(B.Sc. Dip Sci. M.App.Sci)
A large and growing body of research shows substantial benefits from regular consumption of Montmorency Tart Cherry products, ranging from better sleep and muscle recovery to reducing gout and arthritis, as well as improving heart health and fighting certain cancers.
In this review we focus particularly on the benefits for athletic performance at all levels.
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This publication is intended for health, sport and nutrition experts to provide to clients who have consulted with them.
Revised 30th September 2014
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Table of Contents
Montmorency Tart Cherries (MTC) contain significant levels of antioxidants, including melatonin and anthocyanins.
These antioxidants provide significant benefits in three key areas of interest to athletes at all levels;
1. As an anti-inflammatory, with particular benefit for muscle recovery after exercise, and in arthritic or injured/swollen joints
2. As a sleep aid, particularly for those with insomnia, supporting quality sleep prior to early training sessions, and those travelling across time zones
3. As an immune boost to counter the immune-suppression caused by intense exercise
MTC has been assessed by Drug Free Sport NZ as low risk, and the facilities of Tru2U process only cherry and flax seed oil products, with no potential for contamination with any substance banned by the WADA anti-doping code.
Muscle Recovery and Anti-Inflammatory
Taking MTC in the days leading up to significant exercise, on the day, and for two days after, leads to decreased muscle pain, reduced inflammation and immuno-suppression, faster return of muscle strength, and reduced muscle damage.
Research conducted at Michigan State University found that tart cherries contained the highest concentrations of anthocyanins 1 and 2, which help block enzymes in the body called cyclooxygenase 1 and 2 (popularly known as COX-1 and COX-2) (Seeram and Momin et al. 2001). Some pain medication works by inhibiting COX-1 and COX-2, which may explain why some people find that tart cherries help ease pain.
The same research showed that MTC’s are the richest source of anthocyanins 1 and 2 when compared to berries such as raspberries (which have only 10% of the levels of MTC’s), blackberries and strawberries. Anthocyanins 1 and 2 were not found in blueberries or cranberries.
Tart cherries contain 30 to 40 milligrams of anthocyanins 1 and 2 in every 100 grams of fruit, and it takes approximately 8kg of fresh cherries to make one kg of juice concentrate. A standard 30ml/40gm serve of MTC juice concentrate therefore contains 150 to 200mg of anthocyanins 1 and 2.
It is important to note that on average sweet cherries contain much lower levels of anthocyanins and phenols than MTC, less than half according to two studies (Kim 2005, Chandra 1992).
The anthocyanins in a serving of MTC Juice Concentrate are equivalent to a standard 0.3 gm serving of aspirin (Seeram 2001).
The anthocyanins in MTC have been shown to reduce muscle damage and pain after exercise, and promote faster recovery of strength, increased total antioxidant capacity and reduced inflammation and lipid peroxidation (Kuehl 2010).
Reducing uric acid levels
A unique benefit of MTC’s for athletic performance is the naturally high levels of uricase, an enzyme that breaks down uric acid.
Uric acid levels are significantly increased during strenuous exercise, and may also be used as a marker of inflammation. MTC’s are well recognised for their ability to treat and prevent gout with research from as far back as 1950 showing reduced uric acid levels with MTC supplementation (Blau 1950, Jacob 2003)
Reduced strength loss
A study conducted at the University of Vermont gave 350mls of cherry juice or a placebo twice a day for eight days to 14 college men. On the fourth day, the men were asked to perform strenuous weight lifting of two sets of 20 repetitions each. Strength loss after exercise was only 4 percent with the juice compared to 22 percent with the other beverage, and pain significantly decreased after cherry juice consumption (Connolly 2006).
In addition the supplemented group reported that the development of pain was significantly attenuated, and that the peak pain scores occurred at 24h as opposed to 48h in the placebo group. These results demonstrate both reduced pain and faster recovery from pain.
The level of fitness of the participants was not identified, which means the effect may not be so dramatic with high level athletes, however the effect is substantial and the very low P values indicate the effects may be relied on.
Reduced oxidative damage
Significant exercise increases free radical activity, which can result in altered cell signaling (Powers & Jackson, 2008; Powers et al., 2010), degradation of cellular performance (Powers & Jackson, 2008; Powers et al., 2010; McAnulty et al., 2011), and as a result, cause a reduction in physical performance (Vollaard et al., 2005; Hillman et al., 2012).
Numerous studies, including one from the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore concluded that anthocyanins in tart cherries significantly lowered inflammation and pain in animals. The proposed mechanisms are due to anthocyanins’ anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which lower oxidative stress following inflammatory insult (Tall 2004).
A recent study with trained cyclists showed significantly attenuated oxidative and inflammatory response after 7 days of MTC supplementation, with a simulated high-intensity stochastic road cycling trial, lasting 109 min, completed on days 5, 6 and 7 (Bell 2014). The focus on the effects of back-to-back performances is important.
An English study of recreational marathon runners showed that tart cherry supplementation significantly improved recovery of strength, reduced inflammation and reduced oxidative stress (Howatson 2010). A similar US study found similar results, and in addition reported that the participants taking the MTC drink were highly likely to use it again (Kuehl 2010).
A cross-over study of 10 well trained athletes who performed 10 sets of high intensity leg extensions (80% of their one-repetition maximum), both with and without MTC supplementation, showed that the cherry group recovered much faster and also regained strength faster (Bowtell 2011).
It is interesting to note that in both the above studies, strength loss immediately post-exercise period was not different between treatment and placebo groups, but that strength recovery was faster in the supplemented groups. These results point to protection against the secondary damage response to strenuous exercise, rather than protection during exercise.
No blunting of adaptive responses
Concerns have been raised with regard to inhibiting inflammation and oxidative stress because of the possible blunting of adaptive responses after antioxidant supplementation (Gomez-Cabrera et al., 2005, 2006, 2008a). The cited studies used vitamin C or allopurinol supplementation to blunt oxidative stress using human (Gomez-Cabrera et al., 2006) and/or animal cohorts (Gomez-Cabrera et al., 2005, 2008b); however, there is a lack of evidence demonstrating attenuated adaptation using cherry or any other functional food products.
In direct contrast Yfanti et al. (2010) demonstrated that 12 weeks of vitamin C and E supplementation had no negative effects upon adaptations to endurance training. Additionally, polyphenols have also been suggested to enhance adaptation in animal models, where resveratrol-fed rats showed an ~ 21% improvement in endurance performance (Dolinsky et al., 2012).
It is important to note that there are many scenarios where optimal recovery is more important than physiological adaptation, e.g., tournament scenarios, where the ability to perform on a daily basis may be required.
Melatonin is the hormone we produce as we wind down to go to sleep. When we have trouble sleeping or a disrupted sleep cycle (whether through stress, hormonal fluctuations, health issues, jet lag, international travel, or a host of other reasons) it usually means we are not producing enough melatonin.
Sleep deprivation can have significant effects on athletic performance, especially submaximal, prolonged exercise. Compromised sleep may also influence learning, memory, cognition, pain perception, immunity and inflammation. Furthermore, changes in glucose metabolism and neuroendocrine function as a result of chronic, partial sleep deprivation may result in alterations in carbohydrate metabolism, appetite, food intake and protein synthesis. These factors can ultimately have a negative influence on an athlete’s nutritional, metabolic and endocrine status and hence potentially reduce athletic performance.
Sleep deprivation increases fatigue
It is logical that less sleep will increase fatigue – this was recently quantified in national level Australian athletes (Sargent 2014).
Sleep is an essential component of a training regime, with a minimum of eight hours sleep required in adults to prevent neurobehavioural deficits in daytime performance (Van Dongen 2003).
Chronic sleep deprivation has been associated with the stimulation of inflammatory responses (Irwin 2008), impaired physical performance (Mougin 1991) and impaired mental performance (Alhola 2007).
Additionally, studies have found reductions in endurance exercise performance following one night of sleep deprivation (Oliver et al., 2009), and associations between over-reached soccer players and sleep quality have also been established (Brink et al., 2012).
Athletes don’t get enough sleep
A number of studies have shown that high level athletes routinely have less than the ideal amount of sleep. A group of Olympic athletes achieved only 6h 55m sleep in an out of competition training phase (Leeder 2012) and a group of national level Australian athletes (also in an out of competition training phase) achieved only 6h 30m sleep (Sargent 2014).
In the same study Sargent found that early morning training sessions had a dramatic impact on total sleep time – the earlier the start time of the training, the less total sleep was achieved. Even though the athletes attempted to increase their sleep time with earlier bed times on nights prior to an early morning training session, total sleep time was not significantly increased by increasing time in bed.
An interesting outcome from the same study is that the athletes spent an average of about 8h 20m in bed, but only slept an average of 6h 30m. In particular an early bed time on the nights before early training increased the time in bed but did not significantly increase the time asleep. Making better use of time in bed by increasing time asleep, particularly on nights prior to early training sessions, may be achieved with the use of a sleep aid such as Tru2U Sleep Support.
Lack of sleep is exacerbated even further leading up to, and during, significant competition events (Erlacher 2011).
Increased sleep improves performance
Increasing sleep times of athletes has been shown to significantly improve performance. When six basketball players were instructed to obtain as much extra sleep as possible following 2 weeks of normal sleep habits, faster sprint times and increased free-throw accuracy were observed at the end of the sleep extension period. Mood was also significantly improved, with increased vigour and decreased fatigue (Mah 2011).
The same research group also increased the sleep time of swimmers from their usual sleep amount to 10 h per night for 6–7 weeks. Following this period, 15 m sprint, reaction time, turn time, and mood all improved.
How to get more sleep
When taken 30-60 minutes before bed a natural supplement of melatonin such as Tru2U Sport Support boosts our melatonin levels and helps us to both get to sleep, and stay asleep, producing a more restful and restorative sleep.
At those times where it is important to adjust the time of going to sleep, including prior to early start training and after international travel, the same supplement will encourage our circadian rhythm to adjust to the new time frames.
Tart cherries are one of the few known food sources of melatonin, a potent antioxidant that helps improve the body’s circadian rhythms and natural sleep patterns (Burkhardt 2001).
The same study, conducted at the University of Texas Health Science Center found that tart cherries contain substantial amounts of melatonin, at levels higher than normally found in human blood.
In a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover design, 20 volunteers consumed either a placebo or tart cherry juice concentrate for 7 days. The placebo group experienced no change in their melatonin levels or sleep patterns, whilst those receiving MTC experienced significant (P < 0.05) increases in time in bed, total sleep time and sleep efficiency total (Howatson 2011). These results are notable given the comparatively short time frame of the study.
Independent laboratory testing of ingredients and proprietary blending technology ensures that the Tru2U Sport Support range delivers a standardised level of 27-30mcg of melatonin per serving.
With over eight years of experience working with sleep deprived people, this dosage has been found to be sufficient for the average adult to reliably achieve quality sleep.
Teenagers and children as young as eight months are also able to use MTC as a sleep aid, with the serving size reducing in proportion to body weight.
For over six years Tru2U has offered a performance based money back guarantee on their MTC range– if no improvement in sleep has been achieved after a month of consistently taking the correct dosage, you can have your money back. Even though this guarantee is totally trust based, with no evidence required of non-performance, consistently less than 1% of clients call on the guarantee.
The Tru2U Sport Support range offers the same guarantee – better sleep or your money back. Simply take the correct dosage 30-60 minutes before bed time for one month, and if your sleep hasn’t improved you can have your money back.
Thousands of studies spanning decades of research consistently and repeatedly show that maintaining a high antioxidant defense system lowers a person’s risk for disease, stimulates the immune system, protects brain neurons from damage, and possibly even slows the aging process.
All the antioxidants you need in one serving
Nutrition experts estimate a person needs to consume 3,000 to 5,000 ORAC units a day to reach a significant antioxidant capacity in the blood associated with health benefits. MTC juice concentrate has an ORAC of capacity of 12,800 units per 100gms, so a single serving of juice concentrate (30mls/40gms) delivers 5,120 ORAC units, more than an entire day’s recommendation (Wu 2004).
Juice vs Capsules
The majority of MTC research has been undertaken on juice concentrate, which has multiple advantages including extended nutrition properties, and a minimum of processing which preserves the natural co-factors.
An Oregon State University study found that the phenolics and anthocyanins of MTC are concentrated in the skins (Chaovanalikit 2004).
The technology behind Tru2U Sport Support capsules utilises the skins of MTC’s. Texas A&M University research using this technology has shown significant benefits from as little as one capsule per day – the research was presented at the 2014 Conference of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, and will soon be published (Kreider R 2014).
While the vast majority of research on MTC and sport has utilized MTC juice concentrate, providing confidence in its efficacy, recent research supports MTC skin powder as a viable alternative with initial indications proving to be very positive.
Synthetic vs Natural
It is possible to obtain synthetic melatonin on prescription from your doctor, or by importing it for personal use.
There are no known contra-indications or interactions for MTC, and there are multiple additional benefits from the antioxidants other than melatonin.
In contrast synthetic melatonin, even though it is described as “natural” or “nature identical” has a number of side effects, and is required at much higher doses to be effective due to it’s low bioavailability.
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