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THE DRINK THAT HAS TAKEN OVER BASEBALL

15 September 2022 Cheribundi Marketing
Art by Tom Forget

 

It's getting late in the day and Giants reliever John Brebbia has just finished his workout. He can already feel the soreness creeping in.

He gathers up his glove and bags and begins heading home. There's an afternoon game tomorrow, so he has to get to bed early.

But before he gets ready for bed, before he actually goes to sleep, he has to do one more thing. One very simple, but important task.

He fills up a glass with ice, places it on the counter and pours in a magical sort of refresher, or relaxer, that he's been using nearly every day for the last couple of years. A drink that players all across baseball have been using, that athletes in pretty much every sport have bought into.

Tart cherry juice.

"It’s my little sleep routine," Brebbia said. "It helps me relax and fall asleep."

Baseball players have not always been the healthiest of athletes.

The current best pitcher in the world has mostly subsisted on fast food. Babe Ruth reportedly enjoyed breakfasts of bourbon and steak. And there's still a long-running how-many-cheesesteaks-can-you-eat contest in Philadelphia.

But over the last couple of decades, ballplayers have bought into the idea that, well, maybe to stay on the field and be healthy and win, they should do everything they can to keep their bodies in the best possible shape.

"I think there's been an adoption to a lot more nutrition protocols," New York Mets dietitian Carsan Dittman told me in a phone call. "There's been more dietitians, more full-time dietitians, and we're kind of able to create relationships a little bit better and push those items that we would like them to use regularly."

Teams didn't begin having nutritionists or dietitians until around 2016 -- when the Texas Rangers became the first to hire for the position. The Dodgers followed soon after and now, six years later, every organization has someone with that title. Many even have multiple people who work in that department.

They stress the benefits of eating healthy, getting a good night's sleep, and recovery -- all important tenets to getting through the grind of a 162-game season. And one of the more consistent ingredients to these health regimens has been the institution of tart cherry juice.

The positives of athletes drinking tart cherry juice has been researched for years. It's been claimed that it can help battle cancer or heart disease, but for baseball players, it's mostly used as a way to reduce inflammation, and its melatonin properties are beneficial for sleep.

Leron Sarig, who's been the Giants' director of performance nutrition since 2019, has stressed the importance of the juice throughout her career.

"Kind of the quickest benefit is that it's a good source of carbohydrate and anti-oxidants," Sarig told me over the phone. "Which, around activities, people tend to need more of because they're putting stress on their bodies. Carbs and anti-oxidants kind of help to relieve that stress."

"It's proposed that there's faster recovery, it inhibits any sort of inflammation and it can even help with muscle soreness," Dittman said. "Because of all that, you're able to recover faster and train quicker."

Brebbia, who Dittman mentioned is a big proponent of the drink, mostly raves about its sleep benefits.

"The first thing I noticed was that I sleep a lot better," the 32-year-old said. "Dare I say, it almost made me tired the first time I had a large glass over ice. It’s so hard to pinpoint what one thing does because there are so many variables that go into a day, especially during a baseball season. But I feel like I sleep pretty well, at least when I need to -- like before a day game or something like that."

Mets starter Taijuan Walker, like most of his Mets teammates, also abides by the juice. Earlier this summer, the Mets broadcast spent about five minutes talking about his routine.

"It's been a couple of years [drinking it]," Walker told me. "I wanna say it was with the Diamondbacks where I first got introduced to it, drinking it on and off."

But like a lot of players around the league, his cherry juice intake has increased since last season.

"I started drinking it more frequently," Walker said. "This year, after every start, I'll have two. If I have a big heavy bullpen day or something, then I'll drink one or two on those days too."

Angels' longtime nutritionist Becci Twombley has preached of the juice's ability to deliver "better blood flow and less pain." The Pirates' official website has a whole section on the positive effects. The Blue Jays are another team that recommends the drink to its players -- center fielder George Springer even has an endorsement deal with a specific brand. Brett Gardner promoted the same type during his playing career.

"Yes, players have bought into it and a lot of players on our team use it regularly," Blue Jays head of nutrition Jeremy Chiang wrote over email. "It reduces inflammation (soreness), improves quality of sleep and boosts the immune system. Players drink it after the game, after their workouts or ideally drink it 60-90 minutes before sleep."

The drink is usually taken in 4- or 8-ounce quantities and teams generally have many cases of the juice in clubhouses. Sometimes, though, nutritionists also stock other areas if a player asks for one on a whim.

"Yeah, we also have it on the plane," Sarig laughed.

The companies teams use will also ship boxes of the juice ahead of road trips so it's available for players as soon as they get there.

The taste of the drink is, well, very tart. It's not the most refreshing. Dittman said lots of Mets players will mix it with water, while Sarig talked about a cherry juice company that blends in some apple juice. Brebbia thinks it's pretty good, but an acquired taste.

"I actually think it’s really good with ice," he said. "I’m pretty sure cooling liquids dulls your taste buds a little bit, so I’m sure that’s why."

Although, he wouldn't recommend it to everybody.

"I’m not going to give it to my son," Brebbia said, "and expect him to think it’s the same as fruit punch."

But players will speak to the cherry juice's worth, even if it's just one component of their overall routine.

"I have noticed that I’m not like crazy sore from workouts," Brebbia said. "Whether that’s because of this one thing or the volume that they have us doing and stuff like that is so hard to tell. But at the very least it’s part of the routine that I’ve enjoyed and felt good."

"It's one of those things, where if I stop drinking it, maybe I'd feel like I hadn't recovered as well," Walker said. "I'm in a routine with it. I'm not sure how my body would feel if I stopped drinking it."

Dittman agrees with routine playing a big role in the juice's use.

"I think they notice more when they don't [drink the juice]," she said. "They might notice that they're a little more sore the next day."

It's all a long way from postgame chicken and beers.

And it's not just athletes that are taking tart cherry juice. Regular, normal human beings have also been discovering its benefits.

If you want it, the juice is available pretty much anywhere, but Dittman said to be sure to pick up the right kind.

"It's best to use something that you know is coming from a food as opposed to a supplement, unless it's certified," she said. "That's so you know exactly what's in the bottle or what's on the label is actually in the bottle. But it's best to go with a food-based choice."

Sure, you might not need it to hit home runs like George Springer or keep your arm fresh for some stressful late-inning work the next day like John Brebbia, but, as these recent viral Tik-Tok videos claim, you can almost be guaranteed a peaceful night's sleep. And who doesn't need that?

 

Article by Matt Monagan for MLB.com

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