An easy way I’d never heard of to reduce exercise soreness | The Survival Doctorby James Hubbard, MD, MPH

Nice weather brings you weekend warriors out like ants to sugar. About this time of year we exercise muscles that have lain essentially dormant all winter. And the day after the workout, we suffer the consequence, feeling like we’ve been beaten with a baseball bat.

This severe soreness after exercise is likely to happen during a disaster. You may be forced to work far past your comfort level—and in ways you’re not used to.

So I decided to see if there were any new, study-documented ways to decrease this “severe soreness after exercise” phenomenon. To my surprise, I found one. To my greater surprise, it revolved around a common fruit.

But I’m So Buff!

When I was a strapping young teen, I participated in every sport there was and exercised almost every day, sometimes for hours.

In the summer, I’d occasionally go waterskiing. Of course I’d do way too much. And it never failed. The next day I could barely get out of bed, I’d be so sore—because I had been using muscles in a way they weren’t accustomed to.

Yes, if you’re physically fit, post-disaster muscle pain could happen even to you.

The Juicy Details

Several studies show that cherry juice helps reduce the kind of muscle soreness you get after exercise. Below, I’ve listed three small but well-done ones. All were supported by cherry juice manufacturers, but they still seemed to be good. (Hey, who else is going to fund this research?)

Surprising way to reduce soreness after exercise: cherry juice | The Survival Doctor

Study #1

Seven male college students drank 12 ounces of apple juice mixed with tart cherry juice twice a day for four days. Seven others drank a placebo (a drink with the same color, taste, and consistency as the cherry/apple juice).

On the fourth day, the students performed vigorous arm exercises with one arm to make it sore. They continued drinking their cocktail for four more days and measured their daily muscle soreness on a scale of one to ten. They also measured muscle strength.

Two weeks later, the researchers performed the same experiment again, this time exercising the participants’ other arms and swapping who got the juice and who got the placebo.

Both times, the students drinking the cherry juice had significantly less muscle soreness after exercise and even gained back their strength quicker.

Surprising way to reduce soreness after exercise: cherry juice | The Survival DoctorThe 2006 study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, was sponsored by CherryPharm, which distributes Cheribundi juices.

Surprising way to reduce soreness after exercise: cherry juice | The Survival Doctor

Study # 2

In a similar study, published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise in 2011, 10 male athletes drank a U.K. brand of cherry juice, CherryActive. They did knee-extension exercises and had measurements performed to assess muscle damage and recovery. The cherry juice seemed to improve recovery.

Surprising way to reduce soreness after exercise: cherry juice | The Survival Doctor

Study #3

Another study—this one published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition—involved 36 males and 18 females. Half drank a mixture of tart cherry juice (Cherrish brand) and apple juice—12 ounces twice a day. The other half drank a placebo.

After seven days of juicing, the participants ran an average of 16 to 18 miles over hills and even mountain ranges in the Oregon Hood to Coast relay—still drinking their cocktail. The cherry juice drinkers had less pain after the exercise.

Other Ways to Reduce Soreness After Exercise

Good nutrition, hydration, warming up, and starting your exercise regimen slowly also help prevent soreness.

After the exercise, taking ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve)—even acetaminophen (Tylenol)—can relieve the aches a bit (although I couldn’t find any studies proving that they or icing specifically eases soreness after exercise).

Why Cherry Juice?

Other studies have already demonstrated that cherries have many antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They’ve been shown to help relieve gout and other types of inflammatory arthritis. Thinking of it that way, it does make sense that cherry juice could help ease the inflammation of sore or injured muscles.

Take-Home Lessons

If you’re going to try drinking cherry juice to prevent soreness, don’t wait until the day of and the day after exercise. Start drinking now.

I’m not sure why the researchers chose to use so much juice. Perhaps less juice, or even supplements, may work also.

What About Eating Cherries?

Sure. They’re good for you. Eating 10–12 cherries per day has been shown to significantly cut down on gout attacks. But, according to Study 3, 24 ounces per day of juice—the amount participants drank—is equivalent to about 100 cherries. That’s a little too much for me to handle.


What about you? Have you ever been so sore from exercise you could hardly move? What have you found that helped?


Soreness photo: Flickr/bionicteaching.