Nutrition: Frowning: The Benefits of Tart Cherries


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Being active or being an athlete has many positive attributes. However, those who fit this description may be limited from training optimally due to delayed recovery and increased soreness. Add in suboptimal sleep patterns and they’ll be forced to cut back on their training capacity.

Tart cherries, not sweet cherries, have been shown to help reduce inflammation, improve recovery, minimize muscle soreness and improve sleep. Research has even shown that it could help on competition day!

Tart cherries are also known as tart, dwarf, or Montmorency cherries, and are grown in Michigan, Wisconsin, Canada, Europe, and Southwest Asia.

Cherries are low in energy (calories), but high in nutrients! They are abundant in fiber, magnesium, calcium, choline, antioxidants, vitamins A (beta carotenoids), C, K (phenols), and anthocyanins. Antioxidants help the body deal with daily damage to cells, while anthocyanins contain anti-inflammatory properties.

They can be eaten whole, but are mostly consumed in concentrated, juiced, or powdered form. The goal is to select brands that are not sweetened with minimal other added ingredients if they are in supplement form.

In its full form, some research indicates that a person would need to consume between 45 and 270 cherries to reap the benefits, especially for competition days. This is due to many harvest factors. (However, keep in mind that it is still worth consuming in its original form!)

If you’re looking for a capsule option, look for brands that have around 500 mg of tart cherry powder on the label. Life Extension® Tart Cherry Extract with Standardized Cherry/Pure or Shoreline Fruit Cherry Bay Wellness™ and Montmorecy Tart Cherry Dietary Supplement are possibilities.

Gatorade now has Gx Pods with about 500mg of tart cherry powder, with no artificial colors. I love the concept.

If in concentrate form, add 1/2 to 1 oz (1-2 T) of concentrate to 8-10 oz of purified water, seltzer, or juice and drink daily. If that seems like too much to drink, drink 2 oz of liquid and take as a shot of espresso.

Powdered forms are also easy ways to integrate into your daily food or liquid intake if desired.

Tart cherries can help with sleep because they contain a natural source of melatonin, a hormone that is important for sleep.

To get this desired effect, a person would have to turn to a supplement since whole cherries differ in amounts due to harvest. For my young athletes, 2 tablespoons of tart cherry concentrate has worked well.


The International Olympic Committee Consensus on Dietary Supplements recommends:

• Consume tart cherry juice at a dose of approximately 250-350 mL (30 mL if concentrated) twice daily for 4-5 days before or 2-3 days after a sporting event to promote recovery.

• Another protocol is to consume cherries in the form of concentrate, juice or powder, eaten 2 to 7 days before, 2 hours before the competition and 2 to 4 days after. Dosage: 400-500 mg in capsule or powder, 2-3 T or 60-90 mL concentrate or 16-24 oz or 500-750 mL in juice form. Divide into two doses except the day of the event.

Tart cherries are more than a fruit. They aid in daily training, recovery, sleep, and performance if taken in the right amounts. Enjoy adding this food to your daily routine or using it for an important competition. If you’re having trouble with pain or sleep, it might be worth trying before bed. All in all, it’s a natural source of goodness! (Visit www.dawnweatherwax.com for a free video explaining tart cherries on sleep and performance.)

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This article is for educational purposes only and should not be used in place of medical advice. The following sample menu is a guide. Everyone is different in what works best for them. Never try anything new on a major competition/event day. Always try a practice or minor event.

CONTEST SAMPLE MENU (Start time: 9 am)

1-3 whole eggs and garlic salt/salt

1 lg of tortilla

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 lg of banana or 1 cup of fruit of choice

16 oz Organic milk/soy/oat milk/water (you can add electrolytes here) OR Overnight Oats OR Smoothie OR Smoothie Bowl

1 multivitamin and mineral tablet

1 capsule of Omega-3 high in DHA and EPA

1 vitamin D3

Event: 9am (7-10:30am)

Start at 5-7 am 4-16 oz of water per hour with a 20 oz Sport Nuun (optional at Nuun) or Gatorade or sports drink (breakfast liquid works for 5-6 am)

7-7:15 am Gatorade GX Pod with 480 mg Tart Cherry or 1-480 mg Tart Cherry Pod or 2-3 T Tart Cherry Concentrate

60 minutes before event: fruit strip/leather or gogo applesauce or gogo peaches or organic slammer or banana chews or 3 dried apricots or 4-8 oz sports drink or one whole fruit or one grain serving (grain cereal) chex rice)

Dawn Weatherwax (RD, LD, ATC, CSCS) is a licensed/registered dietitian specializing in sports nutrition and the founder of Sports Nutrition 2Go and the Dawn Weatherwax Sports Nutrition Academy. She has worked with swimmers for over 25 years and has launched an online nutrition program for swimmers at Dawnweatherwax.com. She is also an athletic trainer with a certification in strength and conditioning from the National Strength and Conditioning Association.


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