Editor’s note: MRG is partnering with the Meijer Festival of Races again this year — the half marathon, 15K, 10K and 5K take place Saturday, July 9, the final day of the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City. Race sponsor Cherry Bay Orchards provided MRG contributor Ali Lopez with cherry products for this post. Ali also received complimentary race entry to the half marathon so she can test out fueling with tart cherry products throughout her training. Thank you, race organizers and Cherry Bay Orchards! ~MRG

By Ali Lopez
MRG Contributor

The National Cherry Festival is just around the corner, and as runners we have reasons to celebrate. Yes, there are awesome Cherry Fest races to run, but there are also awesome cherries to eat! And I am talking tart cherries. Why tart cherries? Well, for a few reasons; great taste only being one of the reasons. By now you guys know that I feel that food is medicine and tart cherries are some pretty yummy medicine. Read on!

I have done a bit of research and here are just a few things I found that they are saying about tart cherries. Tart cherries are high in something called anthocyanins, which are flavonoids that contribute to their sour/tart taste, bright red color, and, most importantly, their anti-inflammatory health properties. Some studies suggest that because of these anthocyanins, tart cherries might have the ability to reduce muscle pain after intense strength training, long-distance running or cycling. Research has also shown tart cherries can serve as a natural recovery aid when consumed in the days before and after intensive exercise. Another bonus is that this can help with sleep because of the natural melatonin they have.

After reading about all of the benefits, I decided to experiment with tart cherries. Thanks to Cherry Bay Orchards for the tart cherry juice concentrate as well as the dried cherries, I started bringing dried tart cherries with me as fuel on a few of my long runs, as well as experimenting with tart cherry juice before and after a run, too. Then I came across the “7 Day Tart Cherry Challenge” and decided to give it a try. I am running the Cherry Fest Half Marathon in July. So here’s my plan: I will do the 7 day challenge leading up to the race and then report back to you all on how things go.

Cherries_IG_7DayChallenge_WebsiteImage_v05

{Source: www.choosecherries.com/tart-tale/7-day-tart-cherry-juice-challenge/}

Sound fun? Well you can give it a try as well. Click here for more details »

In the meantime though, I thought I would experiment and create some fun, quick and delicious recipes using tart cherries. Some are running related treats and some are just good eating!

In my DIY post on fueling, I gave my recipe for my “Ali-ade,” a great homemade sports hydration drink and that is awesome if you use tart cherry juice in it.

And also in that post was my “Copycat Cherry Pie Larabar” recipe that I posted before.

I thought I would play with another “energy ball” variation here, since I love having these on hand at all times. This one is yummy and easy to take with on a run, to work, or you can use it for recovery (great mix of carbs and protein!)

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Cherry Bomb Energy Bites

2 cups dried Tart Cherries

1 cup rolled oats (not instant)

1 cup walnuts

1/4 cup ground flaxseed

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

3 tablespoons peanut butter or almond butter (Naturally Nutty is great!)

Place all ingredients in a food processor. Process until the mixture is finely ground and holds together when pressed. Roll the mixture into balls, as big or small as you’d like! Store in the fridge or freezer. (You can also form them into squares if you like by pressing the mixture into a parchment lined 8X8 baking dish and cut into squares of whatever size you like.)

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Another great use for the tart cherry juice is in a recovery smoothie.

Chocolate Covered Cherry Smoothie

1 cup plain yogurt (greek or regular) or your choice of milk

1/4 cup tart cherry juice concentrate

1/2 cup water, milk or ice

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa or cacao powder

2-3 tablespoons maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger (optional, but a great anti-inflammatory)

1-2 handfuls of spinach or kale

Put all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Add ice if desired.

I have been making my own granola for years now, so I thought I would tweak my recipe to incorporate tart cherries. Check out this version. It’s awesome for breakfast, refueling or even a bedtime snack. To really up the “cherry factor,” try mixing some tart cherry concentrate into plain yogurt or milk!

IMG_0662Nutty Cherry Granola

3 cups rolled oats (not quick)

1 cup raw pecans (or cashews, slivered almonds, walnuts)*

1 cup raw sunflower seeds (or pumpkin seeds)

1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup maple syrup or honey

2 tablespoons tart cherry juice concentrate

1/4 cup coconut oil

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 cup dried tart cherries

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, nuts, seeds, coconut, cinnamon, salt.

Heat the maple syrup, oil, cherry concentrate so the coconut oil melts and the mixture is pourable. Pour liquids over oat mixture and stir really well to combine everything. Spread on two baking sheets and bake for 20 minutes. Remove pans from oven and rotate shelves. Bake for another 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on racks and granola to crisp up. When cool, transfer mixture into a large bowl, then add cherries and mix until evenly distributed.

*Feel free to swap out and interchange the type of nuts and seeds you use. Make it your own!

Cherry Balsamic Vinaigrette

1 tablespoon tart cherry juice concentrate

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1-2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/4 cup olive oil

pinch of salt and pepper

For dressing:

Whisk together cherry juice, vinegar, maple and Dijon. Then whisk in oil slowly until combined. Season with a salt and pepper. (you can also add all the ingredients to a small mason jar and just shake it!)

Serve this dressing over mixed greens, with goat cheese, walnuts and dried cherries! Yum!

Have a fueling question for Ali? Post it below in the comments section or email MRG with your healthy-eating questions at heather [at] michiganrunnergirl [dot] com 

Ali will answer your questions in upcoming columns here on MRG. You can read her post about the Power of Smoothies, here »  She’s also written about superfoods and shares a great recipe for kale salad here »

Ali

Ali

Ali Lopez is a northern Michigan runner, chef and health coach. You can learn more about her at her web site Healthy Chef Ali. She’s also on Facebook here »

You can listen to a conversation about running and eating between Ali and Heather on a recent MRG podcast episode here »

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