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Reducing Muscle Soreness With Berries

Anti-inflammatory phytonutrients in berries may explain why cherries can speed recovery after a marathon by reducing muscle pain in long-distance runners.

August 12, 2013 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited

D. A. J. Connolly, M. P. McHugh, O. I. Padilla-Zakour, L. Carlson, S. P. Sayers. Efficacy of a tart cherry juice blend in preventing the symptoms of muscle damage. Br J Sports Med. 2006 40(8):679 - 683

G. Howatson, M. P. McHugh, J. A. Hill, J. Brouner, A. P. Jewell, K. A. van Someren, R. E. Shave, S. A. Howatson. Influence of tart cherry juice on indices of recovery following marathon running. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010 20(6):843 - 852

L. S. McAnulty, D. C. Nieman, C. L. Dumke, L. A. Shooter, D. A. Henson, A. C. Utter, G. Milne, S. R. McAnulty. Effect of blueberry ingestion on natural killer cell counts, oxidative stress, and inflammation prior to and after 2.5 H of running. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2011 36(6):976 - 984

M. McHugh. The health benefits of cherries and potential applications in sports. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2011 21(5):615 - 616

J. D. Crane, D. I. Ogborn, C. Cupido, S. Melov, A. Hubbard, J. M. Bourgeois, M. A. Tarnopolsky. Massage therapy attenuates inflammatory signaling after exercise-induced muscle damage. Sci Transl Med. 2012 4(119):119ra13

A. Aminian-Far, M.-R. Hadian, G. Olyaei, S. Talebian, A. H. Bakhtiary. Whole-body vibration and the prevention and treatment of delayed-onset muscle soreness. J Athl Train. 2011 46(1):43 - 49

K. S. Kuehl, E. T. Perrier, D. L. Elliot, J. C. Chesnutt. Efficacy of tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010 7(17):1-6

D. S. Kelley, R. Rasooly, R. A. Jacob, A. A. Kader, B. E. Mackey. Consumption of Bing sweet cherries lowers circulating concentrations of inflammation markers in healthy men and women. J. Nutr. 2006 136(4):981 - 986

L. L. Smith. Acute inflammation: the underlying mechanism in delayed onset muscle soreness? Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1991 23(5):542 - 551

P. B. Lewis, D. Ruby, C. A. Bush-Joseph. Muscle soreness and delayed-onset muscle soreness. Clin Sports Med. 2012 31(2):255 - 262


Images thanks to Simply Bike via Flickr, and thanks to Ellen Reid and Minh Nguyen for their keynote help.


The burning sensation during strenuous exercise may be related to the build-up of lactic acid in your muscles, but that's different than the delayed onset muscle soreness that occurs in the days following a bout of extreme physical activity, which is thought to be due to inflammation caused by muscle cell damage, little micro-tears in the muscle. If it's an inflammatory reaction, than might anti-inflammatory phytonutrients help? The bioflavonoids in citrus might help with the lactic acid buildup, but we may need to ramp up to the anthocyanin flavonoids in berries to deal with the inflammation.

We know, for example, that if you eat about 45 cherries a day you can significantly reduce the levels of inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein in your bloodstream. Such anti-inflammatory effects “may be beneficial for the management and prevention of inflammatory diseases," but what about reducing muscle soreness?

Well, if you take some guys and make them flex their biceps against way too much weight over and over and over again, the next day the strength in their arms is way down, about a 30% drop, and man are their arms sore! But if they were drinking some cherry juice their arms end up hurting less—and they were able to better preserve their strength. Why not just feed them cherries? Well then you can't do a placebo group, since you can't really create a convincing fake cherry, but you can make fake cherry juice, in the form of cherry Kool-Aid.

This was the first study to examine the effect of the consumption of any cherry product on the symptoms of exercise induced muscle damage, and it seemed to work. Follow-up studies show it also works on reducing muscle pain in long-distance runners, speeding recovery after a marathon. And, as we know, "Optimizing recovery from exercise is the holy grail of exercise science.”

A similar study showing anti-inflammatory effects of eating blueberries took it a step further and actually paid athletes enough to take a muscle biopsy so they could see what's happening to their muscles on a microscopic level.  It's like this study showing massage could decrease inflammation. At first I was like: “ooh, I wouldn't mind being part of that study—free relaxing massage!” until I read the protocol: you got to rest a few minutes then, the scalpels emerge and they cut out some muscle samples. No thanks.

Bottom line, there's all sorts of new high tech treatments for sore muscles, from needle electrodes, ultrasound, hyperbaric oxygen—even whole body vibration! Don't those ladies look happy?

And of course there's drugs, there’s always drugs, but with drugs there are side effects, so this cherry study, noted a editorial comment, may provide more of a sensible and realistic treatment option for those suffering from sore and damaged muscles. The scientific question of how to treat the damaged muscle is an important one, and these researchers should be applauded for finding a potential treatment that is not only practical, but one that can be enjoyed!

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Ariel Levitsky.

To help out on the site please email

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

How about improving athletic performance more directly? See my video series on performance-enhancing vegetables described in my blog Using Greens to Improve Athletic Performance.

What about reducing the immediate burning sensation during strenuous exercise? See my last video Reducing Muscle Fatigue with Citrus.

Mushrooms (Boosting Immunity While Reducing Inflammation), nuts (Fighting Inflammation in a Nut Shell), and purple potatoes (Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Purple Potatoes) may also reduce inflammation (along with plant foods in general, see Anti-Inflammatory Antioxidants and Aspirin Levels in Plant Foods). In fact so well that plant-based diets can be used to treat inflammatory conditions. See, for example, Dietary Treatment of Crohn’s Disease, Diet & Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Potassium and Autoimmune Disease. Animal products on the other hand may increase inflammation through a variety of mechanisms, including endotoxins (How Does Meat Cause Inflammation?), arachidonic acid (Chicken, Eggs, and Inflammation), and Neu5Gc (The Inflammatory Meat Molecule Neu5Gc).

For more context check out my associated blog: Citrus to Reduce Muscle Fatigue and Berries to Prevent Muscle Soreness.

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • Brandon Klinedinst

    Think this may apply to raisins? I frequently eat raisins before a workout, mostly for the carbs. However they’re technically a berry. I don’t know if their anthocyanidin content is affected from the processing from grapes to raisins.

    • David Pollock

      I do know that raisins have a high glycemic index and will shoot up your blood sugar, which increases inflammation. It would be better to eat the raisins after your workout when the sugar will be quickly absorbed by your muscles and your blood sugar will not rise. Working out on an empty stomach will force your body to burn more fat, if you have a long workout. Consider switching to grapes for better nutrition.

      • Don Forrester MD

        I don’t think the anthocycandin content should be affected by drying. Eating whole plants works better as the sugars in the fruits (glucose, fructose and sucrose) will be absorbed somewhat slower in whole plant form. The exercise also routes blood away from your GI tract when exercising. The problem with trying caloric restriction to force the body to burn fat is that it also burns protein when the glycogen and sugar stores have been depleted from your liver and muscles. Grapes would provide the nutrition plus the hydration. I wouldn’t worry too much about the glycemic index. When your duration of exercise is long you will want to make sure you eat before you are hungry and drink before you are thirsty to avoid performance problems.

        • Thea

          Dr Forrester: I may (easily) be missing your point. I just wanted to ask this question: I think I remember Dr. Greger saying that green, seedless grapes are sort of like the wonderbread of the fruit world – ie, that they aren’t very nutritious compared to many other fruits/berries.

          If I remember that correctly, then wouldn’t it be better to recommend that a person snack on whole berries of something other than grapes?

          I’m sure I’m missing your point. I’m just curious what you think about having a sports person eat say cherries or blueberries vs grapes. Why not eliminate muscle soreness and get other benefits too like max anti oxidants? That’s where my question comes from.

  • Name

    Would certain fruits that are called berries (blackberry, raspberry, strawberry, etc.) also help reduce muscle soreness caused by exercise? Also I’ve watched your video about anti-inflammatory effects of purple potatoes, would that mean that those might help as well?

  • Plantstrongdoc M.D.

    The power of fruits and plants are amazing !
    I have provided an acquaintance of mine with a lot of informations about WFPD, and the first thing she noticed during the transition, was that she felt much more energetic. I have the same experience – 6 hours of sleep and I am ready for the day! (well after the cup of coffee…..:-) )

  • LynnCS

    I am looking for help with Fibromyalgia. Would the same treatment hold true for Fibro? I have heard that blueberries have something in them that irritates fibromyalgia. Do you know about that?

  • Sage Marie

    To be effective, what quantity of cherry juice (or whole cherries) or whole blueberries would be recommended? Only post exercise – or daily? My personal training clients often do their strength training 4 days a week with cardio on the other days. They would be thrilled to discover an effective treatment for muscle soreness…..since I make sure they are always sore…

    • skyjs

      Jo Robinson, in her book “Eating on the Wild Side”, said that grapes lose a lot of antioxidants in becoming raisins. Concord grapes have a lot, but raisins, not so much.
      John S
      PDX OR

  • David J

    only time and conditioning truly eliminates soreness, this stuff is marginal at best