By now, most people are familiar with the use of tart cherry as a means of recovery but what are the more nitty gritty details that you need to know? Read below!
WHY: The benefits of tart cherry, at this point, are relatively established and quite impressive! The functional compounds in tart cherry have been shown to be both antioxidants (that fight the oxidative stress caused by strenuous training) and anti-inflammatories. For the athlete, this means an accelerated return of muscle function and less muscle soreness following training and racing. There is also evidence to show that tart cherries contain melatonin, which provide the added benefit of improving sleep efficiency, a good index of sleep quality. Combined, these benefits make it a recovery powerhouse, in fruit form!
Probably the greatest appeal of tart cherry, though, might be the fact that it offers a risk-free alternative to medicinal or supplement interventions and is relatively inexpensive. If, at the end of the day, tart cherries do not live up to the research findings, the downside is only that you have consumed an extra serving of fruit.
WHAT: Montmorency cherry. Not all cherries are created equal, and when using cherries as a functional food for recovery, we need to make sure we are consuming the right type! Montmorency cherries are rich in polyphenols and anthocyanins and it is THESE compounds that are thought to contain the bio-activity we need to reap the benefits of improved recovery.
WHO: Athletes for whom recovery is their primary concern. Of course this seems like EVERY athlete! However, there is some research to suggest that during base/build phases of training, when adaptation is the primary goal, tart cherry might not be as beneficial. It is readily agreed upon, though, that prior to racing and directly after racing, tart cherry is most useful. For the athlete who is deep into racing season and in a cycle of race, recover, repeat, tart cherry should be on the menu consistently.
WHEN: Ideally tart cherry juice should be taken as 8-12 ounces, twice a day: in the morning, with a meal, and in the evening, about one hour prior to bed time (to improve sleep efficiency). Most studies use a loading protocol of twice daily tart cherry, four to five days prior to a race/event and two to three days post-race/event to promote recovery.
HOW: Tart cherry is most usually consumed in juice form (ie: Juice Performer Tart Cherry). While it is generally preferred to take in whole foods, in this case you would need to consume 60-90 cherries to get the same benefit as 8-12 ounces of juice. The concentrated juice version of tart cherry makes it more convenient and doable for a twice daily dose.
So, if you are looking for another tool to add to your recovery toolshed, tart cherry juice is a safe and easy choice. Consider adding it to your daily diet, most especially in and around racing, for recovery and better sleep too!
Beth Shutt, RD CSSD LDN, is a dietitian with The Core Diet. She holds a Bachelors degree in Nutrition from Penn State University where she ran cross-country and track and field. In addition to working with the Core Diet, Beth is the Operations Director and coach for The Run Formula, the run-only sister company of QT2 Systems. And she is a life-long endurance athlete competing in marathons, Ironman triathlon, mountain bike racing and much more!
The views expressed in this article are recommended for athletes who are familiar with metabolic efficiency principles. As always, only introduce new fueling strategies in training and adopt only what works for you. The views are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.