You’ll Never Guess What *the* Most Functional Fruit Juice Is
Sports drinks may help you work out harder or recover more quickly, but their ingredients can be a negative mark for your overall wellness since they’re often full of artificial flavors. There’s one sports drink on the market, however, that contains nothing but whole food goodness. It’s the juice of tart cherries, and we bet you’re about to be blown away by how it’s the most functional fruit juice around.
Muscle recovery and quality sleep are vital elements of an athlete’s life — and they’re important for us regular folks who just like to stay fit, too. These are just two of the well-proven effects of tart cherry juice, which has become hugely popular as a workout recovery beverage. Doctors and sports dietitians agree that it’s a beneficial addition to your diet.
Tart cherry juice consumption can lead to better sleep…
Melatonin is a hormone that our brain produces. It’s involved in our circadian rhythm, and helps make us tired when it’s dark out. It’s also present in the juice of tart cherries, making the drink an effective sleep aid.
“Tart Montmorency cherries contain melatonin, a phytochemical responsible for moderating sleep cycles,” says Lawrence J. Cheskin, MD, an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and co-author of Weight Loss for Life. “Better sleep will improve performance during exercise.”
However, it’s important to remember that timing is critical when using tart cherry juice as a sleep aid. “Studies demonstrate this benefit when tart cherry juice (or a tart cherry juice concentrate) is consumed about 30 minutes after waking and again 30 minutes before an evening meal, over a seven-day period,” says Jessica Isaacs, RD, CSSD, and NBA Dietitian who is also a member of Cheribundi‘s Recovery Advisory Council.
…and muscle pain reduction
If there’s one thing anyone who exercises hates, it’s the inevitable muscle soreness that happens afterward. “Tart cherry reduces pain and inflammation and stimulates strength recovery after exercise and decreases blood markers of inflammation and oxidative stress,” Dr. Cheskin says. “Consumption of tart cherry juice before and after intense training and racing can reduce muscle pain.”
What exactly is in tart cherry juice that makes it beneficial for reducing pain during muscle recovery? “Tart cherry juice contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory polyphenol compounds (micronutrients that occur naturally in plants) that have been shown by research to accelerate recovery from strength-based exercise, attenuate muscle soreness, and improve markers of muscle catabolism (breakdown),” says Isaacs. These antioxidants and polyphenols include flavanols, kaempferol, flavones, phenolic acids, and anthocyanins.
Less fatigue = enhanced endurance
If you’re into endurance activities like marathons or long bike rides, tart cherry juice can actually keep you at the top of your game for longer. “Research shows that tart cherry juice may enhance endurance exercise performance by increasing oxygen delivery to the working muscles by increasing nitric oxide bioavailability when consumed in the week leading up to an endurance-based event,” says Isaacs.
Tart cherry juice might even be more impactful for endurance exercise than any other type. “It may be more helpful for exercises that are metabolically difficult,” says Cheskin, who notes that tart cherry juice is also able to directly impact muscle strength, as well.
It’s in endurance sports that tart cherry juice has the most proven benefits, Cheskin says, referencing a study that shows those who drank tart cherry juice recovery following marathon running recovered significantly faster than those who didn’t.
The sugar concern
As is natural for a fruit juice, tart cherry juice does contain a bit of sugar. Specifically, an eight ounce serving of 100% juice has about 25 grams of sugar, which is close to the standard amount of sugar recommended for daily consumption, in total.
There are three factors that make tart cherry’s sugar content less of a concern than you might imagine, however. First, when exercising regularly, you are able to metabolize sugar more effectively. “For highly active individuals, simple sugars are appropriate for post-exercise recovery to restore glycogen (stored carbohydrate) levels in the muscle and liver,” says Isaacs.
Additionally, the juice is not as high glycemic as others. “Research shows that it may enhance endurance exercise performance due to its low glycemic index,” Cheskin tells us. He suggests consuming 100% tart cherry juice, not one with additives that may contain additional sugar, and to be cautious of any foods or drinks with sugar if you are diabetic or pre-diabetic.
Lastly, Cheskin pointed us to a study that showed tart cherry juice actually improves insulin resistance among diabetic women. (Bonus: it decreased cholesterol, too!) This means that tart cherry juice has benefits directly related to how the body processes sugar — despite containing it.
How to drink tart cherry juice
As evidenced by when to drink tart cherry juice for its sleep benefits, it’s good to keep timing in mind when using it for sports performance and recovery, as well. “Most studies that demonstrate a positive benefit with post-exercise recovery (reduction of muscle pain/soreness) when 8-12 ounces (or one-ounce concentrate) of tart cherry juice is consumed, twice a day, for 4-5 days before an event or bout of exercise, and 2-3 days after,” Isaacs informs us.
Cheskin agrees that it’s best to consume the juice both before and after exercise, noting that its benefits have been best proven for usage before and after high-intensity strength exercise and endurance running. “Most studies utilize tart cherry as a concentrate, juice, powder, or capsules,” he adds. The effects appear to be similar no matter what form is used, provided you’re consuming a 100% tart cherry product and not one with additives.
Is tart cherry juice a good fit for your needs?
Provided you’re active and using tart cherry juice to assist with sport recovery, the sugar content shouldn’t be a cause for concern. Beyond that, the juice is generally considered safe. However, if you have any other health conditions you should always check with your provider before trying anything new. “There is a potential for medication interaction for individuals on blood pressure or cholesterol lowering medications. Consult with a healthcare provider if you’re taking these types of medications,” Isaacs says.
Fruit juice in general is no longer considered an important part of your daily nutrition needs, as it once was when fresh fruit wasn’t available throughout the year. Now, health experts typically recommend you eat whole fruit instead, so that you get all of its nutrients along with the naturally occurring fiber, which slows the digestion of sugar. Because tart cherries aren’t available fresh for most people, and at most times of the year, purchasing the juice is an easy way to enjoy its benefits.
Having used this juice myself on and off for some time, I can attest to how well it speeds up muscle recovery. I also paired tart cherry juice with powdered magnesium as a bedtime drink recipe in my book Wake/Sleep, and both my recipe-tester bestie and I were surprised by how much more effective we found it than magnesium alone. This juice is a boon for its moderate cost and pleasant taste, too. In a world where many things that are good for us don’t taste fabulous, highly functional tart cherry juice is a sweet surprise.
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