Guide to cherry

Cherry juice is a popular sports’ supplement used to promote muscle recovery after exercise and to aid sleep. The benefits of cherry juice are greatest in supplements made from sour cherries, rather than sweet cherries, as these contain the highest level of antioxidants.

What does cherry juice do?

Cherries are a rich source of phytonutrients – naturally-occurring plant compounds – that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The anti-inflammatory properties of cherries are like those of NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or aspirin, and work by blocking the body’s production of inflammatory compounds such as histamine.

Cherries also contain high levels of melatonin, a natural chemical which helps regulate the body’s sleep cycle.

Cherry juice and exercise recovery

Cherry juice contains anti-inflammatory antioxidants that reduce muscle damage after exercise. In a study involving 14 students, drinking 350ml cherry juice, twice a day for eight days, significantly reduced the loss of arm muscle strength and pain following repetitive elbow flexion exercises. Loss of strength in the arm was 22 per cent when drinking placebo, but only 4 per cent with the cherry juice. 1

In a similar study involving 10 well-trained male athletes, who performed intensive leg exercises, drinking tart cherry juice helped muscle strength recover more quickly. Researchers suggest this was due to a reduction of oxidative damage following intensive exercise. 2

Drinking tart cherry juice was also shown to reduce muscle damage and inflammation in 20 Marathon runners. Drinking cherry juice for 5 days beforehand, on the day of the Marathon and for 48 hours afterwards, significantly improved recovery compared with placebo. 3

None of those drinking the cherry juice experience upper respiratory tract symptoms afterwards, while half of those taking placebo reported respiratory symptoms afterwards. The anti-inflammatory effects of cherry juice may help to reduce exercise-induced hyperventilation trauma or provide some immune support to reduce susceptibility to viral infections following the physical stress of running a Marathon. 4

Cherry juice helps you sleep

Cherry juice is rich in melatonin, a natural hormone that helps to regulate the sleep-wake cycle.

Getting enough sleep after exercise is especially important as the quality and duration of sleep are closely linked to performance. Drinking cherry juice significantly increases melatonin levels compared with placebo and increases total sleep time and sleep efficiency in healthy volunteers. 5

A study involving older people with chronic insomnia also found that drinking cherry juice improved the sleep and reduced waking to increase total sleep time and sleep efficiency. When compared to placebo, cherry juice produced significant reductions in insomnia. 6

Getting cherry juice from your diet

Tart cherry juice is not commonly included in the diet. Cherry juices usually contain added sugars or other sweeteners, as well as flavourings and colourants. These are not the same as the tart cherry juice concentrates used in clinical trials.

The correct dosage

To experience performance benefits, it is important to select a cherry juice supplement that is highly concentrated and free from added sugar. Drink a 30ml serving of concentrated sour cherry juice mixed with 300-500ml of water after exercise to promote muscle recovery.

Many experts recommend drinking cherry juice in the evenings to aid sleep.

Safety of cherry juice

There are no safety concerns from drinking tart cherry juice at normal doses.

Sour cherries are a rich source of anti-inflammatory antioxidants which help to reduce muscle aches, pains, and preserve muscle strength after intensive exercise. Many athletes drink cherry juice made from concentrates 30 minutes after exercise to aid muscle recovery. As a bonus, cherries are also a natural source of melatonin which can improve sleep quality. Medicine can taste good!

Dr Sarah Brewer
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