A woman as athletic and robust as Aly Raisman isn’t going to rely on just water after a workout. After spinning around on the Pommel horse, orbiting the uneven bars, and flipping her way through floor exercises, the USA’s pride and joy during Olympics season goes straight to tart cherry juice.
“I drink it at night because it helps you relax, and I also drink it for recovery after a workout,” Raisman told NYMag.com, adding that she favors the taste. “The tart cherry is actually really good for inflammation — I have a ton of inflammation in my body from training and working out and all the traveling.”
Anecdotal evidence really has merit in this case (I mean, who would know better about workout-related inflammation than athletes)? But scientific evidence also backs the champ. Researchers, such as those in this 2014 study, concluded that drinking the liquid of the sweet and sour fruit does in fact reduce inflammation. And according to nutritionist Kim McDevitt, MPH RD, tart cherry’s abundance of anthocyanin, an antioxidant that combats the enzymes that cause inflammation, is the key player.
"When we exercise, we tear our muscles, breaking them down and causing inflammation and cell damage," McDevitt explains. "The foods you choose post-workout influence how those muscles will be repaired and rebuilt, with some being much better than others. Studies are showing that anthocyanins may help aid in muscle recovery, making tart cherry a great choice for post-workout hydration."
These same antioxidants also help diminish post-workout muscle soreness. In one 2006 study, subjects who drank 12 ounces of tart cherry juice twice a day for eight days found they felt less pain after working out. This blood-red nectar is also a promising relief solution for those with osteoarthritis and gout, according to the Arthritis Foundation. It’s even been suggested the juice can reduce stroke risk, according to a 2014 study.
Raisman also drinks the juice before bed which, per more research, is also a smart move. Tart cherries are a natural source of melatonin, the hormone released in your brain that helps regulate sleep. In one 2014 study, adults with insomnia who imbibed the juice of Montmorency cherries (the most abundant variety) twice daily for two weeks found they increased sleep by almost 90 minutes. (On a related note, Blake Lively’s trainer swears that enjoying 90 more minutes of slumber every night will help you effortlessly drop weight, so drinking this tangy beverage may be a solid slim-down strategy.)
If you’re thinking that all this cherry goodness sounds more like an internal sugar avalanche, you’re not alone — Raisman also considered the same thing. But for her, the numerous benefits outweigh the 17 grams of sugar per eight-ounce serving of Cheribundi, her cherry juice of choice for which she's an ambassador.
“I try to balance having a lot of fruit and not having a lot — you don’t want to have too much sugar because that creates more inflammation — so the tart cherry juice is really a perfect balance for me,” she explained.
What to Do If Straight Tart Cherry Juice Is Just Too Tart for You
If you prefer not to drink cherry juice, perhaps you’ll want to snack on it instead. Registered dietitian Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD, told The Huffington Post, that half a cup of dried tart cherries offers about 50% of your daily vitamin A intake and 10% of potassium and fiber, noting the fruit boasts “19 times more vitamin A than blueberries or strawberries.”
Alternatively, you can drink it diluted with watermelon. (The satisfyingly crunchy, thirst-quenching fruit is listed as Raisman’s favorite food on her USA Gymnastics profile.)
Beyoncé-endorsed WTRMLN WTR CHRRY offers a combination of fresh cold-pressed watermelon juice combined with tart cherry. McDevitt explains this duo is a "recovery powerhouse thanks to the antioxidants in the cherry and L-Citrulline in watermelon, both of which are known to make your muscles rejoice."
Finally, if you just can't get yourself to drink any fruit juice, copy another one of Raisman’s self-love treatments: Steep yourself in a tub full of warm water and relax (also known to help relieve sore muscles, per experts).
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