September 2021

Dietary Nitrates and Sour Cherry - an Extra Energy Boost?

Products to boost athletic performance continue to pick up speed in the industry. Sour cherry and dietary nitrates are becoming especially popular. Do any of these products work? Is there any downside to giving them a try?

When it comes to dietary nitrates from sources like beetroot juice, they might be worth a shot. Having higher nitrate blood levels is believed to increase the body’s ability to exercise by reducing how much oxygen is needed. And most studies show that taking beetroot juice does in fact increase blood levels of nitrates. Taking beetroot juice about 3 hours before exercise seems to improve some measures of athletic performance during aerobic exercise. If patients want to give it a try, there’s no reason to expect any safety concerns. But it’s still not entirely clear who will benefit most, so they shouldn’t expect it to be a magic bullet. And remind patients that beets can make the urine and stools turn red. Other nitrate sources like pomegranate are also getting popular, but the jury’s still out on whether they’ll actually help.

Sour cherry, also known as tart cherry, is another one to consider. A variety of products are available, including juice, concentrate, and freeze-dried powder, with most research evaluating juice products. Meta-analyses of numerous small studies show that using sour cherry may improve muscle strength recovery and endurance by a small amount in both trained athletes and healthy adults. It’s believed that the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of sour cherry help reduce muscle damage. But there’s concern about bias in some of this research. Even so, if patients want to give it a try, sour cherry is usually well-tolerated. The fruit, fruit juice, and fruit juice concentrate have all been used safely for up to 3 months.

In general, there isn’t much cause for concern if people want to give these products a shot. But remind patients that sports supplements remain a risky product category when it comes to contamination and banned substances, so stick with supplements verified by a third-party such as NSF Certified for Sport, particularly if they’re marketed for athletic performance.

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