I don’t go gaga for the latest trends, and I’m careful not to promote something that I feel might be unproven or in any way dangerous. You know I’m all about being sensible and always erring on the side of caution. So, you may be surprised that, today, I’m going to tell you about two new things I added to my regimen during the month before my recent marathon, but I feel really good about my results and can’t wait to share it with you because I’ve never experienced a better post marathon recovery than I did after Grandma’s.
The genesis of this change in my nutrition came from my brother, Milt Bedingfield, also a runner.
Let me introduce you. Growing up, Milt was my best friend. Of us four kids, we were the two who were always into sports of all kinds, always outside. My mom always thought my sister and I would be great friends because we were only 18 months apart in age, but it was Milt I spent time with, and he was – is – three years my junior. I started on a swim team at age 13, and he started the next year.
Later, he became one of the first triathletes in the State of Florida, doing Ironman Hawaii 9 times in the 80’s, and he ran the Boston Marathon in his 30’s. Milt has a master’s degree in exercise physiology and works as a diabetes educator. He doesn’t compete, anymore, because his five kids keep him pretty busy when he’s not at work, but he does still run and swim enough to stay fit.
Anyway, a few weeks ago, when Milt was in Boston for the American College of Sports Medicine Conference, he called me, mid-morning, during a break between sessions, to tell me about tart cherry juice. He had just attended a session about the benefits, and the report was so compelling that he thought I should try it, especially since at that time, he knew I was about 10 days out from my marathon. He said to drink two 8-ounce cups the first day, one in the morning and one in the evening, and then one 8-ounce class every day after that.
Now, like me, Milt is not one to run out and try the latest fad, and the ACSM is a highly respected organization; so, when he thinks something is really worth trying, I’m going to pay attention. He’s been an advisor to me my whole life, and he’s never steered me wrong.
Natural anti-inflammatory properties
When we had more time to talk, he explained that tart cherry juice has been proven to facilitate recovery and improve performance due to its natural anti-inflammatory properties. They have been proven to reduce damage to muscles during exercise. He sent me a link to an article by the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, titled “Influence of tart cherry juice on indices of recovery following marathon running.”
Here is a quote from that article:
“The cherry juice appears to provide a viable means to aid recovery following strenuous exercise by increasing total antioxidative capacity, reducing inflammation, lipid peroxidation, and so aiding in the recovery of muscle function.”1
Clearly, the focus is on recovery more than performance, but if there is less muscle damage during exercise and if it’s possible to recover faster and thereby return to training, sooner, it can be considered to be good for performance in that respect.
I first bought a bag of tart cherries with the idea that I’d add them to my daily smoothie, but Milt said the suggested amount was the juice equivalent of 50 cherries. I knew I wouldn’t be able to consume that many; so I went out and bought the juice. Note, here. They must be ‘tart’ cherries, not just any old cherries.
I’ll warn you, it’s very expensive at about $8 a bottle and more if you buy the concentrated version. It probably works out about the same, though. If you buy the concentrated version and then reconstitute it, the instructions say to add 2 T to 8 ounces of water. I bought the first bottles at Whole Foods and health food stores, but later I realized they had it at Publix, my usual grocery store.
A warning, though: make sure to get pure cherry juice or cherry juice concentrate. Read the labels because you don’t want to get something that’s diluted with other juices. Some of the bottles at Publix said Tart Cherry Juice Blend; the ingredients list included apple juice and grape juice. I would say don’t even bother with that because it’s likely not enough tart cherry juice.
Also, do keep in mind that 8 ounces has about 140 calories.
A warning, though, be careful, as with any new food, to make sure it doesn’t cause any digestive issues. In other words, it can make you have to run to the bathroom. If I drink just one glass a day, I’m fine, but to be on the safe side, I only had a half glass on race morning, and I had that a full three hours before the race. Of course, I know you know never to try anything new on race morning. I had been on it more than a week.
So, did it work?
I’ll say. Seriously, I felt great the day after my marathon and the day after and the day after. I never experienced the usual muscle soreness. The difference in the way I recovered after this marathon compared to all the others was, in a word, remarkable. Usually, I have a good bit of post marathon soreness; it normally is most severe on the second day, and it has never varied much. Over the years, the location of the soreness has changed a bit, but it’s always there. This time that soreness never materialized, though. The difference was remarkable, far too much of a difference to be a coincidence. I was astounded.
Now, you may ask whether it helped my performance during the race. Well, there’s no way to know. I had a pretty good marathon, considering the conditions, but it wasn’t anywhere near my best. I missed my goal time by 22 minutes, but I later read that the average race time of all the runners in that race was a full 30 minutes slower than last year. We can surmise that that was due to the very hot conditions; so, maybe my time was better than it seemed. However, I am more accustomed to hot temperatures, far more accustomed that most of the people in that race. So, there is just absolutely no way to know. Over time, as I continue to use it, I’ll be better able to analyze the effect on my performance, but it will never be a scientific evaluation, just a personal opinion.
As for me, I’m convinced, and I’m still drinking it every day. I’ve just started my mom on it, too, because she’s 88 and has extremely advanced arthritis, an inflammatory disease. If it helps her, that would be outstanding, and I’m all about finding ways to ease her pain without adding another prescription pill to her medication list.
At the top of this article, I said I was going to tell you about two new items I added to my regimen. The other item was that I started soaking in an epsom salt bath after every long run, and at about twice a week total. I’ll write another blog post about that evaluation, but it’s important to mention here, because, of course that may have had an impact on my excellent recovery experience as well.
This was in no way a scientific experience. Hardly, but that wasn’t the intention. I don’t feel either the tart cherry juice or the epsom salt bath could possibly be harmful. The fact that I initiated both at the same time meant there were two variables. I can’t know for sure whether I should give all the credit to the tart cherry juice, but that’s okay with me. I’ll be continuing both. I suspect that my result was mainly due to the juice. After my reading, I feel confident recommending that all runners drink tart cherry juice for a week or so to see if it provides this same benefit. It’s juice; it’s good for you; it’s anti-inflammatory. If you decide it works for you, great. If not, you wasted $7. Not the worst thing in the world and completely worth it if there is a good chance of an excellent benefit, which is what I think you’ll get.
“Influence of tart cherry juice on indices of recovery following marathon running.” National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health Howatson, McHugh, Hill, Brouner, Jewell, van Someran, Shave, Howatson