsweetened almond milk (or other preferred milk)
- 1/2 large banana
- 1/2 cup cherries (fresh or frozen)
- 1 cup spinach
- 2 tbsp tart cherry juice concentrate
- 1-2 tbsp ground flax or chia seeds
- 1 scoop chocolate whey or vegan protein powder (20g of protein)
- Ice if desired
1. Blend all ingredients together until desired consistency is reached.
- 62g carbohydrate
- 24g protein
- 6g fat
- 8g fiber
- 182mg sodium
*To make it more suitable for a larger athlete recovering, use a whole banana and 1 cup of cherries. You can also add 1 tbsp of nut butter and 1/4 cup of oats.
*To make it more suitable for a smaller athlete recovering, take out the banana altogether and use coconut or plain water.
Who Should Take This?
So while I really just work with athletes, tart cherry juice can be a great benefit to anyone who wants to be healthier. I’d start by taking 1-2 tbsp of tart cherry juice a day. For athletes training very intensely, I’d take 1-2 servings of 2 tbsp a day for at least a week and see how you feel. There isn’t really a toxicity to this, but not more then 4 tbsp a day is needed.
I’d love to hear if anyone has tried tart cherry juice and found a benefit, or hasn’t really felt a difference. Please comment below.