Reducing Muscle Soreness with Berries

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

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

The burning sensation during strenuous exercise may be related to the buildup of lactic acid in our 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 it 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, instead of juice? 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 cherries indeed seemed to work. Follow-up studies show they also work on “reducing muscle pain” in long-distance runners, speeding recovery after a marathon. And, “Optimizing recovery from exercise is [really] the holy grail of exercise science.”

A similar study found anti-inflammatory effects of eating blueberries. They took it a step further, actually, and paid athletes enough to take a muscle biopsy, so the researchers could actually see what’s happening to their muscles on a microscopic level. It’s like this study showing massage can 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, and then the scalpels come out, and slice out some muscle samples. No thanks.

Bottom line, 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, you know, 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!”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Simply Bike via flickr. Thanks to Ellen Reid and Minh Nguyen for their Keynote help.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

The burning sensation during strenuous exercise may be related to the buildup of lactic acid in our 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 it 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, instead of juice? 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 cherries indeed seemed to work. Follow-up studies show they also work on “reducing muscle pain” in long-distance runners, speeding recovery after a marathon. And, “Optimizing recovery from exercise is [really] the holy grail of exercise science.”

A similar study found anti-inflammatory effects of eating blueberries. They took it a step further, actually, and paid athletes enough to take a muscle biopsy, so the researchers could actually see what’s happening to their muscles on a microscopic level. It’s like this study showing massage can 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, and then the scalpels come out, and slice out some muscle samples. No thanks.

Bottom line, 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, you know, 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!”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Simply Bike via flickr. Thanks to Ellen Reid and Minh Nguyen for their Keynote help.

Doctor's Note

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

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

Mushrooms (see Boosting Immunity while Reducing Inflammation), nuts (see Fighting Inflammation in a Nut Shell), and purple potatoes (see 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 & Autoimmune Disease. Animal products, on the other hand, may increase inflammation through a variety of mechanisms, including endotoxins (see How Does Meat Cause Inflammation?), arachidonic acid (see Chicken, Eggs, & Inflammation), and Neu5Gc (see The Inflammatory Meat Molecule Neu5Gc).

For further context, check out my associated blog posts: 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.

24 responses to “Reducing Muscle Soreness with Berries

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  1. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

  2. 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?

  3. 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…..:-) )

  4. 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?

  5. 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…

    1. 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

  6. Thanks for including the transcript. I rewound a few times and could not tell if the narration was 4 to 5 or 45 cherries.

  7. I’ve searched on the website, I can’t find information on how to prevent/cure muscle cramps. Any info on that? Could citrus have beneficial effect like with muscle fatigue?

  8. Hello (:
    Thanks for the video!
    Do you know if there is anything I can do – for example certain foods that improves muscle flexibility? I dream of becoming a yoga teacher, and need some advice on this topic (:

  9. Kind dott. Greger

    I’m a yours faithful Italian reader.

    For many years, even before knowing her works, I am a convincing supporter of a healthy and preventive diet (I follow a reasonably modified macrobiotic diet, with the addition of vegetables, fruits and legumes).

    Let me disturb her because I did not find in her books and references useful references for a mo problem. I hope you can tell me a work (or works of acquaintances) that can help me.

    Forgive me for my poor English: surely I will not use the right “medical English” terms.

    For more than a year I have some muscle weakness. I use a lot of time to recover from small contractions, and any intense effort causes small tears, contracted resentments, etc.

    And after these small trauma there is always some inflammation at the level of muscle insertion.

    I did resonances, blood tests (reactive protein c, rheumatoid factors, immunoglobulins, etc.) but everything is normal. It does not seem to be autoimmune processes. The only thing that appears is a vitamin D deficiency, I’m integrating.
    At the advice of my physiatrist I consulted neurologists who, for the time being, have excluded neuromuscular pathologies. They just prescribed me a muscle relaxant and a booster serotonin without any substantial effects.

    I have been taking lansoprazole for one year for a mixed, acidic / biliary reflux.

    I studied chemistry at the university so I have a secular approach: since the analyzes were correct I wanted to figure out if I was a hypochondriac. I went from a psychologist who excluded him.

    Nobody understands anything but the symptoms are real. Is there any your publication that can help me?

    thank you

  10. Kerning74,

    Sir, please appreciate that I have only a scant medical history so…..may I suggest that you consider mitochondrial testing as well as a chelated test for toxic elements. I would also have you consider a nutritive testing such as that at Spectracell laboratories or a comprehensive panel such as the Genova labs, ION profile.

    Also has anyone done a muscle biopsy and I would be remiss if I did not suggest a genetic workup and a trial of methyl B-12 injectable.

    Please consider these suggestions as a starting point for getting some answers.

    Dr. Alan Kadish moderator for Dr. Greger

  11. Many people use a plant based protein powder to relieve muscle soreness. Is there are science behind this? What about negative side effects?

  12. Thanks for the excellent work you are doing. Does Dr Gregor have any pointers as to how to treat or prevent muscle CRAMP? We’ve been on Plant Based Whole Foods for many years now, including plenty of greens, but we still get cramp. In the agony of the moment, massage, stretching and walking around a bit, seems to help, but not enough … In terms of prevention, we exercise. But how much more exercise would it take to prevent it? – if it prevents it?

    An emergency dose of the populist remedies – salt and/or magnesium – seems to work. I would have thought we are getting enough sodium and magnesium … Wat does the research say? How long do regular bouts of cramp last? What factors affect the intensity spectrum, from tolerable ‘ripples’ one can massage, to severely locked muscle and so much pain as to see one yelling out loud!

    There are plenty of warnings about the danger of eating too much salt, and the tangible side effect of magnesium, (runny stools the next day), is a pain.

    I recall reading about a certain trace mineral that was reputed to treat muscle cramps. But I cannot recall what it was, or the source. For added trace minerals, we regularly eat seaweed, (not too much kelp, aware of the dangers of iodine overload). But still we get cramp – me especially, as did my mother when she was in her seventies. (I am 68 and my husband 74). Sometimes weeks pass with no cramp. Sometimes we have several bouts that seem to come out the blue. With cramp being a very common thing, especially, it seems, in older people, I reckon thousands of people would be SO glad to know what to do to help prevent it, and what best to do in the emergency of the moment.

    Dear Dr Gregor, and team – can you come to our rescue?

    1. I advise my patients with leg cramps to take daily magnesium supplements, 400-500mg daily, eat as you are eating, stay well hydrated, and stretch calves (heel down at floor, toes up against the wall) for five minutes each side, every day. This seems to work. I don’t find sodium to be needed in most people for this problem. Good luck! -Dr Anderson, Health Support Volunteer

  13. Hi I’m a RN health support volunteer. I would not recommend blueberry extract or any supplements. For the most part, supplements have not been shown to be of benefit and some are harmful, other than the few Dr. Greger recommends (B12, Vitamin D depending on your sunlight exposure, Omega 3). We would recommend you eat berries everyday. They are loaded in antioxidants and health promoting phytochemicals which is why they are part of Dr. Greger’s daily dozen.
    https://nutritionfacts.org/topics/blueberries/
    I cannot say if it would help your stability and balance, but berries are absolutely beneficial to your health.
    https://nutritionfacts.org/video/should-vitamin-d-supplements-be-taken-to-prevent-falls/

    NurseKelly

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