Tart cherry juice is something I drink pretty much every single day – and definitely everyday when in hardcore training mode. Why? For one, because I know it helps me to recover so much faster. I have no doubt its anti-inflammatory effects have allowed me to get back out there running and feeling great the very next day after a tough or long run. In fact anytime I fail to utilize it, I don’t recover as well… And it’s happened enough times now to know it’s not just circumstantial.
But as with anything, I wanted to know exactly WHY I felt so much better the next day. When I first began digging for answers, I learned that tart cherries are packed with unique anthocyanins (more so than other fruits) and other compounds including various phenolic acids (chlorogenic acid, caffein acid, ellagic acid) and flavonoids (isorhamnetin, kaempferol, quercetin, catechin, epicatechin, procyanidins) that naturally mediate the inflammatory process. These compounds deliver comparable anti-inflammatory activity as do NSAIDs, but without the negative side effects.
This “Red Report” (published in 2012) is an excellent summary of the studies outlining tart cherries many benefits – however, in the past 4 years a number of additional studies have been published confirming various benefits of tart cherries and uncovering new ones. So let’s get down to it – here’s the 5 reasons WHY you really want to be including tart cherries regularly in your day to day habits.
1. Tart cherries help to reduce post-exercise muscle soreness and joint pain
I was first introduced to tart cherry juice after hearing about a study that looked promising for helping reduce muscle soreness in runners. This 2010 study published by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition took healthy runners competing in the Oregon Hood to Coast relay and showed that ingesting the equivalent of 1 cup of pure tart cherry juice for 7 days prior to as well as during a strenuous running can minimize post-run muscle pain.
And this 2010 study published the the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports took marathon runners, measured inflammatory markers before and after, and found that tart cherry juice appears to act as a good recovery aid following strenuous exercise (in this case, a marathon) by increasing total anti oxidative capacity and reducing inflammation.
When I learned of these studies, I began drinking tart cherry juice and took to the kitchen to build a recovery shake that included tart cherry juice. This Chocolate Cherry Berry Recovery Shake is the result of that, and I’ve been both drinking it and recommending it for years now!
There are many other studies that point to tart cherries ability to hasten recovery, such as this 2015 study showing tart cherries ability to reduce muscle soreness, prevent muscle breakdown as well as feel stronger after resistance exercise (strength training). Or this 2015 study showing Montmorency tart cherry concentrate to be effective in accelerating recovery and reducing exercise-induced inflammation following strenuous cycling exercise. And this 2014 study showing Montmorency tart cherries to be effective in combatting post-exercise oxidative stress and muscle damage, leading to imposed recovery during a 3-day simulated road cycle race. Finally, this 2016 study found Montmorency tart cherry concentrate helped speed recovery following prolonged, repeat sprint activity scubas as soccer and rugby.
2. Tart cherries act as an ergogenic aid to help you run faster
It’s true – by consuming tart cherry juice regularly in the days leading up to a race, you are increasing your chances of running faster with greater endurance and hitting your target race time.
This 2016 study published by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition showed that subjects who took the equivalent of 2 cups tart cherry juice (via capsules containing dried tart cherries from Montmorency tart cherries) daily for 7 days pre-race averages 13% faster half-marathon race finish times and were closer to their predicted race paces than the placebo group.
3. Tart cherries help you to sleep better
Specifically, two studies have shown improved sleep with tart cherry supplementation. This 2012 study showed the high melatonin levels in tart cherries to be beneficial in improving sleep duration and quality in healthy men and women, and might be of benefit in managing disturbed sleep. And this 2010 study showed tart cherries (1 cup pure tart cherry juice twice per day) to reduce the severity of insomnia in older adults and helped them stay asleep longer.
Note – per this study, Montmorency cherries contain approximately 6 times more melatonin than do Balafon cherries, so look for tart cherry juice from Monmorency cherries if you’re using it to help fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
4. Tart cherries help you to overcome inflammatory conditions
There are many inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis, that tart cherry juice has been proved useful in combatting. It can also help to manage pain associated with the inflammatory condition.
- Gout – As far back as the 1950’s people have known tart cherry juice for relief of gout symptoms. This 2012 study confirms that indeed tart cherries are associated with a lower risk of gout attacks.
- Arthritis – This 2013 study showed tart cherry juice provided symptom relief for patients with mild to moderate knee osteoarthritis. And this 2012 study demonstrated tart cherry juice to reduce inflammation as measured by certain serum inflammatory biomarkers among women with osteoarthritis.
- Heart health – Further to what is mentioned in the Red Report, this 2016 study shows that Montmorency tart cherries worked quickly to reduce high blood pressure in men with early hypertension. And this 2009 study showing tart cherry juice to reduce oxidative stress in older men and women.
- Asthma – This 2015 study found that marathon runners drinking 1 cup tart cherry juice daily experienced zero upper respiratory tract symptoms whereas 50% runners consuming placebo did – and the authors conclude tart cherry juice may be useful for those dealing with asthma, allergic rhinitis and exercise induced bronco constriction.
5. Tart cherries may help improve your cognitive focus and memory
Inflammation has been associated with reduced cognitive function and a poor memory, not to mention neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimers and dementia. This 2016 study showed that daily consumption of tart cherry reduced age-associated inflammation and improved working memory and the researchers summarized tart cherries may very well promote the delay of the onset of neurodegenerative diseases. And this 2016 study showed improved cognitive behaviour with supplementation of tart cherries.
Now that you know what a good idea tart cherries are, here’s a little run down on what to look for when you’re shopping for them. While I use tart cherry juice from Montmorency cherries, there are other forms and types to choose from.
You will find tart cherries in the form of juice or a juice concentrate, as well as dried and frozen (but likely not fresh – they oxidize too quickly to be found fresh). Often you’ll see either Montmorency (the most most common) or Balaton tart cherries used, although there are other varieties out there, such as Morello.
When shopping for tart cherry juice or concentrate, be sure that it is 100% pure tart cherry juice you’re buying – not a blend, or black cherry juice. Sweet cherries also provide anti-inflammatory benefits, but tart cherries are twice as powerful. And when buying dried tart cherries, brands that use apple juice concentrate as a sweetener (such as Eden) will have less added sugar than those that use cane sugar or sugar.
To deliciously healthy food and stronger faster running… Cheers,
Sarah J Cuff, RHN
That’s exactly why I recently bought a bottle of tart cherry juice to drink after my 50 mile race! I also keep frozen tart cherries in the freezer for smoothies.
Sounds perfect, nicely done 🙂 Frozen tart cherries is something I still haven’t been able to find!! So far I’ve just been aaaalll about the juice, but using frozen in smoothies would be awesome.
So as crazy as this sounds, what time of day should you drink tart cherry juice? I’m concerned about the high level of melatonin. If I drink it after my morning workout will it increase drowsiness?
Not crazy at all!! I should have clarified in my blog, as I get asked this a lot. While tart cherries do contain more melatonin than any other food, it is still much less than say, a melatonin supplement. For example, 1 cup of tart cherry juice (2 Tbsp tart cherry concentrate) contains about 0.05 mg melatonin, whereas supplements contain usually about 3 mg and upwards of 12 mg. It’s a big difference – and therefore tart cherry juice will not make you sleepy during the day! It simply works in concert with your body’s own natural release of melatonin (which occurs when it gets dark – blood levels of melatonin are essentially undetectable during daytime, but rise sharply during the dark; the duration of melatonin secretion each day is directly proportional to the length of the night). Plus the anti-inflammatory action of the tart cherry juice helps with sleep (in that a number of inflammatory cytokines are intricately related to the modulation of sleep).
So feel free to drink it at any time of the day at all! If you’re specifically looking for sleep benefits, drink it one hour before bed, but otherwise drink it whenever you’d like… It will NOT make you drowsy if you drink it in the morning after your workout – it’ll only serve to help you recover faster in that case.
That’s perfect. Thank you for the quick reply!
Hi, is there a brand of tart cherry juice you recommend, and where do you buy in Vancouver?
There’s a few good brands! Eden is organic and not from concentrate – really great tasting (you’ll find it at Whole Foods); Black River is Canadian and although it is from concentrate still tastes gray is about half the cost of Eden (you can find it at London Drugs and maybe Thrifty’s). More and more grocery stores are carrying it these days, as long as it’s pure tart cherry juice, nothing added, you’re good!
I have indigestion after drinking tart cherry juice, even when mixed in small amounts into a smoothie. Will I get the same benefits if I cook with it instead?
Yes absolutely, you’ll get all the benefits from the phytonutrients in the tart cherry juice that make it so anti-inflammatory even if it’s cooked!!
Make sure they are montmorency tart cherries. They have been proven in human clinical trials to reduce pain and inflammation in Gout and arthritis patients and help sore muscle recovery in athletes.