By Mary, The Naturalist Contributor & CN Body Care Buyer
When it comes to working out, I’m more of a yogi and occasional (rare) runner. I rely on busy days running around the shop and climbing up the mountainous Porter Square stairs to keep my body active and healthy. But with warmer temperatures arriving, a slightly more revealing wardrobe becomes more of a necessity than a statement and I find myself, like many, spending extra time squeezing in ab work and extra squats to the beat of a Beyonce song wherever I can. My muscles are feeling and responding to that extra attention in a way that isn’t exactly comfortable, or motivating.
Soreness and inflammation are to be expected from any workout, even seasoned athletes and runners training for a new marathon are bound to run into discomfort when pushing their bodies to the extreme. Some supplement with ibuprofen for pain relief which is problematic when used to excess, while others focus on post-workout recovery supplements like BCAAs that may not necessarily target the root cause of the discomfort. But local entrepreneurs Cam and Al of Vital Fit offer something much simpler, more effective, and more approachable than anything else I’ve encountered.
Tart cherries are packed to the brim with anthocyanins, giving them their strong antioxidant content and anti-inflammatory effect, in a bioavailable form (meaning our bodies can recognize and use it instantly). The tart cherry formula that Vital Fit offers in capsule form means you get all these benefits without the calories and inconvenience of drinking a bunch of juice.
You’ve probably seen Cam & Al demonstrating their product in store every week, and below they share their story. Learn more about how tart cherry works and why Vital Fit could help you while training for that marathon or pushing through to that next Soul Cycle class.
Do either of you have personal experience in the fitness realm looking for good workout recovery supplementation that led you to this tart cherry formula?
I first started getting into fitness my freshman year of college. At the time, I was just going with my friends. We’d go to the gym every day but rarely took the time to truly understand what we were doing—how our bodies responded to each workout. Of course, that also meant we didn’t really pay much attention to recovery either.
For a long time, recovery meant drinking a protein shake and branch chain amino acids (BCAAs). Granted, I didn’t start really taking recovery serious until a few years later, I always wondered why protein and BCAAs never truly helped me feel less sore. There were also plenty of days where I didn’t feel like drinking heavy shake or taking a handful supplements right after my workout to help me recover.
Fast forward to July 2016, Alfred and I were playing a game of 3 on 3 at the basketball court around the corner from our house. At one point I went for the ball and immediately felt a shooting pain in my back down through my leg—at the ripe age of 24, I’d herniated a disc. All of a sudden, I couldn’t lift weights anymore, I couldn’t run on the treadmill, I could hardly stand up without wincing. Protein shakes and BCAAs certainly weren’t going to help me recover—neither were the handfuls of ibuprofen I was taking every day.
I asked my parents, who run a preventive health medicine practice in New York, if they had any ideas of what I could take to help me with the pain, besides ibuprofen, while I recovered. That was the first time I heard of tart cherries and their benefits. I started drinking 8 oz of juice in the morning and couldn’t believe how well it was working—of course, I still experienced discomfort, but my ability to get up and move around improved ten-fold. There was a while where I thought I might not be able to get back into my routine again, but the tart cherry gave me some reassurance that that wouldn’t be the case.
The only downside to the juice was its sugar and calorie content, which we found was an issue for the fitness community we initially tested the juice with too. Of course, we solved that issue a few months later with an extract made from dehydrated tart cherry skins, a sugar, and calorie-free alternative.
When I was finally able to start working out again, I completely changed my approach to make sure I wouldn’t hurt myself again. Rather than lifting weights and running on a treadmill, I started using my own body weight and circuit training—staples of a functional fitness routine. While I felt stronger and more balanced than ever, I was also much more sore on a day to day basis. Tart cherry became my go to for recovery. I was not only recovering faster; I was moving better during each workout.
The tart cherry content in Vital Fit is a potent anti-inflammatory, how does it differ from other inflammation support supplements?
We’ve been trying to perfect our answer to this question for months now. We were recently demoing our product, here at Cambridge Naturals, when I think we finally nailed it. In short, tart cherries have a super high anti-inflammatory profile that’s easier for our bodies to process than something like turmeric and has way fewer side effects than something like ibuprofen—well actually no side effects.
What’s especially great about our tart cherry extract is that it’s made from dehydrated tart cherry skins, not the whole cherry. Like most other fruits, the skin is the most nutrient dense part of each cherry. This means each capsule delivers a lot more antioxidants and a much greater anti-inflammatory effect per serving, than other products on the market. In fact, a single capsule (480 mg), one serving, is the equivalent of 17oz of tart cherry juice. However, because we’re only using the dehydrated skins, each serving is calorie and sugar free. To put that in perspective, the average 8oz serving of tart cherry juice has roughly 134 calories and 24 grams of sugar. Compared to other tart cherry supplements on the market, a lot come in tablet form, which typically means they’re made with fillers and for those that are also in powder form, they generally use the whole cherry so you’re taking more and getting less.
From a recovery point of view, the extract in our capsules is the only tart cherry extract on the market clinically studied. Researchers at Texas A&M studied the extract’s effect on inflammation and muscle soreness with endurance trained athletes. The athletes took one capsule a day for ten days before completing a ½ marathon endurance challenge. Results revealed the athlete’s inflammatory markers were down by 47%, their perceived muscle soreness was down by 34%, and their run times improved by 13% because of the cherry’s ability to combat inflammation and oxidative stress so efficiently.
The last cool feature we want to mention about our tart cherry product is its versatility. For those who don’t like swallowing pills, you can open up the capsule and mix it into water, tea, or recovery drink. We’ve been experimenting with the powder ourselves, a few weeks ago we handed out tart cherry spritzers made from seltzer, our tart cherry extract, and a dash of cranberry juice—based on the response, we’d say they came out pretty good.
What are some of the highlights of being young entrepreneurs in this field? Did you imagine a grad school project taking off the way this has so far?
One of the most rewarding things for us has been seeing people’s response to us and our product over time. In the beginning, everyone had their guard up. We were just starting out, two kids’ fresh out of grad school with a lot of ideas and no track record to back them up. While some people were willing to listen to us, there were many more who weren’t—at least not yet. We understood why, we’d be skeptical too if we were business owners and two guys they’d never seen before said: “Hi, we’re starting a supplement company, want to do business with us?” That realization forced to us to leave our comfort zone, start meeting people, and begin building relationships with people all throughout Boston’s health, wellness, and fitness scene—from the ground up. As our network grew, we could show people our intent and explain our vision. Over the course of a few months, we could see business owners and members of the fitness community who were initially very skeptical put their guards down and open up to us. It was incredibly rewarding to earn their trust and eventually the chance to earn their business.
We had no idea that this grad school project would turn into a full-time job. The initial idea was very different and admittedly not so good. However, after a few months of tweaking and fine tuning the concept it got to a point where we thought the idea “had some legs.” About halfway through our last semester we looked at each other and said, “Let’s run with it, we can make it work.”
What can we look forward to in Vital Fit’s future? Are you crafting any other products you can tell us about?
We're working on products two and three right now. We’re almost finished fine-tuning our protein product. It’s a plant-based protein made from organic cold-pressed pumpkin seeds. It tastes better than any plant-protein we’ve ever had and is super easy on the stomach. We’ve also added ten essential vitamins and minerals that are typically missing from a modern diet and a full serving of BCAA’s. It’s a balanced meal replacement and a functional recovery drink. It’s 134 calories and gluten, grain, sugar, wheat, soy, and dairy free—we’re very excited to release it. The second product we’re working on is a beetroot based nitric oxide booster to help combat oxidative stress and increase blood flow. It’s the perfect way to prepare for your next run, class, or workout.
Lastly, what are your top 3 Cambridge Naturals products you can’t leave the store without?
An arm full of Runa Teas, a hand full of Elemental Superfood Seed bars and Zen’s Zen Calm.
Thanks so much for sharing your story with us, Cam and Al! To keep updated on new products and demos, follow them on instagram @vitalfitnutrition
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