• Julie Luther

Say "Cherrio" to Post Exercise Pain!

Say “cherrio” to Post Exercise Pain!

Exercise is the backbone of a healthy life, right? Then why is it the very thing that is so good for you can cause such soreness in your muscles? Well, the principle of the “exercise training effect” is that you progressively push your body harder with each workout. By working out progressively harder you require your body to adapt to the stress and get stronger. Without the extra push, no adaptation takes place. This overload requires recovery and during the recovery THAT is when your body gets stronger and more fit. The workout is important, as the effects cause the body to adapt (get stronger, faster, more agile, more flexible) but the recovery is when the magic actually takes place. During recovery your body is very busy, replenishing depleted energy stores, repairing damaged tissue and initiating protein synthesis (the process of increasing the protein content of muscle cells). All of this recovery can equal sore, stiff tired muscles.

Emerging research suggests tart cherry juice has a unique blend of powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agents that help athletes and exercise enthusiasts recover faster from exhaustive exercise. This is music to my ears! As I have aged, I have had to deal with muscle soreness more and more. So I experimented with the research results and have been taking a tart cherry supplement called Thera Cherry for 3 months now and I can attest that the research is correct. I have very little stiffness after my workouts, no matter how hard I train. I am 100% sold on the power of tart cherries! So now, let’s look at the research and you can see for yourself just how effective tart cherries are to your comfort during recovery from exercise.

Tart cherries contain specialized flavonoids, known as Anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are antioxidant flavonoids that protect the cells of many body systems. These plant compounds are thought to have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

First let’s look at what antioxidants actually accomplish in your body and the response your body has to acute inflammation.

  • Antioxidants are compounds that “donate” electrons to unstable molecules, so they don’t have to snatch electrons from unsuspecting nearby cells. The flavonoids found in tart cherries are called anthocyanins.

  • Acute inflammation is a protective immune response of the body to heal itself. An initial acute inflammation step is the dilation of arterioles and the opening of new capillaries to allow plasma proteins, white blood cells and immune cells to the area of injury, such as the muscle damaged by exercise. This protective process often stimulates nerves, potentially leading to irritation and pain.

Now let’s take a look at several research studies that tout the benefits of tart cherries.

  • Strength Training and Cherry Juice. Often when we strength train we get sore and lose strength for a few days after the exercise bout. This study showed tart cherries not only help with soreness but increase strength as well. In 2006 Connolly McHugh & Padilla-Zakour designed a study to determine the effect of tart cherry juice before and after exercise. Fourteen male college students drank 12 fluid ounces of a cherry juice blend (equivalent to 50–60 cherries) or a placebo once in the morning and once in the evening for 8 consecutive days. The participants performed two sets of 20 biceps curls, with a 3-minute rest between sets. The protocol was repeated 2 weeks later, with study subjects who initially took the placebo now taking the cherry juice drink. In the placebo trial, strength loss was 30% 24 hours after exercise and 12% 96 hours after it. In the cherry juice trial, strength loss was only 12% after 24 hours, and strength was actually 6% above baseline after 96 hours. Most impressively, average strength loss over the 4 days after eccentric exercise was 22% with the placebo, but only 4% with the cherry juice.

  • Endurance Training and Cherry Juice. Endurance training, running especially, can cause acute muscle damage that both decreases force production and produces acute inflammation for up to 1 week after exercise. Let’s see if the anti-inflammatory and/or antioxidant effects of cherry juice may lessen this muscle protein disruption.

In 2010, Kuehl and colleagues compared the effects of tart cherry juice and a placebo cherry drink on muscle pain among the Oregon Hood-to-Coast Relay runners. The race spans 195 miles from Mount Hood to the Oregon coast with 12-person race teams (each racer runs three segments totaling about 16 miles) crossing two mountain ranges in about 28 hours. Fifty-four healthy runners volunteered for the study. Participants running on the same relay team were assigned to the same drink condition (28 cherry juice, 26 placebo) so they could not unintentionally switch drinks during the study. After completing the race, participants in both groups reported more muscle pain than they’d had at baseline. However, the increase in pain was significantly less in the cherry juice group than in the placebo group. The researchers concluded that ingesting tart cherry juice for 7 days prior to and during a strenuous running event can minimize post run muscle pain.

In another endurance study, Howatson et al. (2010) had 20 marathon runners consume two 8-ounce bottles of a commercially blended tart cherry juice (Cherrypharm, Geneva, New York) or a placebo (one drink in the morning and one drink in the evening) for 5 days before, on the day of and for 2 days after a marathon. After the marathon, the researchers measured several markers/signs of muscle damage, including muscle soreness, isometric strength, creatine kinase levels and lactate dehydrogenase levels. The scientists also measured indicators for inflammation, including interleukin-6, C-reactive protein and uric acid, and examined total antioxidant status and oxidative stress before and after the race. Isometric strength recovered significantly faster in the cherry juice group. Inflammation declined significantly in the cherry juice group, while total antioxidant status was about 10% greater (this is a positive outcome) in the cherry juice group than in the placebo group. The authors concluded that cherry juice appears to provide a viable way to aid recovery after strenuous exercise by increasing total antioxidative capacity, reducing inflammation and aiding in recovery of muscle function.

My final thoughts are this…if you would like relief from post exercise soreness, and general achiness, try this natural route to a pain free life. I am totally sold on the benefits of tart cherries in my life. Cherrio!

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