Tart Cherries: A Superfood for Endurance Athletes
Nutrition should be at the top of the list of every athlete’s training plan, especially if they are at an elite level or looking to substantially improve performance. Some runners believe all they need is to run in order to reach their goals, but this is far from a proper training plan. A good plan that will more likely reach success is one that incorporates all of the different components. These include training runs, strength workouts, nutrition, and rest. Much of the power of training has a mental component so building psychology into the equation is also important.
Over the years sports nutrition has been a highly researched area and has emphasized the use of energy bars and drinks as well as dietary supplements. Not that these products are of no use, but if you can get all that you need from whole natural foods, it is your safest bet. There are several everyday food choices that supply the same nutrients as these sports supplements. You just have to know what dosage of nutrients is good for your body and how to properly time them according to your workouts.
Recently real foods have been studied more closely to understand what nutrients are truly helpful to endurance athletes. You have probably heard of beetroot being an effective source of nitrates that help deliver oxygen more effectively to the working muscles. Chocolate milk has also been revealed to be just as good for recovery as other post-workout protein drinks. These examples are just a few among the list of superfoods for endurance athletes.
Due to the higher levels of anti-inflammatory nutrients in tart cherries, researchers have been studying the effects of including tart cherry juice in the regular diet of athletes. The post-workout soreness and pain in the muscles are caused by a buildup of inflammation, so it makes sense to try and get rid of that inflammation as part of recovery. Cherry juice has a higher concentration of these anti-inflammatory nutrients and is widely available from many different brands, so including it in the diet is relatively convenient.
Research has shown that consuming tart cherry juice before exercise results in less muscle damage. One study examined these results in two group of runners who were given either the tart cherry juice or a placebo for five days leading up to a marathon, as well as on race day and for two days following the race. The group who consumed the cherry juice had significantly less inflammation in the body and quicker recovery of muscle strength after the race. The fact that the tart cherry juice can maintain the least amount of inflammation in the body may mean that you can tolerate higher intensity and paces throughout your race yielding better results.
For athletes, quality sleep is probably one of the most important aspects of training. Without sufficient sleep, our reflexes are slowed, fatigue levels are higher, and motivation is almost nonexistent. Sleep is an extremely important part of recovery of the high-intensity training runs. Tart cherry juice concentrate has been shown to increase melatonin levels, which is the hormone in charge of regulating our sleep-wake cycles. Drinking an ounce of tart cherry juice concentrate about 30 minutes before heading to bed may help you fall asleep faster and improve deep sleep.
Hard training runs cause a form of stress on the body that may result in immune system dysfunction, which means a higher risk of getting sick. Endurance athletes commonly get sick during or after their hardest training weeks, and many times this illness falls right around their competition week. Taking certain supplements may lower this risk, including cherry juice. With vitamin C, zinc and flavanoids, tart cherries help fight infection and enhance the immune system. Including a shot or two of cherry juice is all you need to keep your risk of pre-race illness at its lowest.
Some cherry juice concentrate formulas give doses in forms of shots, but if the taste is too tart, these shots can be easily combined with a cup of water to ease the flavor. Tart cherry juice can be frozen to make tasty cherry popsicles and is a great addition to post-workout smoothies, as well. The anti-inflammatory benefits of tart cherries have been shown to help ease the symptoms of those affected by osteoarthritis, which means less overall pain and stiffness. This is the same effect seen in athletes with muscle pain. Besides these benefits mentioned, tart cherries have a load of additional nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin K, manganese, and potassium, therefore providing essential health benefits to just about anyone. Only good things will come from including tart cherry juice in your daily diet. Just keep in mind to choose varieties that do not include added sugars as cherries already have a natural sweetness to them.