Nutrition: Pucker Up-The Benefits of Tart Cherries

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Being active or being an athlete has many positive attributes. However, those who fit this description can find themselves limited to training optimally because of delayed recovery and increased soreness. Add on suboptimal sleeping patterns, and they find themselves having to slow down their training capacity.

Tart cherries—not sweet ones—have been shown to help with reducing inflammation, enhancing recovery, minimizing muscle soreness and improving sleep. Research has even shown it could help on competition day!


Tart cherries are also known as sour, dwarf or Montmorency cherries, and are grown in Michigan, Wisconsin, Canada, Europe and Southwest Asia.

Cherries are low in energy (calories), but rich in nutrients! They are abundant in fiber, magnesium, calcium, choline, antioxidants— vitamins A (beta carotenoids), C, K (phenols)—and anthocyanins. Antioxidants aid the body to deal with daily damage to the cells, while the anthocyanins contain anti-inflammatory properties.


They can be eaten in whole form, but mostly consumed in concentrate, juice or powdered form. The goal is to select brands that are unsweetened with minimal other ingredients added if in supplement form.

In whole form, some research indicates a person would have to consume anywhere from 45-270 cherries to get the benefits, especially for competition days. This is due to many harvesting factors. (Please note, though, that it is still worth consuming in its original form!)

If looking for a capsule option, find brands that have about 500 mg tart cherry powder on the label. Life Extension® Tart Cherry Extract with Standardized Cherry/Pure or Shoreline Fruit Cherry Bay Wellness™ and Montmorecy Tart Cherry Dietary Supplement are possibilities.

Gatorade now has Gx Pods with about 500 mg tart cherry powder, no artificial colors. I love the concept.

If in concentrate form, add 1/2 to 1 oz (1-2 T) of concentrate to 8-10 oz of purified water, seltzer or juice, and drink daily. If that seems like too much to drink, do 2 oz liquid and take like an espresso shot.

Powdered forms are also easy ways to integrate into daily food or fluid consumption if desired.


Tart cherries might be able to help with sleep because they contain a natural source of melatonin, a hormone that is important for sleep.

To get this desired effect, a person would have to turn to a supplement form since whole cherries differ in amounts due to harvesting. For my young athletes, 2 T of tart cherry concentrate has worked well.


The International Olympic Committee Consensus on Dietary Supplements recommends:

• Consuming tart cherry juice at a dose of about 250-350 mL (30mL if concentrate) twice daily for 4-5 days before an athletic event or for 2-3 days afterward to promote recovery.

• Another protocol is consuming cherries in concentrate, juice or powdered form, ingested for 2-7 days prior, 2 hours before competition and 2-4 days after. Dosages: 400-500 mg in capsule or powder form, 2-3 T or 60-90 mL concentrate or 16-24 oz or 500750 mL in juice form. Split into two dosages except on event day.


Tart cherries are more than just a fruit. They aid in daily training, recovery, sleep and performance if taken in the proper amounts. Enjoy adding this food to your daily routine or using for a major competition. If struggling with soreness or sleep, it might be worth a try before bedtime. All in all, it is a natural source of goodness! (Go to to get a free video explaining tart cherries on sleep and performance.)

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This article is educational only and should not be used in place of medical advice. The following sample menu is a guideline. Everyone is different as to what works best for them. Never try anything new on a major competition/event day. Always test at a practice or a lesser event.


Breakfast (5-6 a.m.)

1-3 Whole eggs and garlic salt/salt

1 lg Tortilla

1 T Olive oil

1 lg Banana or 1 cup fruit of choice

16 oz Milk organic/soy/oat milk/water (can add electrolyte here) OR Overnight oats or Smoothie or Smoothie bowl

1 Multivitamin and mineral tablet

1 Omega-3 capsule high in DHA and EPA

1 Vitamin D3

Event: 9 a.m. (7-10:30 a.m.)
Start at 5-7 a.m. 4-16 oz water an hour with one Sport Nuun per 20 oz (optional on Nuun) or Gatorade or sports drink (liquid at breakfast time works for the 5-6 a.m. slot)
7-7:15 a.m. Gatorade GX Pod with 480 mg tart cherry or 1-480 mg tart cherry capsule or 2-3 T tart cherry concentrate

60 minutes prior to event: Fruit strip/leather or gogo applesauce or gogo peaches or organic slammer or banana chews or 3 dried apricots or 4-8 oz sports drink or a whole fruit or a grain serving (Chex rice cereal)

Dawn Weatherwax (RD, LD, ATC, CSCS) is a registered/licensed dietitian with a specialty in sports nutrition and founder of Sports Nutrition 2Go and Dawn Weatherwax Sports Nutrition Academy. She has been working with swimmers for over 25 years and has launched an online nutrition program for swimmers at In addition, she is an athletic trainer with a certification in strength and conditioning from The National Strength and Conditioning Association.

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