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Exercise, with a (tart) cherry on top!

Berries have burst onto the research scene in recent years. Tart cherries have shown some of the most promise in certain areas, leading to this study of powdered tart cherry on exercise recovery.

Study under review: Effects of powdered Montmorency tart cherry supplementation on an acute bout of intense lower body strength exercise in resistance trained males

Introduction

There are so many reasons to eat your fruits and vegetables. Besides being delicious, they provide benefits for overall health, sports performance, and exercise recovery. Cherries[1], blueberries[2], cranberries[3], beetroot[4], and purple sweet potatoes[5] have all shown to be beneficial for health and/or exercise, and can be considered functional foods, which are foods that have a positive effect on health beyond the basic nutrition they provide. A number of the beneficial effects are due to the phytochemicals and fiber found in the pulp and skin. Some of these are antioxidants called flavonoids. Flavonoids can be further subdivided into anthocyanins (a pigment that may appear red, purple, or blue, depending on the acidity of its environment), and anthoxanthins (pigments that contribute white to yellow colors). Anthocyanins are found in Montmorency tart cherries, and are thought to be a key factor to potential health benefits of tart cherries.

As shown in Figure 1, recent research suggests that cherries may benefit a range of overall health markers[1], reduce oxidative stress[6] and inflammation, and improve sleep quality. With that in mind, the effects of cherries on exercise recovery[7] have been of increasing interest[8]. While many people turn to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help reduce pain and inflammation after exercise, NSAID use may be detrimental to muscle growth[9] and can also cause problems in the GI tract[10] and liver[11]. Because of these potential negative consequences of frequent NSAID use, an increasing number of studies have been looking for similar anti-inflammatory effects from food sources[12].

Figure 1: Some possible effects of tart cherries

Cherries are one of the best food sources of antioxidants, though only a small number of studies have looked at the effects of tart cherry supplementation in response to resistance exercise. One study[12] found that tart cherry juice attenuated post-exercise strength losses and muscle pain compared with placebo, although analysis of blood markers to determine physiological effects was not performed. Another study[13] found similar recovery improvements as well as blood markers showing reduced oxidative stress following exercise. It is important to note the increasing evidence[14] that high doses of antioxidants may blunt some of the positive effects of exercise training, and so a “less is more” approach may be prudent.

In light of the limited but compelling research available on tart cherries, the main objective of this new study was to see if a powdered (as opposed to juice) tart cherry supplement could lead to similar reductions in muscle soreness, strength loss, and oxidative damage following a bout of intense resistance exercise. Additionally, the study examined blood markers of muscle damage, inflammation, and oxidative stress.

Cherries appear to offer a range of health benefits, including reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, and improving sleep quality. The effects of cherries on exercise recovery have been of increasing interest for researchers.

Who and what was studied?

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