The short answer is yes, it can help with muscle pain and recovery – but there is an important factor to consider before going crazy for cherries.
The most interesting study – in my opinion, since I love running – was on tart cherry juice and pain after running. The study looked at 54 runners who were competing in a team-based 24 hour relay. Twice a day for a week before the event, runners drank either a tart cherry juice or a placebo cherry juice. The research was double blinded, so the runners and the investigators looking at endpoint data did not know who was getting which drink.
The results? Runners who drank the tart cherry juice experienced less pain post-race compared to the placebo group. This is pretty cool, since we don’t want athletes taking tons of NSAIDS or pain relievers, which carry some risks. For example, runners who take NSAIDS before or during a race to prevent later pain have an increased risk of hyponatremia, a potentially serious drop in blood sodium levels.
Another study looking at runners found that 48 hours post marathon, those who drank tart cherry juice before and after the event had reduced inflammatory markers and better return of strength indices (though no difference in muscle soreness).
I found one other study that focused on strength training, and used a similar regimen of 12 ounces of tart cherry juice twice a day for 8 days and compared it to a placebo. This study focused on strength loss after a session of intensive eccentric strength exercises. There was less loss of strength over a four day period among the group that drank cherry juice compared to the group who drank the placebo – a 4% versus a 22% decline.
Some pretty awesome research, right? Now here’s where that important consideration comes in.
In the relay running study and the strength study, the participants drank two 12 ounce servings of cherry juice per day (unfortunately, I don’t have access to the full study on marathon running, so I’m not sure the amount consumed in that example). Most commercial cherry juices are around 130 calories per 8 ounces. That means those athletes were taking in almost 400 calories per day from tart cherry juice! That’s a pretty significant amount of calories, and if you took in that much every day without changing your diet, you’d be looking at about 3 pounds gained in a month.
The bottom line? Yes, tart cherry juice may help reduce pain after long runs or intense strength training sessions. But the benefit comes from drinking the beverage consistently leading up to that training session or event. With the standard amount of juice used in research clocking in at about 400 calories per day, it’s something to consider carefully. It’s unknown right now if smaller amounts of tart cherry juice will provide any benefit.
If you are an athlete that struggles consistently with muscle pain and soreness, I think it could be worthwhile to try leading up to your next long/intense workout. Just be sure to balance the rest of your dietary intake to prevent gaining weight if that’s a concern. Substituting out some other less nutritious items and drinking tart cherry juice instead would be a good plan.
Share with us – have you used tart cherry juice? What were your experiences?