Podcast Episode 37 Transcript – Tart Cherry Juice

Leah Higl

Welcome to The Ideal Nutrition Podcast. I’m Leah Higl, and I am here with my co-host Aidan Muir, and today we are chatting about tart cherry juice as a supplement for athletes. So it probably isn’t going to be a frontline supplement for a lot of people, but for some athletes it may be worth considering as something to add in.

So we’ll start with what is [00:00:30] tart cherry juice, because I didn’t even know what this was six months ago. As a dietician working in the sports arena, I have only recently come across this, so I’m assuming most people don’t know what it is. So tart cherry juice is extracted from Montmorency cherries, so a very particular kind of cherry, and they’re also known as sour cherries. So regular cherries are a good source of antioxidants, yes, but these Montmorency cherries [00:01:00] are really, really high in antioxidants, and that’s really where they get their power from, I suppose. So it’s not the magical cherries that have some kind of effect, it’s the fact they are really high in antioxidants, and specifically they’re about five times higher than regular cherries you’d buy from your local supermarket. And then when you look at other products, so there are products that are concentrated tart cherry juice, they become insanely high in antioxidants. [00:01:30] So even just 30 mLs of that stuff has a ton of antioxidants.

Aidan Muir

Some of the people who promote it, they talk about it being the equivalent of 21 servings of fruits and vegetables.

Aidan Muir

Just in one 30 mL serving once it’s concentrated, which makes sense, because if it’s already five times higher than regular cherries, which are already high in antioxidants, it makes sense from that perspective.

Leah Higl

So yeah, we’re talking about very concentrated stuff. So recent research has suggested that they offer a range of health [00:02:00] benefits, particularly stemming from that antioxidant content, in regards to exercise, recovery, and sleep as well.

Aidan Muir

So probably the most clear cut benefit that a lot of people report with tart cherry juice is they get less sore. It’s like it speeds up recovery, is the wording a lot of people will use, they get less muscle soreness after exercise. So obviously if you train hard, compete hard, all those kind of things, improved recovery from that perspective, it’s something that’s pretty appealing. [00:02:30] The mechanism is mostly based on a reduction in inflammation, so inflammatory markers. If we want to get real specific there are clear reductions in CRP and IL-6 and uric acid. So there are clear markers that you can literally measure in blood tests, and stuff like that, and actually see the difference.

I always get a little bit skeptical of self-reported differences in soreness, because I know it’s quite subjective, it’s not as clear cutter as markers on the paper, and whatever, but that’s what we’re measuring, that’s what we care about in this, [00:03:00] people getting less sore, we care about what people are reporting. So there’s quite a few studies that have been done on that that are not all positive, most of them are positive. If you look at the broad range of research, 80% of the studies would show a bit of a reduction in soreness, and then the other 20% they can’t really tell.

So one example of this involved runners who were having 710 mL of tart cherry juice, so obviously not the concentrated form, just actual tart cherry juice, for seven days leading up to a race, and they reported [00:03:30] being three times less sore than those in the placebo group. So you can literally have it every day leading up, you can have it post, you can have it whenever, there’s no real system to it, but clearly having it leading up to the event also helps how you feel after it, because I believe in that study they also had it after the event as well. Three times less sore, pretty beneficial. Another one utilized 480 mL for a few days leading up to and immediately post a marathon, and similarly they had less muscle damage that they could measure and they were less sore, [00:04:00] and once again their markers of inflammation were lower.

So less soreness seems like a pretty consistent finding, and this is pretty in line with what we’d expect from high dose antioxidants. We see these outcomes from high dose antioxidants supplementation, it’s not surprising that tart cherry juice is doing this because it is also so high in antioxidants. The other thing that’s also relevant is that other studies have seen similar findings using tart cherry powder [00:04:30] as well, which I don’t know if you know this, but Outwork Nutrition, their recovery thing.

Aidan Muir

That has tart cherry powder in it, which I think is pretty cool.

Leah Higl

Okay, gotcha.

Aidan Muir

Yeah, so I’ve used some of their product, tastes nice. As we’ve said, this is not a frontline thing.

And why would you say it’s not a frontline thing?

Leah Higl

Well, for me it would definitely come down to cost.

Aidan Muir

Yeah, that’s it, yeah, that’s it.

Leah Higl

Yeah. So if we’re talking 500 to 700 mLs of tart cherry juice, so you’re consuming that daily, A, that’s a lot [00:05:00] of juice, so depending on other goals, that may interfere with fat loss goals and stuff that you might have going on.

Aidan Muir

Yeah, it’s a lot of carbs.

Leah Higl

It’s a lot of carbs. I don’t know how it tastes because I haven’t had it, but being sour cherries, I don’t know, maybe that would be hard to get down almost a liter a day, or half a liter. But then even going to your really concentrated stuff, the price, it’s a killer.

Aidan Muir

Yeah, yeah. So going straight into that, you can’t really buy it in shops easily, I’ve tried. Some people have said, some of my clients [00:05:30] have said that they could find it, but every time I’ve looked, all I’ve found is a mix like of tart cherry and sweet cherry. So it’s a 50/50 mix often and it’s suddenly, if we use that logic around it being the antioxidants being higher and whatever, and it’s five times higher for tart cherries, instead of having 710 mL, you’d now suddenly need 1.3 mL, or whatever comes out, there’s a little bit less than that. But that one, adds the cost, because you have to have a ton of it, and then two, that’s a lot of carbs, that’s even more carbs. So [00:06:00] concentrated obviously makes sense, or at least getting pure tart cherry juice.

Cherry Active is the most common one I see people in Australia getting it, so they get it online through there. But I’ve done the maths on it, and if you get their tart cherry juice, it’s probably like $80 to order. It’s a big upfront investment. If you have it once a day instead of just having regular juice you buy from a shop, it comes out relatively similar overall after the servings, it actually does come out kind of similar. But it’s a big upfront investment, and like me working with people, I just don’t see many people [00:06:30] actually wanting to do that, it’s still an upfront investment. It’s not even something I have interest in doing like, to be honest.

Leah Higl

Yeah, 100%. I could see it being useful heading into a competition, or during a really intensive training block, but it’s only if you have that, after you’ve done literally everything else you can, if you have extra money you want to invest in your training and recovery, sure, go for it.

Aidan Muir

Yeah. And I think that Outwork Nutrition one, that seems a little bit more appealing, but it’s only 30 [00:07:00] serves. It’s like 80 something dollars, and I can’t remember if it’s 80 US dollars or Australian dollars, so if it’s 80 US dollars it’s even more, for like 30 serves. So that’s not even financially viable for a lot of people either.

Leah Higl

Yeah, and I have a hard enough time convincing people to buy preatein, which is cheap as chips, so I’m not going to start recommending something that’s that expensive as a broad thing.

Another reason why the tart cherry juice is of interest for athletes is actually in regards to sleep. So there is a link between [00:07:30] having this tart cherry juice and improved sleep. This is likely due to a combination of the melatonin content of the actual tart cherries, as well as the fact they do contain tryptophan and anthocyanins, both of these compounds do help to create melatonin. So between the three of those things contained in tart cherries, there has been that linked to improved sleep.

So to add weight to that argument, there is research directly showing that tart cherry juice does [00:08:00] increase levels of melatonin in the body and does improve both sleep quality and duration. So a study on people with insomnia found that the participants who drank almost 500 mLs of tart cherry juice daily for two weeks on average slept 85 minutes more. 85 minutes more of sleep is a lot.

If we’re talking recovery, that 85-90 minutes, it’s going to do you good.

Aidan Muir

Yeah, for sure. I do think it’s overblown, [00:08:30] so when I wrote a blog post about this I included that study in there. I put it in there, I mentioned it to clients, but I also put the caveat being, we probably can’t expect that. Because the most clear cut way I can think it through and be like, why wouldn’t we expect that? Is if the mechanism is increasing melatonin in the body, why isn’t melatonin supplementation leading to this? Straight melatonin supplementation. I’m of the opinion that it’s pretty consistently going to help sleep. 85 minutes is [00:09:00] like, if that happens, sweet.

Aidan Muir

But who knows? It’s ambitious.

Leah Higl

It’s not a clear cut thing, I suppose. If someone had issues with sleeping I wouldn’t be just like, oh, tart cherry juice will fix you, but it could be one of those things, it does help a little.

Aidan Muir

For sure. And from what I was reading on it as well, it looks like it’s far more effective for those who really do struggle with sleep, like insomnia, and everything like that, versus people who are already good but just want a little bit better.

Leah Higl

Would you recommend it if someone was like, I have [00:09:30] insomnia?

Aidan Muir

It’s in my bag.

Leah Higl

Yeah? Interesting.

Aidan Muir

Yeah, it’s one of the things I would contemplate. Because we could also even consider this, hey, maybe it’s not even just the melatonin content, what if it’s having the carbs an hour before bed? It’s a lot of other factors that can go into this whole food matrix, and all those kind of things.

But yeah, it’s one of them. But there’s a lot of other things that we recommend for people looking to improve sleep. Another common thing, a lot of people talk [00:10:00] about magnesium an hour before bed helping you sleep. And the research on that it’s like, people who have insomnia, it does seem to help. People who just struggle with their sleep, it doesn’t seem to do that much. But anecdotally so many people, like I check my WHOOP, or whatever, and it tells me I get better sleep when I take magnesium, it’s enough to be like, that’s in the bag as well. There’s a lot of tricks in there, they don’t all work, but there’s a few options.

Leah Higl

When it comes to sleep, honestly I’m such a huge advocate for just general sleep hygiene [00:10:30] practices over things supplements.

But hey, if it’s one of those things that you’re already taking tart cherry juice for recovery, this could be just another reason why it’s also good for recovery.

Aidan Muir

Yeah, for sure. So another thing that I’ll briefly touch on, and this is just such a complex topic that I don’t want to go too deep on it, but it is this caveat about antioxidants. There is a discussion with antioxidants supplementation where people are questioning whether high dose antioxidant supplementation around the time of training [00:11:00] could actually be potentially detrimental. We know, as I spoke about earlier, that it decreases muscle soreness. Theoretically people could assume that means it’s speeding up recovery, but the research on endurance athletes seems to show that having high dose antioxidant supplements consistently throughout a training block, around the time of training, seems to slow down positive adaptations, as in people don’t get better at their sport that they’re trying to get better at as quickly if they’re doing that.

And it’s not that clear cut, I’m making it sound [00:11:30] more clearer than it is, but the body of evidence seems to show that. A lot of people have speculated the same for resistance training, being like maybe this blunts hypertrophy, maybe this blunts adaptations around muscle growth, which I’ll talk about theoretically why that could happen, but there’s really not that much research on resistance training and this concept. A lot of people have jumped to that conclusion, but then when people have gone through the research there’s like two studies on this. It’s very hard to jump to that.

The mechanism, the proposed mechanism for why this would happen is when we train [00:12:00] we’re intentionally causing some form of muscle damage, and there is a bit of an inflammatory response as well that occurs due to training. What if we just massively dampen the oxidative activity that’s going one that’s partly involved in the muscle damage and inflammation, everything like that, and we get less inflammation, we get less of these things, but those things could potentially be stimulating the adaptations. It’s like you’ve done something that your body can’t necessarily handle as well as it ideally would like to, and now it needs to adapt and get [00:12:30] better at that. Theoretically antioxidant supplementation at high dosages can prevent that from occurring at the level that we want. It’s a very debatable topic, it might not even matter, it’s just a caveat. 

Yeah, yeah, yeah. And obviously we go deep on nutrition, so we care about these things, and actually genuinely it is enough for me to be like, well first I’m not taking high dose antioxidants anyway, but it’s enough for me to be like, okay, I’m not going to do that around every single session. If I wanted to take high dose antioxidants, I personally wouldn’t be taking it around my time of training [00:13:00] every day, I keep it separately, just based on that. So even though I’m like, oh, maybe this matters, maybe it doesn’t, it’s enough for me to be like, if I was going to do it, I’d just have it separate from my session, basically.

But if somebody was concerned and they’re like, oh, I think maybe having tart cherry juice would have this effect, because it’s hard to say because we’ve only seen this with supplements, we’ve never ever, ever seen this effect happen with food. More antioxidant food has pretty much always been a good thing, but then it becomes a debate of, is it the supplements or is it just the fact that we can only get to [00:13:30] these really high amounts through supplementation, we can’t get there through food? Theoretically concentrated tart cherry juice is food and not a supplement, but if it’s just about the amount of antioxidants, maybe it gets into the same kind of category.

So if somebody was concerned, and an approach I’ve seen other sports dieticians take with their clients and talk about is they would not use it during phases like off season and pre-season where competing doesn’t matter, where we’re just trying to make adaptations, we’re just trying to build muscle, we’re just [00:14:00] trying to build up capacity, we’re just trying to do all these kind of things. But if somebody’s competing regularly, this is an interesting thing to think about, if I was a sports dietician for an NBA team and they’re in a seven game playoff series at the end of the season where adaptations do not matter anymore, you’re already as good as you’re going to be, getting less sore could help somebody play better. So even if this was a thing, if you thought about that being a serious thing where it’s like, hey, maybe this reduces adaptations, you’d still use it under certain circumstances.

Leah Higl

Yeah, and I guess power lifting, even that few weeks heading [00:14:30] into a competition where you’re not making adaptations anymore, it’s just realizing that strength that you have, you get really sore leading into a comp, so maybe that would, from a power listing perspective, might be a time where you use something like this.

Aidan Muir

And even my own thoughts, there’s no research on this, but I’m like, I wonder if this is relevant for injuries, and stuff like this. I wonder if it has any role to plan in tendinopathies, and stuff like that, which every power lifter gets, they get sore otherwise they get all those things. I wonder if when people are self-reporting how sore they are [00:15:00] that they’re factoring that in, where it’s like soreness, when people talk about that, are they only talking about muscle soreness, are they thinking about their joints, or are they’re just giving a score out of 10, or something like that.

Leah Higl

General soreness, that’s true.

Aidan Muir

Yeah. So I don’t know, I don’t know if I’m onto anything there, but I wonder if that comes into play too.

Leah Higl

Let’s talk a little bit about dosage and timing. So the optimal protocol appears to be about 250 mLs of tart cherry juice twice per day. So what’s the reasoning behind breaking that up?

Aidan Muir

I think it’s just getting these doses of antioxidants [00:15:30] spread throughout the day.

Leah Higl

Spread throughout the day.

Aidan Muir

If we go back to what Tyler and I were talking about in a previous podcast about vitamin C, we were talking about how vitamin C’s got a half life of, I can’t remember the exact half life but it’s like five hours or something like that. But say the half life of vitamin C is five hours, theoretically if you want it really high in your system you could have it morning and night, or multiple times throughout the day. I would make the wager that splitting up this tart cherry juice across the day, it’s a similar rationale.

Leah Higl

Got you. [00:16:00] So this would probably look like 250 mLs in the morning and 250 mLs about an hour before bed. So if you’re really looking to get those sleep benefits from having tart cherry juice, it makes sense to have it before bed, so splitting it up in that way makes a bit of sense. If you’re using Cherry Active, so that reduced volume, very concentrated version, 30 mLs in the morning and 30 mLs at night seems to be the way to go. For those wondering if you could eat just [00:16:30] simply eat tart cherries, I guess technically you could, but how practical that is, I’m not too sure. Just talking about having your 500 mLs of tart cherry juice, seems pretty impractical to eat that amount of juice in actual cherries, I could assume that that’s going to be a whole lot of volume.

Aidan Muir

Yeah, and once we’re looking at that concentrated form, like that Cherry Active, so one of their 473 mL bottles, so obviously they’ve got different categories, [00:17:00] but in their 473 mL bottle this is their marketing claim that they talk about, because it’s so concentrated and it is in this juice form, and then concentrated, obviously, it’s the equivalent of 1,450 cherries, or tarts cherries.

Yeah, and if they weren’t tart cherries, say they were sweet cherries, then it’s five times that amount, even more, it’s even higher.

Leah Higl

So like 7,000, 8,000 cherries.

Aidan Muir

Yeah, it’s insane. So it’s like, okay, it’s not practical.

Leah Higl

Not practical anymore, you’re just going to be eating just cherries for the rest of your life, [00:17:30] which is probably not going to be beneficial. Another side note to consider is that tart cherries are high in sorbitol, so that is a FODMAP, and that could potentially cause gastrointestinal symptoms in some people, particularly at five to 700 mLs.

This has been episode 37 of The Ideal Nutrition Podcast. If you could leave a rating and review, that would be super appreciated, but otherwise thank you for tuning in.