Significant exercise generates oxidative stress as the body burns more fuel than when at rest. This has naturally generated interest in anti-oxidants to counter the effects of exercise-related oxidative damage, including abundant damage to various cellular components and premature muscular fatigue from sustained muscle contraction during exercise . Antioxidant supplementation is routine amongst athletes, and although some supplement combinations may actually be inhibitive for certain exercise goals, many types of antioxidants offer profound effects on exercise performance . Multiple studies have established how cherry supplementation improves athlete performance in a diverse range of sports and exercises. The same beneficial antioxidants in cherry also help with post-exercise muscle recovery, and this article summarises some of those research highlights.
'Tis Still the Season to be Healthy
Boosted Athletic Endurance.
Cherry in powder form maintains the ability to boost athletic performance. Endurance runners who took a powdered cherry supplement daily for 10 days prior managed “…13 % faster half-marathon race finish times…” than those who were give the placebo instead . These athletes were matched based on their “average reported race pace”, and these runners maintained a pace closer to their average race pace than those on the placebo, indicating improved stamina or a lack of inconsistent speeds.
Concentrated cherry juice also increases athletic output. Football (i.e. soccer) players who took Montmorency tart cherry concentrate exhibited improved performance in specific muscular contraction, sprinting and agility challenges after prolonged intermittent sprint activity . These footballers who had already completed prolonged intermittent sprinting benefited from 2 daily doses of cherry concentrate for 8 days.
Amongst cyclists on a 15 km trial, cherry powder supplementation providing 257 mg of anthocyanin daily produced 4.6% faster completion times than placebo takers . The enhanced muscle oxygenation detected in this experiment suggests that the relaxing effect of cherry’s antioxidant content on blood vessels may be the reason cherries enhance athletic performance. A comparison of multiple studies on cherry’s capacity to improve athletic output detailed that “… acute supplementation with ~ 300 mg polyphenols 1–2 h prior to exercise may enhance exercise capacity and/or performance during endurance and repeated sprint exercise…” .
Endurance Gains with LESS Pain?
Faster Muscle Recovery and Reduced Pain.
Several studies show that endurance athletes (and other athletes) can get pain relief and greater muscle recovery from cherries. The marathon runners mentioned earlier that achieved “…13 % faster half-marathon race finish times…” also benefited from lowered indicators of muscle damage, inflammation and oxidative stress . These effects coincided with a 16-39% elevation in detected antioxidant activity in runner’s bloodstreams as a result of powdered cherry supplements . Taking 2 daily doses of cherry juice for 7 days (including the day of the race) also lowered post-race pain significantly after a 3-stage, 26 km run .
Muscle soreness ratings amongst footballers (mentioned previously) were also significantly lower amongst cherry concentrate consumers than those taking the placebo . Athletes performing 10 sets of 10 back squats at 70% maximum ability lowered their post-exercise muscle soreness by prior supplementation with cherry powder capsules for 10 days . At 48 hours post-exercise, muscle damage indicators were lower amongst cherry juice drinkers than those consuming placebo . Another set of marathon runners lowered their post-run muscle damage indicators and muscle pain scores with cherry juice, alongside elevating their antioxidant bloodstream content . These runners also recovered isometric strength at a faster rate than placebo drinkers . Cherry juice-supplementing athletes performing 10 sets of 10 single-leg extensions at 80% of maximal ability recovered their maximum voluntary contractions faster than those taking a calorie-matched fruit concentrate . Even a 4 day course of cherry juice (twice daily) was enough to reduce the exercise-associated loss of strength from 2 x 20 maximum “modified preacher” bicep curls .
A 2019 survey of studies identified several experiments unable to observe cherry’s muscle recovery properties . Tests that couldn’t detect any benefits of cherry supplementation may have some limitations to their study design, and those studies conducted by balanced researchers have highlighted genuine trial challenges such as limited inflammatory damage generated  and insufficient cherry dosage or low antioxidant-yield of cherry as discussed by Lamb et al. . For example, different types (i.e. cultivars) of Montmorency cherries have up to a 5-fold difference in antioxidant polyphenol content , and the most abundant polyphenol amongst cherries is also present in different amounts between different cherries . However, with such a solid base of evidence to review, it became apparent that cherry was only effective at the estimated critical dose of “> 1000 mg polyphenols per day for 3 or more days prior to and following exercise” .