After a workout, your body needs hydration and nutritional support. When you sweat, you lose fluid and electrolytes and when your muscles contract; they use stored glycogen and you need carbohydrates to replenish it. Plus, your muscles sustain small micro-tears that need repair. Amino acids from protein help with recovery and muscle growth.
What’s your go-to post-workout snack food? Hopefully, it’s something nutrient-dense and not junk food! After reading this, munch on a banana. There’s no shortage of sports drinks for replenishing the electrolytes you lose during exercise, including sodium, potassium, and chloride, and there are plenty of snack bars and workout smoothies you can sip. But biting into a banana may have surprising benefits for helping you recover from exercise.
Munching on any fruit offers benefits after a workout. Fruit contains natural sugar to replenish glycogen stores, a high water content for hydration and they’re packed with potassium to replenish this electrolyte you lose when you sweat. In fact, a medium banana has around 480 milligrams of potassium, over 10% of the recommended daily intake of 4,700 milligrams. In contrast, a sports drink like Gatorade has only 30 milligrams of potassium.
Bananas have other advantages over a commercial sports drink. They don’t have artificial colors, flavorings, and copious amounts of sugar or artificial sweeteners that sports drinks do. This yellow peel-and-eat fruit contains natural sugars combined with fiber to mitigate the rise in blood sugar caused by the sugar, although bananas cause more of a blood sugar rise than lower sugar fruits like berries. The natural sugars in bananas help replenish glycogen stores. In fact, a medium banana has around 27 grams of carbohydrates and 3 grams of fiber.
But bananas do more than replenish glycogen and electrolytes. Researchers at Appalachian State’s Human Performance Lab found that munching on a banana and hydrating with water after an intense workout elevated levels of anti-inflammatory metabolites in the bloodstream of trained athletes. These metabolites block the activity of COX-2 enzymes, the same enzymes that ibuprofen and other NSAID do. We know that NSAID medications are hard on the lining of the stomach and the kidneys, but bananas supply these anti-inflammatory benefits without popping open a pill bottle.
What can you gain from eating a banana after a sweat session? Researchers in the study believe the metabolites that rise in the blood after eating a banana may enhance recovery and, potentially, decrease after-workout soreness, thanks to their anti-inflammatory benefits. Plus, bananas contain antioxidants that support immune health. That’s important since intense exercise can suppress immune function for a time after a workout. Eating a post-workout snack helps restore healthy immune function, but bananas contain a blend of bioactive compounds such as biogenic amines, phenolics, and carotenoids that support immune health.
Could bananas be the next athletic superfood? In reality, most fruits and vegetables are nutrient-dense and worthy of superfood status. Bananas contain vitamin C, an antioxidant important for immune health, and is one of the best plant-based sources of vitamin B6, a vitamin that helps the body turn food into usable energy.
The Benefits of Bananas Before a Workout
Biting into a banana could be an ideal pre-workout snack too. A 2012 study showed that consuming a banana or a sports drink before a tough bike ride improved how the cyclists performed more than drinking pure water. Also, consuming bananas reduced inflammation once the workout was over. It sounds like a natural and healthy way to recover from a workout, right?
One caveat, a banana is a good way to replenish glycogen stores and aid in recovery, but after a muscle-stressing workout, your muscles need protein for muscle repair and recovery. In fact, you should consume carbohydrates and protein in about a 3 to 1 ratio of carbs to protein. So, smear almond butter on that banana or make a protein smoothie that contains a whole banana. You can also enjoy a banana with a cup of yogurt. Not replenishing your body’s energy stores after a workout can trigger a catabolic state that leads to muscle loss.
Make sure you’re rehydrating after a workout too. The reason some people feel tired after a sweat session is they are mildly dehydrated because they didn’t replace the fluids they lost. Note the color of your urine. It should be no darker than pale yellow. If it is, you have some catching up to do! It’s also helpful to weigh yourself before and after a workout. For each pound you’re down after a training session, drink 16 ounces of fluid to replace the fluid you lost.
The Bottom Line
If you’re looking for a tasty and convenient post-workout snack, bananas fit the bill. But make sure you’re consuming some protein with the banana and rehydrating with liquid too. The beauty of bananas is they’re a grab-and-go food that you can eat on the run. So, keep some handy. Also, the less ripe a banana is the most resistant starch it contains. Bananas with more resistant starch have less impact on blood sugar since your body can’t digest this type of starch. However, resistant starch, especially if you consume too much too quickly, can cause flatulence and bloating in some people. On the plus side, bacteria break down resistant starch into short-chain fatty acids that are healthy for your colon. Keep that in mind when choosing your bananas and enjoy this naturally sweet treat!
· Appalachian Today. “New study by Appalachian Human Performance Laboratory finds banana compounds act as COX-2 inhibitor”
· PLOS One. “Metabolic recovery from heavy exertion following banana compared to sugar beverage or water only ingestion: A randomized, crossover trial” March 22, 2018”
· LiveScience.com. “Vitamin B6: Sources & Benefits”
· PLOS One. 2018; 13(3): e0194843.
· PLOS One. “Bananas as an Energy Source during Exercise: A Metabolomics Approach” May 17, 2012.
· WebMD. “Hydration: The Key to Exercise Success”