A Juicy Way to Prevent Exercise Injury

Healthnotes Newswire (August 3, 2006)—Everyone who has ever overdone it at the gym knows the feeling: sore, aching muscles—even weakness—after that heavy workout. But there is truth to the old adage no pain, no gain. To gain muscular strength, we must endure microscopic tears to muscle tissue through progressive strength training so our muscle fibers can remodel themselves. So what’s a sore body to do?

According to new research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the surprising answer may be to drink tart cherry juice.

Exercise-induced muscle damage and its associated symptoms, such as pain, are typically treated, if at all, using anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen. However, research on these nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for exercise-related muscle injuries has been mixed: some studies have reported beneficial effects, but most have not.

“Consumption of about 45 cherries a day has been shown to reduce circulating concentrations of inflammatory markers in healthy men and women,” said Dr. Declan Connolly, director of the University of Vermont’s Human Performance Laboratory and lead author of the study. “Considering the natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capacity of tart cherries, we sought to determine if cherry consumption before and after exercise had a protective effect.”

Dr. Connolly and colleagues tested 14 male college students. Volunteers were randomly assigned to drink 12 ounces of a proprietary blend of tart Montmorency cherry juice and apple juice, or a placebo juice, twice a day for eight days. (Each 12-ounce bottle of cherry juice blend provided the equivalent of 50 to 60 cherries.) On the fourth day, they performed a bout of elbow flexion contractions (two sets of 20 maximum repetitions). The groups were switched and the protocol was repeated two weeks later. For the second bout, they used the opposite arm to avoid any protective effects from repeated bouts.

Strength loss and pain were significantly less in the men drinking the cherry juice than in those taking placebo. There was no effect on motion loss or muscle tenderness between groups, suggesting that these symptoms reflect different aspects of the injury response, or that the measurements were not sensitive to these differences between cherry juice and placebo groups.

Tart cherries contain many antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, including anthocyanins, the purple pigments that also give color and antioxidant power to blueberries, pomegranates, and other plants.

“Our study shows efficacy for this cherry juice in decreasing some of the symptoms of exercise-induced muscle damage,” Dr. Connolly continued. “Most notably, strength loss averaged over the four days after exercise was 22% with the placebo but only 4% with the cherry juice. These results have important practical applications for athletes, as performance after damaging exercise bouts is primarily affected by strength loss and pain.”

(Br J Sports Med 2006; Jun 21 [e-pub ahead of print])

Jeremy Appleton, ND, CNS, is a licensed naturopathic physician, certified nutrition specialist, and published author. Dr. Appleton was the Nutrition Department Chair at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, has served on the faculty at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, and is a former Healthnotes Senior Science Editor and a founding contributor to Healthnotes Newswire. He has worked extensively in scientific and regulatory affairs in the supplement industry and is now a consultant through his company Praxis Natural Products Consulting and Wellness Services.

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