With summer officially underway, it’s very likely that your calendar of spare time is either full, or filling up quickly. And for good reason! Summer is the season for any and all activities, including those that are outdoors and involve breaking a sweat! Whether you’re swimming laps at the local pool, hiking, biking, or training to participate in an endurance race, this post is going to let you in on a little secret…how one of the best fruits of the summer season – cherries – can help alleviate muscle pain and aid in your workout recovery.

In 2011, researchers at the Sports and Exercise Science Research Center at London South Bank University studied the effects tart cherry juice had on the recovery of 10 trained athletes after an intense strength training session. Athletes drank 1 ounce of tart cherry juice concentrate twice daily for seven days prior to and two days after their workout. Within just 24 hours of their workout, athletes who consumed cherry juice returned to 90 percent of normal muscle force, which was about 5 percent higher than the results were when the athletes did not consume cherry juice.

Though the research looked specifically at tart cherries in juice form and the response of elite athletes, the findings from this study provide good news for sweet cherry enthusiasts like you and I, especially when looking to recover from a workout, or tend to muscle pains. That’s because tart cherries and sweet cherries are very similar from a nutritional standpoint. Sweet cherries have anti-inflammatory properties thanks to a high concentration of anthocyanins, a group of phytochemicals that work as antioxidants and give cherries their deep red color. Like all antioxidants do, anthocyanins help combat oxidative stress in the body, which can certainly occur after putting strain on the body’s muscles during a particularly challenging workout or activity.

The tart cherry juice and muscle recovery research adds to the pile of evidence that says cherries of all kinds aren’t just a treat, but a superfood! Cherry nutrition is a topic we’ve discussed before on The Stem, including how the anti-inflammatory properties of cherries that aid athletes can also aid people who suffer from arthritis and gout. Cherries are low in calories, a source for dietary fiber and vitamin C, and rank among the top 20 foods with the most antioxidants. All that nutrition packed inside such a delicious little fruit! Thank goodness it’s easy to fuel your body and mind with all the health benefits cherries provide during the summer months thanks to the abundance of cherries available in grocery stores!

From juicing and blending to salads, entrees, desserts, and more, there are many ways to use sweet cherries beyond just snackin’ on a huge bowl of them (although I definitely suggest doing that).

What new ways are you enjoying sweet cherries this summer? Do you eat cherries to reap a certain nutritional benefit? Tell me in the comments below!