In this article we take a look at the post-workout recovery and performance benefits of tart cherry.
By Dr. Adam Gonzalez
SHIFTED’s Chief Scientific Officer
Several nutritional compounds have been proposed as an effective strategy for enhancing recovery – acai, garlic, blueberries, L-glutamine, ginger, vitamins, cacao, just to name a few. However, none have come close to being as effective as supplementing with tart cherries.
Tart cherry supplementation is well-supported by the evidence as the best supplemental ingredient for speeding up post-exercise recovery and getting you back in the game quicker.
- Tart cherries are rich in phytonutrients, flavonoids, and other phenolic compounds that have been shown to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.
- The level of evidence for the recovery-enhancing effects of tart cherry is exceptionally strong.
- Several studies support the use of tart cherry to enhance recovery, reduce pain, and restore muscular function following high-intensity exercise.
- Tart cherry juice powder, in the form of CherryPURE® can improve recovery from both strength and endurance training.
What’s so special about tart cherry?
High intensity exercise leads to structural damage of the muscle and a strong inflammatory response characterized by the infiltration of neutrophils and macrophages into the exercised muscle. Hard training sessions also result in the production of reactive oxygen species which can lead to excessive oxidative stress if the body’s antioxidant defense system is overwhelmed. The acute upregulation of these inflammatory signaling cascades is also associated with the pain and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) following exercise.
Tart cherries are rich in phytonutrients, flavonoids, and other phenolic compounds that have been shown to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. Due to the potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, the use of tart cherries to aid recovery from high-intensity exercise has become increasingly popular and well-researched. The level of evidence for the recovery-enhancing effects of tart cherry is exceptionally strong and continues to grow [4, 12].
Tart cherry supplementation and recovery from exercise: What does the science say?
Several studies support the use of tart cherry to enhance recovery, reduce pain, and restore muscular function following running and cycling exercise. Tart cherry supplementation has shown to improve recovery of strength and reduce markers of inflammation and oxidative stress following a marathon run . Similarly, tart cherry supplementation has shown to reduce muscle pain following a strenuous trail run in trained runners . In cyclists, lower markers of inflammation and improved muscle function were observed following bouts of high-intensity cycling when cherry juice was taken around training [2, 3].
What about repeated sprints? Tart cherry supplementation improves performance recovery and reduces post-exercise markers of muscle damage in male soccer players following a grueling sprint training session . Similar benefits on muscle recovery and less DOMS were reported in female dancers after completing a repeated sprint exercise training session  and in team sport players after completing an intermittent shuttle run test . Collectively, the evidence strongly supports that tart cherry is an ideal supplement for runners, cyclists, team and field sports, and fitness enthusiasts that perform repeated high-intensity activity such as spin class or cross-fit.
And it doesn’t stop there – tart cherry supplementation can also aid recovery from resistance exercise. The first study examining the effect of short-term intake of tart cherry juice on exercise-induced muscle damage showed that supplementation reduced pain and dampened the post-exercise strength loss (4% vs 22%) following a bout of heavy eccentric bicep curls. Tart cherry supplementation also enhanced force recovery after a muscle-damaging eccentric knee extension protocol . The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory polyphenol compounds found in tart cherry juice can accelerate strength recovery, decrease markers of inflammation and oxidative stress, and lessen perceived pain and DOMS after muscle-damaging strength training .
Most recently, there has been research on the effects of a patented tart cherry powder –CherryPURE®. Daily supplementation with 480 mg CherryPURE® reduced markers of muscle damage and perceived soreness over the 48 hours following a muscle-damaging bout of resistance exercise . Similarly, 480 mg CherryPURE® per day reduced post-exercise muscle soreness and markers of inflammation and muscle catabolism following a half marathon. Thus, tart cherry juice powder, in the form of CherryPURE®, can improve recovery from both strength and endurance training.
Tart cherry supplementation is clearly beneficial for those looking to improve recovery and return faster and stronger to their next training session. Tart cherry can also increase circulating melatonin levels and improved sleep time and quality – further enhancing recovery . A 2022 review of nutritional compounds to enhance recovery stated “the improvement in muscle function across both endurance and resistance exercise modalities indicates that tart cherry supplementation can be considered to improve recovery across all types of exercise” . In this review, only tart cherry and omega-3 fatty acids were categorized as having a “High” level of supportive evidence. No other nutritional compound or food reached this rank. In summary, any athlete who is training hard can benefit from tart cherry supplementation. It would be particularly useful during periods of high volume training or when recovery periods are short between training sessions.
Now, it is important to note that the inflammatory response to training is a necessary step for promoting adaptations overtime, so we don’t want to wipe it out completely. For example, regular use of more powerful nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) may impair the adaptive response to exercise training such as muscle protein synthesis and anabolic signaling . This does not appear to be the case with functional food ingredients as there is no evidence that tart cherry juice or powder blunts the adaptive response. Rather, aiding the restoration in muscle strength and function will help you get back to your training in a more recovered state to allow for a more robust training stimulus and better training adaptations over time.
Get your cherries!
Tart cherries can have a strong, sour taste often making a concentrated juice undesirable. It can also be cumbersome and expensive to regularly keep cherry juice on hand. Therefore, including tart cherry powder in a post-workout supplement is favorable and pragmatic. Look for products that use the patented and standardized CherryPURE® ingredient – this is the only form supported by multiple human clinical trials.
SHIFTED RECOVERY includes 500 mg of Tart Cherry Juice Powder in the form of CherryPURE®, alongside an innovative blend of free-form essential amino acids and whey protein isolate.
About the Author
Adam M. Gonzalez is an associate professor in the Department of Allied Health and Kinesiology at Hofstra University. He earned a Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology from the University of Central Florida in 2015 and holds certifications as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), along with a Certified Sports Nutritionist Certification (CISSN).
His primary research interests include exercise and nutritional strategies to optimize body composition, maximize health, and enhance adaptations to exercise. He was also awarded the 2022 Nutritional Research Achievement Award by the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
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