Tart cherry juice is quickly becoming a natural ergogenic aid for endurance athletes, and an unsung superfruit hero to health-conscious consumers, due to its robust benefits on endurance, exercise recovery, sleep, and powerful anti-inflammatory properties. So, the real question is, is the hype real, does tart cherry juice really have health benefits?
What Is Tart Cherry Juice
Tart cherry comes from Montmorency sour cherries, a variety of cherries, known for their sweet and sour flavor. Tart cherries are rich in powerful plant compounds called polyphenols and vitamin C, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Think of antioxidants as invisible fighters. Antioxidants fight and protect your body from potentially damaging elements found in the environment called free radicals. Free radicals come in a variety of different forms, like pollution, sun exposure, alcohol consumption, smoke inhalation, and even high blood sugar, and antioxidants act to neutralize free radicals to keep your body in balance. Antioxidants help keep oxidative stress at bay; an imbalance caused when free radicals outnumber the antioxidants you have. With a severe imbalance, oxidative stress can cause chronic inflammatory diseases, like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Tart Cherry Juice Nutrition
Tart cherry juice is rich in vitamins and nutrients such as B-vitamins, vitamin A, vitamin C, as well as healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fats. According to the USDA Food Central Database, one cup (269g) serving of tart cherry juice contains
Vitamin A: 62% of the RDI
Vitamin C: 40% of the RDI
Manganese: 14% of the RDI
Potassium: 12% of the RDI
Copper: 12% of the RDI
Vitamin K: 7% of the RDI
What Makes Tart Cherry Juice So Antioxidant Rich
Red’s ingredients such as tart cherry juice, pomegranates, bilberries, blueberries, and turmeric contain powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins. Anthocyanins belong to a flavonoid family, which have powerful anti-inflammatory effects, and are primarily responsible for the many health benefits of tart cherry juice. Studies haves shown that anthocyanins can reduce inflammation, improve eye health, heart health, cognitive function, and stabilize glucose levels [R, R].
Sweet cherries lose much of their nutritional value after being processed, when frozen, canned, and brined. Hydroxycinnamates are the major class of polyphenols in sweet cherries, whereas flavanols are the major polyphenol in Montmorency or tart cherries [R]. Lab analysis shows that cherries contain nearly 20 times more vitamin A and their antioxidant levels are five times higher [R].
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Tart Cherry Juice Benefits
1. Promotes Sleep Quality
In addition to antioxidants, tart cherry juice also contains the sleep hormone, melatonin and amino acid l-tryptophan. Studies show that these two compounds helps regulate sleep-wake cycle, and improving sleep quality syncing your circadian rhythm or internal clock.
A pilot study investigating the effects of tart cherry juice on insomnia, showed promising results, extending sleep time by an average of 84 minutes and increasing sleep efficiency [R].
2. Improves Post Exercise Recovery And Reduces Muscle Pain
Runners and endurance athletes rave about the purported benefits of tart cherry juice as a potential ergogenic aid for exercise recovery. Given the high concentration of bioactive compounds, studies have found that tart cherry juice benefits recovery from pain after strenuous exercise.
A systematic review published in the journal Nutrients found that 8 of 9 studies showed tart cherry juice significantly reduced exercise induced muscle pain, soreness, and loss of strength [R] One study showed that long distance runners who drank tart cherry juice pre workout reported significantly less pain, showing improved biomarkers of inflammation and reduced muscle damage as compared to those who did not [R].
3. Enhances Endurance Capacity
Studies have shown that tart cherry juice may benefit endurance capacity in trained athletes. A review published in the Journal Of The American College Of Nutrition identified ten randomized controlled trials, totaling 147 study participants, investigating tart cherry juice supplementation on endurance capacity. Results showed that tart cherry juice or powdered extract ingested for 7 days to 1.5 hours before exercise performance testing significantly improved endurance exercise performance, due to its low glycemic index, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative capacity, and blood flow enhancing effects [R].
4. May Improve Joint Health And Gout
The anti-inflammatory properties of tart cherry juice have been well researched. The antioxidants in tart cherries, can support a wide variety of acute and chronic conditions associated with inflammation. Research indicates that tart cherry may benefit conditions such as arthritis and gout, by restoring plasma uric acid (UA) concentrations, improving mobility and movement in arthritic patients. In a recent case-crossover study with 633 gout patients, consumption of fresh cherries or cherry extract over a 2-day period was associated with a 35% lower risk of gout attacks compared with no intake of cherries [R]. Again these findings can be attributed to the anthocyanins found in tart cherry juice.
Tart Cherry Juice Benefits: Takeaway
It’s safe to say, that the hype is real. Tart cherry juice has significant health benefits for overall wellness, in addition to ergogenic benefits for athletes due to its rich polyphenol, and nutrient content. Studies have shown that tart cherry juice nutrition benefits endurance capacity and joint health, reduces muscle pain, and improves exercise recovery through powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Consuming natural alternatives such as tart cherry instead of NSAIDS such as ibuprofen to reduce muscle pain and soreness will help in the process of neutralizing free radicals and preventing oxidative stress without long-term health detriment.
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Carlsen, Monica H et al. “The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide.” Nutrition journal vol. 9 3. 22 Jan. 2010, doi:10.1186/1475-2891-9-3
Losso, Jack N et al. “Pilot Study of the Tart Cherry Juice for the Treatment of Insomnia and Investigation of Mechanisms.” American journal of therapeutics vol. 25,2 (2018): e194-e201. doi:10.1097/MJT.0000000000000584
Kuehl KS, Perrier ET, Elliot DL, Chesnutt JC. Efficacy of tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010 May 7;7:17. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-7-17. PMID: 20459662; PMCID: PMC2874510.
Gao R, Chilibeck PD. Effect of Tart Cherry Concentrate on Endurance Exercise Performance: A Meta-analysis. J Am Coll Nutr. 2020 Sep-Oct;39(7):657-664. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2020.1713246. Epub 2020 Jan 27. PMID: 31986108.
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