Sour cherries are a rich source of phytonutrients – compounds found in plants that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity – and can offer important benefits to athletes. Performance Nutritionist Nigel Mitchell explains.
Cherry juice supports sleep and recovery
Historically a number of health benefits have been linked to cherries, particularly the juice. Recent research has provided some supporting evidence for these claims, attributing cherries' antioxidant properties to the reduction of muscle soreness after strenuous exercise and its natural melatonin content as a natural aid to sleep.
Sleep is recognised as one of the most important components of recovery. The body does not get fitter when training but during rest, and the best rest is sleep. Sleep not only supports physical recovery; it also aids mental recovery, which is equally critical for performance.
Wide usage among professional athletes
Over the last few years there has been growing usage of cherry juice among professional athletes. I first used it when preparing Olympic athletes for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
We used it as part of the general recovery program during periods of heavy training, and I also found it useful when athletes were travelling. Since then I have considered cherry juice an important part of the recovery protocol for each professional sports team I have worked with.
I suggest athletes use cherry juice after intense training when muscle soreness may compromise later performance. Many athletes find that cherry juice also supports sleep when taken an hour before bedtime.
Nigel Mitchell is Technical Lead for the English Institute of Sport, nutritionist for British Sailing and an honorary senior lecturer at the University of Portsmouth.