Intense, post-workout pain can make it difficult to move — much less to maintain your normal exercise routine. Drug remedies, like COX-2 inhibitors bring their own set of risks (e.g., the now withdrawn Vioxx). Fortunately, new research is pointing to a natural — yummier — alternative: Cherries!

In a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, researchers looked at the impact of tart cherry juice on muscle soreness.  Fifty-two distance racers (average age 36) drank 26 ounces of cherry juice daily for a week leading up to a half marathon. Compared to those given a placebo (cherry flavored water), those who chugged cherry juice experienced 68% less soreness. Why might this be? The vitamin C and anthocyanins in cherries may help ease inflammation and decrease the swelling that contributes to soreness. You don’t have to be a super athlete to enjoy cherries’ benefits — by countering chronic inflammation, cherry compounds might help reduce disease risk as well.

Previous studies indicate that ginger might also help to inhibit inflammatory COX enzymes. Other research suggests that compounds in  cruciferous vegetables (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts) may act in the same way. Tempted to pop a pill? Tufts researchers found that commercially available glucosamine supplements contained too little of the compound to do much good — while antioxidant supplements may actually block some benefits of exercise. 

Published November 5, 2012