Nutrition with a cherry on top! The miracle of Tart Cherries

Now that I am having to slow down and recover from my surgery, I decided to take a bigger look at my nutrition to see where I can make improvements.  Given that I am a candy-oholic and a dessert-oholic, this is an easy task. I’ve heard a lot of podcasts and read articles that mentioned tart cherry as a superfood to try, but I wasn’t sure that I was sold on the benefits.  As I noted in my post about Diet Cultsthere are a lot of hocus pocus ideas about the value of superfoods, and I thought that tart cherry might qualify.  But it only takes a quick journal search to see that there is a lot of documented research on the efficacy of tart cherry for the athlete.

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These tart beauties have become one of my favorite snacks!

Tart cherry is known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and has been proposed as a potential natural substitute for ibuprofen, or other NSAIDS. Right about now, I am pretty familiar with the urge to take pain meds to relieve discomfort from my surgery, so it is good timing to learn more about natural substitutes for pain relief!

Tart cherries are rich in anthocyanins, a class of antioxidant phytochemical found in plant-based foods. All red fruits and vegetables are said to have this property, but tart cherries pack a bigger punch. Tart cherries are known to protect against heart disease, cancer, insomnia, and other age related issues.  Importantly, several studies have also corroborated the efficacy of tart cherries to help protect muscles during strenuous exercise and to facilitate the repair of damaged muscles.  Great news for the endurance athlete.

Research conducted at the University of Vermont on 14 male participants against a control group showed that cherry juice decreased symptoms of exercise induced muscle damage after being consumed twice a day for eight days. Most notably, four days after eccentric exercise, athletes showed strength loss averaging 22% with the placebo but only 4% with the cherry juice.  

Another study, titled “Efficacy of tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial,” showed that endurance runners who consumed 355 mL bottles of tart cherry juice twice daily for 7 days prior to the Hood to Coast relay race, and on the day of the race, experienced significantly less pain after running about 26 km over a 24 hour period compared to the control group. The researchers concluded that ingesting tart cherry juice for 7 days prior to and during a strenuous running event can minimize post-run muscle pain. (I ran a 200 mile relay race in 2014, and I can tell you, any reduction in pain for an event such as that is worth investigating!)

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I haven’t tried the tart cherry juice, but that is next on my list.

So how much tart does one eat?  I found a few different suggestions, but the most consistent serving size that I found was that one serving of cherries is equivalent to ½ cup of dried cherries, 1 cup of frozen cherries, or 1 cup of juice.  There are 100 tart cherries in every 1 cup (8 oz) glass of juice. Study participants most commonly consumed two 8 oz servings a day.  I recently started buying dried tart cherries from Sprouts, and I have no idea how many servings I eat in a day, but I love going to my pantry and grabbing a handful at a time.  I also started adding them to my homemade protein bars.

What superfoods are in your running arsenal?  In addition to tart cherries, I also like to add chia seeds and cocoa nibs to my treats.

Do you take pain relievers before or after a hard workout?  I try to avoid medicine as much as I can, especially while I am still breastfeeding.  It’s tempting sometimes though!

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