Jan 29, 2015
Cherries For Your Muscles

Tart cherries (also known as sour cherries) have received increased interest as a functional food because they contain a high percentage of antioxidant compounds. Functional foods are those which provide health benefits above and beyond basic nutrient content.

By Heather Barnhill & Dr. Christopher Mohr

Heather Barnhill, MS, is a freelance writer and editor in the health and fitness field. Christopher Mohr, PhD, RD, is the owner of Louisville, Ky.-based Mohr Results, Inc., which provides nutrition and training consultations for individuals and corporations. He can be reached through his Web site: www.MohrResults.com.

Tart cherries are a very good source of anthocyanins, which are one of the major groups of pigments responsible for the bright coloration of fruits and vegetables. Anthocyanins belong to a group of substances called flavonoids. These are best known for their antioxidant ability to scavenge oxygen radicals and other reactive elements that have been associated with muscle damage.

One recent study assessed the efficacy of a tart cherry juice blend in preventing the symptoms of normal muscle damage caused by exercise. In this randomized, placebo-controlled crossover design study, 14 male college students drank 12 fluid ounces of a cherry juice blend or a placebo twice daily for eight consecutive days. On the fourth day a bout of eccentric elbow flexion contractions (2 x 20 maximum contractions) was performed. Isometric elbow flexion strength, pain, muscle tenderness, and relaxed elbow angle were recorded before the study and for four days following the exercise. The same protocol was then repeated two weeks later with the subjects who initially took the placebo, now taking the cherry juice, and vice versa. (This is known as a crossover design.)

It was found that strength loss and pain were significantly lower in the cherry juice trial versus the placebo. (Muscle tenderness was not different between trials.) Perhaps the most notable finding was that strength loss (averaged over the four days after the exercise) was 22 percent with the placebo, but only four percent with the cherry juice. This difference was statistically significant.

Certainly more studies need to be conducted with larger samples and different subjects to ascertain the effectiveness of cherry juice in preventing the symptoms of exercise-induced muscle damage. This was one of very few studies measuring the effects of cherry juice. In the meantime, it is impossible to ignore the overall health benefits of antioxidant-rich tart cherries, so drinking cherry juice may be a wise choice.

Study Specs: “The Efficacy of a Tart Cherry Juice Blend in Preventing the Symptoms of Muscle Damage,” has been accepted for publication by British Journal of Sports Medicine, and was authored by D. Connolly, M. McHugh, and O. Padilla-Zakour. The journal’s Web site is at: BJSM.Bmjjournals.com.

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