Tart Cherry Juice: The Natural Born Painkiller

Cherries are red, blueberries are blue.
One is a real superfood, that can help me and you.

OK, so I suck at rhymes and poems, but I do know this: cherries are good for runners, athletes, older folks and people predisposed to have arthritis early in their lives. Got your attention? Good! Let’s find out more.

tart cherries on treeImage credit

Cherry Flavoured Medicine

First cultivated by the Greeks as early as 300BC, cherries are a favourite of pastry chefs and bartenders the world over. Countless dessert dishes and alcoholic beverages are rendered incomplete without them, and as it turns out, consuming cherries can complete us as well.

For centuries, traditional Chinese medicine has looked to cherries as a cure-all ‘super fruit‘ to treat a myriad of ailments such as arthritis, diarrhea, dysentery and measles. They are also used to stimulate appetite, regenerate lost fluids, and treat burns. Traditional beliefs on the effects of cherries include better skin, more energy and a longer life.

Although the historical use of cherries as medicine was based on ancient texts and not lab tested, traditional Chinese doctors were on to something with their use of cherries to treat arthritis and inflammation. Recent studies have shown cherry consumption can help in the treatment and management of arthritis and painful gout.


Bring the Pain…and the Ibuprofen

If you run or do some other athletic pursuit, you may be accustomed to pain as your constant companion. Pain is often immediate, with your body screaming at you to stop, but it can also manifest a day or two after a long run or hardcore workout. DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) is a real pain in the ass and other body parts directly affected by physical exertion.

You probably have your pain management routine all mapped out by now – Advil, Icy Hot, ice packs – (it varies) but the main player here is vitamin I (ibuprofen). Some marathon runners and ultra runners even bring vitamin I with them if they need to cover an extra mile while in excruciating pain.

Synthetic painkillers such as ibuprofen and other NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are really good at dulling the pain, but prolonged use can damage your kidneys. Some of the more common side effects that may come with ibuprofen use include abdominal pain, belching, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, passing gas, nausea, rash, swelling and itching.


Tart Cherry Juice: A Runner’s Secret Weapon?

Regular consumption of tart cherries may be very beneficial to runners and other endurance athletes, and doesn’t have the side effects of ibuprofen.

During exercise, muscles suffer micro tears and overuse injuries hit the joints and soft tissues. This is where all the pain and swelling comes from because our bodies weren’t designed for intense, prolonged stress. They need time to heal.

One 2012 study showed that tart cherries have the “highest anti-inflammatory content of any food” and loading up on tart cherry juice seven days before a marathon can keep inflammation down during and after a race. Another study produced results that indicated while pain and inflammation were still present, those who regularly consumed tart cherry juice reported less of it, and recovered faster.

Research involving marathon runners who consumed tart cherry juice five days prior to an event, on the day of the event, and 48 hours after the event, noted the runners recovered their strength faster than those who drank a placebo. They also recovered faster from muscle soreness.

The concentrated amounts of vitamins and antioxidants (anthocyanins) present in cherries can help athletes receive less muscle damage as well. This study from 2011 shows that consumption of Montmorency tart cherry juice improved the recovery of isometric strength after an intense strength training session, which is excellent for runners who add strength training to their routine.

Other findings show that cherry juice consumption lowered some symptoms of muscle damage sustained during strength training. Researchers saw only a 4% loss in strength after four consecutive days of eccentric exercise in subjects who drank tart cherry juice, compared to a 22% loss in those who consumed a placebo.


How to Take Tart Cherry Juice

For best results, take 8 – 12 ounces (225 – 340 grams) of tart cherry juice daily. Always take it before working out.

Drink an additional glass 30 minutes after your workout to flood your system with inflammation fighting antioxidants.

Avoid munching the equivalent number of whole cherries because they’re rich in fructose and can spike up your sugar. Juice or cherry concentrate is more ideal.

A Cherry on Top

For many runners, pain and inflammation are an all too common occurrence. Daily consumption of tart cherry juice can help reduce the aches and pains of running. It also helps the body recover faster and reduces the beating taken by your muscles during exercise. Put this all together and you may have a winning formula for finishing a race almost pain free. For a good read on the other benefits of tart cherry juice, check out this article.

Try some tart cherry juice on your next run and see if benefits you the same way. Don’t forget to share your results!