Looking for Fitness in a Glass of Juice
Many of the Olympians competing in London are juiced - though not in the colloquial sense that someone is doping. Instead, the most popular juice these athletes are drinking is tart cherry juice. Growing numbers of elite athletes are turning to these natural beverages to provide what they hope will be a legal performance benefit.
Recent studies, however, raise questions about whether the athletes are necessarily receiving the benefits that they think they are and what that means for the rest of us who'd love to find fitness in a glass.
Based on the currently available science, Dr. Cermak adds, it's also likely that benefits will be most evident in someone who drinks the juice regularly, not someone who tries it for the first time on the day of a race.
Tart Cherry Juice also has a wide following among Olympians. Created using sharp, almost sour-tasting Montmorency cherries, it is not, strictly speaking, a performance-enhancing beverage. Instead, it affects the body's ability to recover from hard exertion, says Malachy McHugh, the director of research at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan.
In studies by Dr. McHugh and colleagues, tart cherry juice reduced muscle pain and weakness after bouts of intense strength training as well as after a marathon. In a similar experiment by other researchers, racers in the annual Hood to Coast 196-mile relay race in Oregon reported significantly less pain after the race if they drank tart cherry juice in the week beforehand.
The juice has notable anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capabilities, Dr. McHugh says, although the particular components of the juice that are most active in that context are still being teased out. When he asked food scientist colleagues to analyze tart cherry juice, he said, "I was given a list of 30-plus compounds" that were likely to contribute to the drink's benefits.
As for dose, his and other experiments have usually provided volunteers with two 8- or 12-ounce bottles of tart cherry juice per day, the equivalent of close to 100 Montmorency cherries a day. (Sweet cherries, by the way, have shown little efficacy in exercise-related experiments.)
Dr. McHugh and virtually all other exercise scientists looking into the potential benefits of fruit and vegetable juices caution that much science remains to be done to understand who will benefit and how, as well as whether there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
Still, Dr. McHugh, for one, is a tart cherry juice convert. A dedicated player of the brutal sport of Gaelic football, he downs "a bottle a day and two bottles on days of heavy training sessions or games," he says. "My teammates are all at least 20 years younger than me. I would attribute the ability to maintain the fitness required to play in part to the tart cherry juice."
Source: Adapted from NY Times blog by Gretchen Reynolds