If you are watching the World Cup, you probably notice the plentiful bananas that appear before each prolongation or penalty kick situation. The trainers for these top athletes, who have any possible recovery food available to them, choose bananas. Why?
A banana is such a perfect food for quick recovery primarily because it provides what your body needs most (besides fluid replacement) between two periods of intense exercise: quickly absorbed carbohydrate calories.
In a 2012 research study published in the journal PLoS ONE, professional cyclists were intensively studied during 75 km road races. Every 15 minutes the athletes either consumed either ½ of a banana or a sports drink (Gatorade). They performed two races three weeks apart, one time using bananas to sustain them, the other time the sports drink.
The results showed that bananas worked just as well as the sports drink, but the bananas had the advantage of containing natural sugars as well as fiber, vitamins B6 and C, antioxidants, and are particularly rich in the electrolyte potassium. The flavonoid antioxidants help neutralize the free radicals formed during exercise, and potassium is important for muscle recovery—helping to prevent cramping—and helping maintain a good blood sugar balance.
Of course you should drink adequate water before, during, and after exercise, and if you are intensively sweating or exercising vigorously for over 45 minutes to an hour, adding a sports drink is not a bad idea.
After you totally finish your workout, you can be a bit more creative with the banana and mix up a more complete recovery drink that includes protein, which is important for muscle recovery and building new muscle cells. A smoothie of whey protein, water, honey, and a banana is excellent.
If you don’t have whey, it might be surprising, but low-fat chocolate milk has been shown to be an excellent recovery drink. It was even shown to be superior to a sports drink for replacing glycogen, an important muscle fuel. Biopsies of muscle tissue post-exercise demonstrated more muscle building after drinking the low-fat milk rather than just a sports drink.
Experiment with various recovery fluids, but one thing you should always try to include is something that is cheap, easy to carry, always available, and comes in it’s own easily removed wrapper…the banana.
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