Further to our initial post about the potential benefits of pure tart cherry juice, LYNX club member, Barb Bryan, shared some deeper insight on how and why she incorporates tart cherry juice into her training regime:

As most of you know, I work as a clinical dispensing Pharmacist with an added BSc (Nutrition). My first passion is “Food Pharmacy” with “Medicinal Pharmacy” an absolute necessity in a large percent of my patients. However, prevention and de-prescribing is always my main focus and sometimes real whole foods can be great competitors to pharmaceutical drugs or manufactured supplements. The human body is amazing with all its biochemical pathways that we have yet to fully understand. Real foods contain many compounds that actually act synergistically within these pathways to provide an overall effect beyond what a single compounded supplement can match. Science and research are proving that what we eat can have a profound effect on our health and our bodies ability to function optimally. From a clinical standpoint, any real food would be favorable over a drug, and as “food is fuel” this inherently should be beneficial to any exercising athlete. Tart cherries consumed as whole fruit, juice concentrate, or seed extract is exactly an example of this when timed right and in the right amount during training.

There are many health benefits for taking Tart Cherry Juice. One of the newest being its possible treatment of Type 2 diabetes (potentially increasing insulin sensitivity). However, as an athlete, there are a few that motivate me more than the others:

1. Mitigating muscle pain and damage and as an effective post-workout recovery drink

I don’t usually use tart cherry concentrate on a regular, daily basis especially during my adaptive, build phase of training. The reason for this is that literature is not clearly recommending or discouraging extra use of tart cherry juice at this stage — this may be due to some well-known studies of Gomez-Cabrera et al. that state taking high amounts of antioxidants “directly” before and during training can blunt the training adaptation response. Other studies have shown no effect however, and some studies do not show any decrease in performance.  It’s important to note that these studies used vitamins C and E, which are not found in high quantities in tart cherries. Also, it has been theorized that the use of whole foodbased products (e.g., tart cherry concentrate, resveratrol in grapes), not synthetic supplements, do not necessarily inhibit the adaptation response — research remains inconclusive. Regardless, I don’t use tart cherry juice during my base and build phases.

However, after the base and build phases of training are over and when I need help recovering from “very long” rides and runs, or very exhausting high-intensity interval training sessions, or from back to back training camp sessions, I do utilize tart cherry juice.  (I do not drink it after hard swims though. Interesting to note that literature hypothesizes that a lower level of inflammatory stress is incurred while performing the weight-supported nature of swimming – so it is thought that there may be little benefit from tart cherry concentrate after hard swims … interesting!). Also, when my focus is on improving recovery, due to back to back races or multi-day events, then tart cherry concentrate seems to be largely beneficial. The high content of polyphenolic compounds in tart cherry concentrate, via their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, have been proposed to lessen muscle damage, reduce levels of pain, and improve recovery in endurance athletes. These forms of training – intense and/or long exercise sessions – may overload our body’s natural antioxidant capacity and prevent recovery. During these times I do reach for the concentrate convenient formulation (30mls ~ 2 tbsps.~ of the concentrated tart cherry) Or, the 100% no sugar added juice acts as the majority of my recovery carbohydrates after the workout in a protein rich smoothie. (See recipe below)

2. Improve my quality of sleep

As athletes we are focused on fast recovery, and that requires top quality sleep. This can be hard to come by for most of us with a non-stop lifestyle and high stress schedules. Tart cherries contain melatonin which improves sleep duration and quality without any negative effects on cognitive function. On my long training days, any intense training sessions or training camps, at bedtime I mix in the insulin stimulating, (remember insulin delivers the glucose and proteins to the muscle cells for repair and replenishing), tart cherry concentrate with 20g of the slow digesting protein casein (cottage cheese or casein powder) to boost my protein synthesis while I get a melatonin boost for some extra quality sleep.

Being prepared and knowing your training plan will help you prepare your weekly nutrition on food prep days. You can prep a tart cherry smoothie for after those long hard sessions and a bedtime snack for the evening on that particular day. 😊

Tart Cherry Recovery Smoothie Recipe

  • 1 cup frozen tart cherries or 30mls concentrate or 1 cup 100% pure juice
  • 1 serving of protein powder of choice (19-24g of protein)
  • 1 frozen Banana
  • 1 cup cold water or almond milk
  • Add ice if you like. Refreshing and helps with rehydration after exercise.

Blend until smooth. Carbohydrate: 60 g. Protein: 19 g.

As a reminder from Part 3 of 6 about Macronutrients

Rapid replacement of glycogen is important following long or intense exercise (sessions and events > 60 minutes and those sessions with significant amounts of intensity). Carbohydrate foods and/or fluids should be consumed directly after exercise, particularly in the first hour after exercise.

  • 1.2g of carbs/kg body weight per hour during the first 4 hours after exercise maximizes recovery of glycogen stores. If possible, half of these carbs should be ingested within that hour window and the rest spaced throughout the remaining 3 + hours

As an example, a 50kg women @ 1g carb/kg is 50g of carbs/hr for the first 4 hours after exercise. This is 200 carbs. It would be ideal to ingest 50% of those directly after exercise. The smoothie above would be a good option in that first hour.

Thanks for reading!

Barb Bryan, BSc(Pharmacy), BSc(Nutrition) APA PRESCRIBING RIGHTS