After a frustratingly slow three-hour trail run last week, I was relieved when I turned the corner, and through the tunneled trees and single track, I could see the car. Finally.
But just as I exhaled my thank-goodness-this-run-is-over sigh of relief, my toe caught a rock and I took a tumble. With less than a quarter-mile left to end my snowy Saturday outing, I smacked my knee so hard, it immediately left a goose-egg sized purple welt on my knee cap. My limp back to the car was as dramatic as it sounds.
Whole, natural foods are at the center of the latest revolution in sports nutrition. There’s been a revelation that they can work as well or better than pharmaceutical drugs or manufactured substances without the adverse side effects. And research is proving that we benefit from choosing whole natural foods time and time again. So naturally, when my impact-induced knee pain was still forcing me to cut runs short a week later, I frantically started researching whole foods that would help with inflammation.
My internet searching led me to tart cherry juice. Scientists are in the process of verifying that it’s a superfood that has performance-enhancing benefits for endurance athletes that go beyond just injury recovery.
Here’s why I am going to incorporate tart cherry juice into my diet even after my knee feels better.
My knee probably hurts a week after the initial injury because the impact inflamed my patellar tendon. So although there is nothing structurally wrong with the knee, the inflammation is still making it very uncomfortable to run.
Tart cherries contain a high concentration of anthocyanin, a flavonoid that has similar anti-inflammatory properties to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Ibuprofen and naproxen. Because of these properties, drinking tart cherry juice can significantly reduce joint pain without NSAIDs’ side effects. To reduce my knee pain, I have been drinking one fluid oz of tart cherry juice concentrate twice a day.
Reduce Muscle Pain
Training and racing at a serious amateur or professional level sometimes hurts. It’s tempting to use NSAIDs pre-race to ward off the sensation of muscle pain, which may make you suffer more than you want and slow down. I know some athletes who pop a couple of Ibuprofen as a habit before every training session. NSAIDs, however, have adverse side-effects and can cause problematic and dangerous gastrointestinal, renal, and cardiovascular issues. Consumption of tart cherry juice before and after intense training and racing can reduce muscle pain without any health-damaging side-effects.
Athletes focused on a fast recovery, sharp mental focus, and high training motivation, need high-quality sleep. This can be hard to come by for athletes with a non-stop lifestyle and high-stress schedules. Tart cherries contain melatonin, a chemical critical in regulating sleep cycles. Studies have shown consumption of tart cherry juice concentrate increases melatonin levels. This improves sleep duration and quality. Add a dose of tart cherry juice to your bedtime snack to sleep like a baby.
Hard bouts of training and racing are well known to depress your immune system. It is crushing to finish off your last big training block before a peak race and then get sick. Tart cherry juice can reduce the incidence of upper respiratory tract symptoms and help to get you to the start line healthy.