Bananas Superior To Sports Drinks In Aiding Athletes’ Recovery From Intense Workouts

Organic & fair traded bananas sold at the Honest Weight Co-op in Albany, NY are not grown using chemical sprays (thereby avoiding risk to farmworkers’s health & negative environmental effects as well as supporting small farm economies, as noted in the web documentary Beyond the Seal)

Last month, we reported on the apparent superiority of fermented foods over manufactured probiotic pills. Now a recent study, reporting on an experiment carried out at the Human Performance Lab, located on the North Carolina Research Center in Kannapolis (Charlotte metro area) of Appalachian State University, confirms that a gift of nature, the banana, is a healthy alternative to sports drinks in athletes’ recovery from intense physical workouts. Michael Pollan’s major food rule, to avoid processed and manufactured food and drink (Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants), gains support from this carefully controlled experiment, which involved 20 cyclists, completing a 75-km (47-mile) timed cycling trials on four occasions.

Each cyclist had a two-week washout period between the four cycling trials, and the rides were each completed after an overnight fast. During one cycling trial, they drank only water. In other rides, they had water but also eight ounces of a sports drink every 30 minutes or water and half a banana every 30 minutes.

An article by Jennifer Woodward (New Study By Appalachian Human Performance Laboratory Finds Banana Compounds Act as COX-2 Inhibitor, 3/27/18) in Appalachian Today, the online publication of Appalachian State University, includes this summing up of the results of the study by David Nieman, director of the Human Performance Lab and the lead author of the study:

Consuming bananas with water during exercise has several advantages for athletes and fitness enthusiasts above those linked to regular sports drinks, including a stronger anti-inflammatory effect, better nutrition and improved metabolic recovery.

Blood was drawn from the cyclists before the cycling trials, immediately after and at several additional points, extending out to 45 hours after completion of the 75-km ride. Scientists analyzed blood markers of inflammation and levels of metabolites (molecules that can change during and after exertion and signify how much stress the body feels).

According to Woodward’s article, there were two key results found after bananas were ingested. First, a significant increase in at least 18 banana-derived metabolites, including serotonin and dopamine byproducts, which coincided with a reduction in COX-2 mRNA expression, which normally increases with exercise. Reducing COS-2 mRNA expression usually results in less inflammation and reduced swelling  and the perception of pain.

The second key result was the presence of banana antioxidants, which kept the cyclists’ immune cells operating optimally, preventing them from switching to less efficient energy production methods. Woodward notes that intense exercise often depresses immune function due to physiological stress, and the study confirmed that carbohydrate ingestion, whether from bananas or the sports drink, supported endurance performance and reduced markers of post-exercise inflammation.

The full study, Metabolic recovery from heavy exertion following banana compared to sugar beverage or water only ingestion: A randomized, crossover trial, was published (3/22/18) in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

Gretchen Reynold, who reported on the banana’s comparable or greater anti-inflammatory and other benefits for athletes than sports drinks, in a Well column (4/10/18) in the New York Times noted that Director David Nieman will follow up these results with research to discover how bananas seem to inhibit COX-2 mRNA expression (like anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen) after exercise. Reynolds also noted that the study also did not answer whether half of a standard banana every 30 minutes is the ideal amount of the fruit during exertion, and that the researchers plan to explore the effects of other fruits particularly dates, which have even more sugar than bananas.

At a memorable presentation by Michael Pollan several years ago at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, New York, the Omnivore’s Dilemma author contended that the current focus on nutritionism which undergirds the marketing of so much processed food (including sports drinks) creates unnecessary confusion for consumers. Instead, he maintains persuasively that the fundamental truth is that any traditional diet of real food is superior to consumption of processed foods with unpronounceable additives. In his view, why a carrot or an apple is good to eat is a continuing mystery, and this mystery cannot be solved by merely analyzing nutrients because a carrot is more than the sum of its nutrients. Similarly, how a banana inhibits COX-2 mRNA expression may well turn out to be similarly mysterious, although the fact that it does so has been established.

(Frank W. Barrie, 4/12/18)

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