Fit Food Spotlight: Bananas

Lori Nedescu, MS RD CSSD
by Lori Nedescu, MS RD CSSD
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Fit Food Spotlight: Bananas

Bananas have been a long-time favorite food in the diet of athletes and MyFitnessPal users. From toppings on pre-workout pancakes, stuffing for a nut butter sandwich, mix-ins for overnight oats and smoothies to a simple snack, bananas are a go-to ingredient for meals that commonly fuel training efforts.

When any food becomes such a consistent staple, it begs asking whether this is just commonly accepted behavior, or is there actual, scientific proof behind the benefits of bananas that make them such a desirable choice for athletes?

Here, a break-out of proven benefits behind this powerhouse fruit:

Bananas provide roughly 120 calories per medium-sized fruit. This amount is a solid way to boost the calorie count of any meal without going overboard. Athletes commonly need to boost calories of normal meals and snacks due to high-energy expenditures of daily training.

The addition of a banana also provides a carbohydrate boost of roughly 27 grams which is roughly the same amount provided by most sport gels. Carbohydrates are needed before and during exercise to provide a boost of energy that is easy for the body to pull from and use for explosive actions. This macronutrient is also necessary to replenish muscle glycogen that becomes depleted during workouts. Since only 47% of athletes consume the recommended amount of carbohydrates, bananas are an easy dietary addition to meet these guidelines with natural, whole food.

The carbohydrates provided by bananas have an extra benefit; fructose and glucose. It has been shown that consuming foods with a combination of these sugars increases the gut’s ability to absorb more carbohydrates, providing more usable energy to fuel performance.

Athletes frequently turn to sports drinks to replenish electrolytes lost in sweat. Electrolytes like potassium and magnesium found in bananas are crucial for nerve response, muscle function and recovery. For athletes who experience cramping, getting more dietary electrolytes can be key to alleviating that performance-hindering ailment. In fact, eating a simple banana has been found to be just as helpful as drinking a sports drink.

Fiber might not be a performance-boosting nutrient, but it is extremely helpful in maintaining weight and improving gut health, two characteristics of health that are important to athletes. It has been extensively researched that increasing fiber intake is beneficial for weight loss. While not every athlete is trying to lose weight, maintaining a healthy and even competitive weight can be done in a healthful way by increasing fiber intake.

Bananas have a particularly good type of soluble fiber called resistant fiber. This form of fiber acts as a prebiotic to feed good gut bacteria, which current research suggests to be even more beneficial in aiding gut health than supplemental probiotics. Athletes know a healthy gut is connected to a healthy mind and body!

Beyond nutrition facts, bananas are a great choice due to their portability, low cost and versatility. An athlete can take a banana along to the gym, in the car and even stash one in their cycling jersey pocket or running pack for a mid-workout snack. A single banana might set your wallet back a quarter which is a pretty budget-friendly healthy food. A downfall of this fruit is the fact they go bad relatively quickly, but this doesn’t mean they go to waste. Peel overripe bananas and place in a freezer-safe container to use in smoothies or mash into banana bread.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Overall, there’s more to bananas than ritual and habit. Adding this simple fruit to your diet can go a long way toward improving your athletic success.

About the Author

Lori Nedescu, MS RD CSSD
Lori Nedescu, MS RD CSSD

Lori, MS RD CSSD is an accomplished sports dietitian; she holds a Master’s Degree in Human Nutrition and Certification as a Specialist in Sports Nutrition. As a current professional road cyclist and previous elite marathoner and ultra-runner, Lori knows firsthand that food can enhance or diminish performance gains. She understands the importance of balancing a quality whole food based diet with science-backed performance nutrition and strives to share this message with others. Learn more about her @HungryForResults.

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