Read the original article by Markham Heid with Men’s Health.
Skip the Gatorade and pain pills. A banana may offer your body all it needs to perform and bounce back after a punishing workout, according to a new study published in PLOS One.
The study team recruited 20 trained cyclists and compared bananas to water and a sugary sports drink in terms of the athletes’ post-exercise recovery. They found that bananas matched the sports drink when it came to replacing nutrients and preventing post-workout inflammation. (Add this to the reasons we already love bananas.)
It’s worth nothing that the study was small in scale, and that Nieman’s research received funding from the Dole Nutrition Institute, which is part of the same company that sells Dole bananas. Dole had no role in the study’s design, execution, or findings.
“Back in 2012, we published a study that showed the sugars in banana support performance just as well as a sports drink,” says David Nieman, Dr.P.H., first author of the current study and director of Appalachian State University’s Human Performance Lab on the North Carolina Research Campus. “We also found that bananas contain 18 unique metabolites that appeared in the blood of athletes who ate them, but we didn’t know what those metabolites were doing.”
Nieman says his current study found some of those banana metabolites “knock down” a gene that promotes pain and inflammation after exercise. “This COX2 gene is the same gene that aspirin and ibuprofen work on,” he explains.
While ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are among the most popular OTC drugs used by athletes, Nieman says these pills can cause cell damage that promotes inflammation after exercise.
“For this reason, we tell athletes not to take them,” he says. “To our pleasant surprise, we found something natural in bananas is working like [these painkillers] but without the risks.” (Here’s why popping too much ibuprofen can mess with your muscle gains.)
Along with providing a natural defense against post-workout soreness and inflammation, Nieman says bananas also appear to help athletes bounce back faster after exercise.
“There’s no question that sports drinks work, but when you look at bananas, the sugar profile is almost the same,” he explains. “But bananas also have other nutrients — vitamin C and [vitamin] B6 and fiber and these unique metabolites — that you don’t get with a sports drink.”
If you’re wondering how to use bananas the next time your train, Nieman recommends eating half a banana before or midway through an intense workout to aid performance. Eat the other half after you’re finished training to prevent inflammation and next-day soreness. Also, skip the sports drinks and enjoy your banana with plain water, he adds. (By the way, here’s the correct way to peel a banana.)
You could also pop a small handful of blueberries.
“We’re starting to look at blueberries, because we think with bananas they might work even better,” Nieman says. “The future of sports nutrition is going to be fruit phytochemicals.”