Benefits of cherry juice on sports performance
Undertaking a stressful activity, like running a marathon, produces an inflammatory response in the body. This is coupled with muscle damage, most likely bought about by oxidative tissue damage. This response is ‘normal’ but painful. As is the way with human beings, however, we like to intervene to see if we can ‘game the system’…. The theory goes that if we consume ‘antioxidants’ either before, during, or after, such a stressful activity, then perhaps we can ‘minimise the damage’, leading to: improved performance or enhanced recovery, or even enhanced ‘subsequent’ performance…or all three. After all, antioxidants are there to boost the body’s defences against oxidative stress…right…?
Research trials have been equivocal. Some studies find that oxidative stress, inflammation and muscle damage is reduced following antioxidant supplementation, whilst others find the opposite, or a neutral outcome (no difference either way).
But wait… Mother Nature has its own supplement ready for trial. Enter: Cherry Juice
Benefits of Cherry juice on sports performance
Tart cherries, like the Montmorency variety, “are known to be high in numerous different phytochemicals with both antioxidant and cyclooxygenase inhibitory properties” – they are potentially antioxidant & anti-inflammatory. The list of cherry juices’ properties includes:
- Pain reduction
- Reduction in muscle damage
The researchers in THIS study set about trying to find out if Cherry juice, when compared to a placebo, would reduce markers of muscle damage & inflammation, perhaps increase antioxidant availability, and possibly even lead to improve performance on a subsequent strength test. This was done in the build-up too, and following, a marathon.
When compared to a placebo, researchers found that those that took the tart cherry juice showed smaller elevations in inflammatory markers, as well as greater isometric muscular contraction strength after the marathon. In short, those consuming cherry juice managed to recover their muscular strength quicker, and had a smaller rise in inflammation, following the marathon.
There were no significant findings regarding muscle damage, although there was a trend toward muscle damage being lower in those consuming the cherry juice. Antioxidant availability was also increased in the cherry juice group.
Cherry juice appears to reduce strength-loss following intense activity. Either due to its anti-inflammatory or antioxidant properties, the benefits of cherry juice seem to allow an individual to recover their strength quicker following an intense bout of endurance activity/prolonged running. Via a reduction in pain, a dampened elevation in inflammation, or directly expediting the recovery process (or a combination of all three), cherry juice appears an effective supplement in the post-exercise window, especially when following very intense activity (when speedy recovery is required).
However, this quote form the study is pertinent:
“Although it is likely that muscle damage, inflammation and oxidative stress are important factors in the adaptation process, minimizing these factors in response to strenuous or prolonged exercise may be important to the recovery process when subsequent training and performance can be inhibited”
Pay attention to the first sentence. Muscle damage, inflammation and oxidative stress ARE normal, and ARE part of the adaptation process i.e. these changes, albeit transiently, are required for the body to do its OWN ‘growing’. Chronic supplementation with antioxidants, such as cherry juice, may ‘hijack’ this process, such that the body does not facilitate its own growth/remodelling/development. Therefore, it would be prudent to save antioxidant supplements, such as cherry juice, for scenarios in which consecutive maximal performances are desired, not simply regular training. The benefits of cherry juice would be most suitable in these scenarios:
- Olympic events (e.g. swimming or track), where the heats, semi’s, and finals are scheduled on consecutive days
- World/European Cup Team sport tournaments, typically where teams play every 3-5 days
- Tennis majors, where individuals play every other day or, sometimes, on consecutive days
Tart cherry benefits
Regular antioxidant supplementation is probably not necessary for most athletes. An athlete may benefit from antioxidant supplementation during a very hard phase of training, however. Excessive antioxidant consumption can actually blunt the adaptations that physical training permits. Instead, antioxidant supplementation, such as in the form of tart cherry juice, might be an effective means to expedite recovery after strenuous exercise. This helps to ensure that maximal performance is possible during competition, or in subsequent physical activity soon after. The benefits of cherry juice consumed in the lead up to a major activity appears to reduce pain and minimise inflammation, and help restore maximal muscle strength quicker in the post-competition period.