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Health and Wellness

Tart Cherry Benefits for Athletic Recovery

Recovery is key – and this just might be the cherry on top of your routine.
Written by the Theralogix team of Registered Dietitians
Many athletes are not aware of the benefits of tart cherry. Learn how tart cherry can assist with athletic muscle recovery and how to incorporate it into your diet easily.

Whether you’re an athlete with a demanding training schedule or someone just hitting the gym a few times per week after work, you’re probably no stranger to sore muscles. They’re usually a sign that your muscles will bounce back bigger and stronger than before – but still, sore muscles aren’t pleasant.  

If you’re really serious about improving your performance, recovery is key – and this just might be the cherry on top of your intense training program.  

What’s the difference between sweet cherries and tart cherries?  

Well, that seems like an easy answer – one tastes sweet, and the other tastes tart! Obviously. But the differences don’t stop there.  

Sweet cherry varieties like Bing and Rainier are a summer staple, the stars of the produce section from May to August. You can thank the Pacific Northwest for growing the majority of sweet cherries in the United States. Sweet cherries are typically enjoyed fresh, so pop a handful for a simple on-the-go snack or enjoy with a dollop of whipped cream on a warm, summer evening.  

Montmorency cherries are the most common type of tart cherry. These have a much shorter growing season, and unless you live near a region that grows tart cherries (shout out to Michigan for producing 75% of the U.S. tart cherry crop), you’re unlikely to find them fresh. But don’t fear – tart cherry products can still be found year-round in frozen, dried, and juiced forms.  

Nutritionally, they’re pretty similar – both rich in fiber, vitamin C, and anthocyanins, which are plant pigments that give cherries their bright red color. Both sweet and tart cherries are also packed full of polyphenols, which are plant compounds with powerful antioxidant properties that can help keep your cells healthy.  

Whether your taste preferences lean towards sweet or sour, there’s a cherry variety for you – and you really can’t go wrong! With so much plant power in such a small package, it’s an easy (and delicious) way to support your overall health.  

But you’re interested in boosting athletic recovery, and most of the research revolves around tart cherries. Let’s dive a little deeper.  

How can tart cherries help support athletic recovery?  

While sweet and tart cherries are very comparable nutrition-wise, it is thought that tart cherries have higher concentrations of polyphenols (those super powerful, antioxidant-packed plant compounds) than sweet cherries. This is important – it means that when you work hard, so do tart cherries.  

Here’s how tart cherries help: High-intensity exercise can be strenuous on the body, resulting in oxidative damage to muscle fibers and accelerated muscle fatigue. The high antioxidant activity of tart cherries may help reduce oxidative stress caused by high-intensity exercise. Research suggests that tart cherries can help accelerate strength recovery and may even decrease muscle soreness after training.  

How to incorporate tart cherry into your training routine

The part you’ve been waiting for – how to incorporate tart cherry into your training routine.  

You may be tempted to take advantage of the recovery benefits of tart cherry throughout your entire training program. Although you could, it may not be necessary for every stage of training. If you’re in the adaptation/build phase of training, the recovery benefits of tart cherry likely aren’t as valuable. During this stage, recovery is still important, but it’s not the main goal. However, suppose you’re in the midst of race or competition season where recovery is the top priority. In that case, tart cherry may help you maintain peak performance.  

Because of the short growing season of tart cherries, you probably won’t find them fresh. Most opt for tart cherry juice or powder to reap the benefits. Studies suggest that drinking tart cherry juice twice per day for 4-5 days before and 2-3 days after competition may help promote enhanced recovery.  Research has also shown that taking tart cherry supplements can support a speedy and healthy recovery from intense strength training and endurance exercise.

Bottom line: choose cherries! Fresh sweet cherries are a great way to support your overall health, and the connection between tart cherries and athletic recovery is very promising. So, whether you’re an elite athlete striving for peak performance or you’re just trying to live a healthy lifestyle, cherries can benefit everyone. Let’s be honest – we can all use an extra serving of fruit!