If you were to make a list of the tastiest and most popular fruit juices, cherry juice would probably not be at the top. Despite that, it’s been making headlines as an essential workout supplement for its capability to boost muscle recovery. Since muscle damage and soreness during exercise seem to be precipitated by inflammation and oxidative damage, cherry juice (a potent source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories) is a natural choice for protecting muscles from damage during exercise.
Testing Cherry Juice
A 2006 scientific study published by D.A. Connolly and other researchers at the University of Vermont tested this hypothesis. In the study, fourteen men drank 12 ounces of cherry juice or a placebo (flavored Kool-aid!) twice a day for eight days. Halfway through the study, the men did a series of soreness-inducing eccentric bicep curls on a weight machine. The researchers measured muscle soreness and strength loss in the days following the bicep curls. Finally, to control for individual variation, the groups repeated the experiment two weeks later, switching out the Kool-aid for cherry juice and vice versa.
The researchers found that the cherry juice significantly reduced muscles soreness, especially 48 and 72 hours post-exercise. What’s more, the group drinking the placebo lost 22% of their strength in the days following the exercise routine, compared to only a 4% strength loss among the cherry juice drinkers!
These results were fascinating, but the mechanism responsible for preventing soreness and muscle strength loss after exercise remained unproven. Scientists had good reason to suspect that the anti-oxidant or anti-inflammatory properties of cherry juice were responsible, but confirming that would require a closer look at how cherry juice affects the chemistry that goes on inside the body. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Nutrition set out to do just that.
A team of researchers led by Tinna Traustaddóttir at the Kronos Longevity Research Institute in Arizona tracked the effects of cherry juice on markers of oxidative stress in elderly men and women. Like with Connolly et al.’s study, a small set of volunteers were split into two groups. One drank cherry juice (eight ounces twice per day) for two weeks, while the other group drank a placebo. This time, the researchers took blood samples and collected urine to learn how the cherry juice affected levels of two markers of oxidative stress in the body. Just as expected, the cherry juice demonstrated a significant anti-oxidative effect as compared to the placebo.
A study in marathon runners confirmed the anti-inflammatory properties of cherry juice, too. Following a similar protocol to Traustaddóttir et al.’s study, a paper published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports showed that cherry juice reduced levels of interleukin-6, C-reactive protein, and uric acid—all markers of inflammation— following completion of a marathon.
If you want the muscle-protective benefits of cherry juice, what’s the best way to go about getting them? Nutrition researchers haven’t quite yet hammered out the optimal dose, but most research papers settle around a protocol of eight to twelve ounces of 100% cherry juice, twice per day. If you’re trying to get ready for a specific event, like a long hike, a marathon, or a century bike ride, make sure you drink cherry juice for at least four days before and after the event for best results. Cherrish is one brand we suggest that have different flavors of all natural cherry juice, but making your own is an option as well!
John Davis is a Minnesota-based writer, scholar, and coach. He graduated from Carleton College with a degree in chemistry and an interest in the intersection of science, health, and fitness. His research interests include long-distance running, injury treatment and prevention, and lifestyle habits for long-term health. In his free time, he is an avid runner, keen reader of scientific research, and a high school track and cross country coach. His website, RunningWritings.com, provides detailed analysis of elite training, injury treatments, and coaching philosophies for runners. His first book, Modern Training and Physiology for Middle and Long-Distance Runners, was published in 2013 and is available at Amazon.com.