It's not exactly new news that tart cherry juice is a must-consume superfood ... er... superdrink... for runners. Since my day job involves medical writing and rigorous scientific validation, one of my pet peeves is when companies make junk-science claims. This said, I love the fact that more than 50 scientific studies support tart cherry juice's numerous health benefits for athletes and the general population, including:
- Decreased muscle soreness – Antioxidants release inflammation-causing enzymes
- Faster muscle recovery – Antioxidants reduce exercise-induced oxidative stress
- Better pain management – Anthocyanins (the phytochemicals that give the juice its deep ruby color) fight pain and inflammation linked to arthritis and gout
- Increased sleep time and quality – Melatonin helps regulate your sleep cycle, and melatonin and anthocyanins help you achieve more restful sleep
- Reduced risk of stroke - Anthocyanins help regulate fat and glucose (sugar) in people with metabolic syndrome.
Just in case you're a skeptic like me, here are links to some of the actual studies/abstracts:.
I've been intrigued by tart cherry juice for awhile, because of all of the above – plus the simple fact that I love the taste of cherry. So imagine how excited I was when the nice folks at Cheribundi sent me some sample love: an entire box of tart cherry juice. I first tried the juice during my "prehab not rehab" week. I popped a bottle in the fridge before I went out for a 10-mile run. It was freezing cold out that day, so I had to run in multiple layers – which makes me sweat more. By the time I returned home, I was dying of thirst. I gratefully gulped the entire 8-ounce bottle in a few sips and must say, regardless of any of the touted benefits, it was delicious. Yes, it's tart, but not overly so. When you hear "tart," you think of acidic and this is more like "sweet umami," if that makes sense. It's a pleasant cherry flavor. It really quenched my thirst, but I was more interested to see if and how it would affect my recovery. Especially because I also did some heavy-duty house-cleaning a few hours after my run.
I usually feel pretty fatigued the day after my long runs. Anecdotally, I was not fatigued the day after I drank the tart cherry juice. Epidemiologically speaking, I can't necessarily attribute my energy level to the juice. I drank it at the tail end of my "prehab not rehab" week where I was working out less and my training stress score and mileage were lower.
After drinking several bottles of this juice, I honestly cannot prove that it has definitively helped my recovery or wowed me as a superfood. Keep in mind, I am a medical writer and am thinking epidemiologically about all the variables that can affect recovery, like stress, sleep, diet, accumulated fatigue, life stress, etc. However, I will say that this is a product I will continue to purchase – mainly because I love the taste and versatility and also because of the 50 scientific studies that back up its benefits. It's a whole food, loaded with anthocyanins and that is a good thing to include in my nutritional arsenal. Period.
Runners should eat whole foods. Everyone should eat whole foods – even pets.
I retired from cookbook writing a few years ago, but when I get a product to review, I still can't resist playing "Iron Chef" in the privacy of my kitchen. Here are 3 recipes I developed using Cheribundi Tart Cherry Juice. Enjoy!
Cheery Cherry Oatmeal for Runners
Besides providing a helping of nutrients, the cherry juice dyes the oatmeal a lovely pink shade – a cheerful way to start the day, especially when you top it with fresh fruit. I added protein powder to the mix to further speed recovery.
- 1/2 cup Cheribundi Tart Cherry Juice
- 1/2 cup non-dairy milk (I used soy) - Add more if you like a thinner porridge
- Pinch salt
- 1 scoop of your favorite vanilla, chocolate or berry protein powder.
- 1/2 cup rolled oats
- Sweetener, optional
In a small sauce pain over medium-low heat, mix cherry juice, non-dairy milk and salt. (It may curdle a bit. Not to worry.) Whisk in protein powder until smooth. Bring to a boil. Stir in oats, lower heat and cook up to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until it reaches the consistency you like.
Ultimate Runners' Recovery Smoothie
Try this creamy-dreamy smoothie after a long run or a hard workout. It's a breeze to put together since it only contains a few ingredients. Each of these ingredients packs a powerful nutritional punch – tart cherry juice to fight muscle soreness, banana to replenish potassium, protein powder to feed your depleted muscles, flax seed for your daily dose of omega-3s, and turmeric to stave off inflammation. (Please don't go overboard on the turmeric or it will taste odd - a pinch is enough.)
- 8 oz Cheribundi Tart Cherry Juice
- 1/2 large frozen banana
- 1 scoop of your favorite vanilla protein powder.
- 1 T ground flax seed
- 1 large pinch turmeric
- An ice cube or two, optional
Whiz everything in a blender until smooth and creamy.
Smoky Cherry-Balsamic Marinade
Red wine makes a great marinade base for protein, so why not tart cherry juice? I threw this together in minutes. It infuses seitan, tempeh, soy curls and tofu with an smoky umami flavor – perfect for dinner on a chilly winter evening.
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 T aged balsamic vinegar
- 3/4 cup Cheribundi Tart Cherry Juice
- 1 T miso paste
- 1 tsp Spanish smoked paprika
- 1 T extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder
- 2 T ketchup, preferably organic
Makes enough to marinade 1 pound of seitan, tempeh, or tofu or 2 cups of soy curls (add water as needed, for soy curls)
Whiz everything in a blender until smooth and creamy. Marinate your protein in this elixir for at least an hour, or up to 24 hours. The longer, the better. Grill, bake or sauté and serve over veggies or a whole grain.