Not too long ago, I started feeling like my bedtime routine needed an update. And by that, I mean that binging 90 Day Fiancé and passing out on the couch just wasn’t cutting it. After doing some research, I decided to begin incorporating tart cherry juice—which is famous for its high antioxidant content and purported abilities to help with sleep—into my evenings, sipping on a glass of diluted Tart Cherry Unsweetened 100% Juice Concentrate from Dynamic Health at around 9 p.m. to see if it might help me get my sleep schedule back on track after some restless weeks (months? years?).
Rumor had it that tart cherry juice could also assist with exercise recovery, so I was interested in whether it could help me recover from running and cycling on my exercise bike. While I’d been working out consistently, I noticed that my energy levels weren’t what they used to be—and my lower body was feeling sorer as of late. Perhaps my sluggishness just had to do with a stressful work life, but I was hopeful the tart cherry juice would help improve my energy and ease my achy calves and quads, too.
So, what was the result of my experiment? Read on!
What Makes Tart Cherry Juice So Special?
The incredibly rich color of tart cherry juice alone suggests it’s loaded with the good stuff, which experts confirm. “Tart cherry juice is an excellent source of vitamin C, fiber, and potassium,” shares dietitian and diabetes educator Whitney Stuart, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.C.E.S. It also contains thiamin, copper, magnesium, iron, and vitamin B6, and is rich in antioxidants, specifically the polyphenols quercetin and anthocyanin, according to Dr. Annelie Vogt von Heselholt, D.C.N., R.D., C.S.O., founder of Dietitian Doc.
It’s important to keep in mind that “fruit juice contains a hefty amount of natural sugar and very little fiber compared to whole fruits, so it’s better to eat more whole fruits and drink less juice,” Vogt von Heselholt says. However, as long as you’re drinking 100 percent juice, up to half a cup per day can fit into a healthy lifestyle just fine. Plus, concentrates (like my bottle of tart cherry) can eliminate up to half the sugar, she notes.
What Are The Health Benefits of Tart Cherry Juice?
Many of tart cherry juice’s health benefits are linked to its antioxidant activity. These antioxidants work in the body by fighting free radicals and repairing oxidative damage, which occurs when an increased presence of free radicals exceeds the antioxidant capacity of your body, Vogt von Heselholt explains. And thanks to the polyphenol compounds mentioned earlier, tart cherry juice is a good thing for heart and joint health, according to Vogt von Heselholt. In fact, research suggests it may support healthy blood pressure and cholesterol in older adults.
Its high antioxidant content also makes tart cherry juice particularly handy for athletes and exercisers. The idea here is that exercise-induced oxidative stress creates tiny injuries within the muscles, which your immune system responds to by releasing pro-inflammatory compounds that further increase inflammation, causing what you experience as muscle soreness 12 to 24 hours after exercise, says Vogt von Heselholt. “Tart cherry juice is believed to help with recovery by providing a concentrated source of antioxidants to help lessen oxidative stress and damage,” she explains.
As such, “studies on runners show the consumption of cherry juice before, during, and after running may reduce muscle damage and speed recovery,” Stuart notes. Research suggests it can also support improvements in strength and endurance.
And, as for its nighttime perks, tart cherries also contain melatonin, a substance with sleep-regulating properties. “Many studies have found that drinking tart cherry juice before bed can help work against difficulty drifting off and results in better sleep,” says dietitian Juliana Tamayo, M.S., R.D., of Fitness Clone. While the mechanism of action here is not entirely understood, we do know that melatonin supports healthy sleep quality and duration.
How Tart Cherry Juice Helped Me
Look, I know that no single food or drink is going to magically change your life. But coupled with healthy eating, exercise, and other healthy lifestyle habits (like abstaining from alcohol and smoking), I’m all for getting a little extra help from superfoods—in this case, a super-tart drink.
First of all, I loved the ritual of mixing up a tall glass of tart cherry concentrate with water each evening. The act itself came to signify that it was time for me to step away from the computer, take a relaxing bath or hot shower, and wind down for the night. I could definitely taste the fruit in the beverage, but it wasn’t overwhelming and was easy to drink, unlike other “sleepytime” beverages I’ve tried in the past, such as golden milk enhanced with CBD, which just didn’t do it for me.
While I can’t say my sleeping patterns were revolutionized in two weeks, I definitely noticed a difference in my shut-eye. First, I was hitting snooze less often when I woke up, which was a big win for someone who regularly hides in bed after my first alarm goes off in the morning. I also had an easier time waking up earlier in general. While I still got into bed around my usual 12:30 a.m., I fell asleep faster than normal after drinking my tart cherry juice.
In terms of athletic recovery, I also noticed some encouraging results. During the two-week trial period, I picked a few afternoons to sip on tart cherry juice post-workout. I found that my soreness after a long run or bike ride dissipated a bit quicker than it did previously. Sure, this could just have been a placebo effect, but I’m eager to keep tart cherry juice in my routine and see if it continues to help.
While I personally liked the symbolic way tart cherry juice ushered me into nighttime mode, you could certainly experiment with your consumption and see when works best for you.
For general health purposes, it doesn’t matter so much what time of day you consume the tart cherry juice, according to Vogt von Heselholt. “That said, if you are using it to help you sleep, drinking it before bed can be advantageous,” she says. “And if you are using it for exercise recovery, it may be helpful to try an ounce of concentrate twice daily—before breakfast and dinner.”
After becoming a big fan of tart cherry concentrate’s bold, sour, fruit-forward flavor, it’s not tough to sell me on sipping some down before breakfast and dinner, too. If nothing else, the tasty beverage has been a nice treat to look forward to each day. Cheers!