Physical activity provides numerous health benefits, but it is necessary to replace nutrients lost during exercise, so the exercise itself does not harm the body. In recent years, both bananas and sports drinks—often referred to as isotonic replacements—have been highly touted by professional and amateur athletes as energy sources during intense or extensive workouts.
In this context, a study of professional cyclists, published in the journal PLoS ONE, evaluated which of two foods would be more beneficial when consumed during intense exercise.
For this study, conducted by Appalachian State University, USA, fourteen professional cyclists ingested one of two different energy replacements every 15 minutes: the equivalent of one cup of sports drink, or half a banana, during a road race of 75 km (2.5 to 3 hours). Cyclists performed this testing twice, with a three-week pause between each test. The first trial they had ate the banana, in the second, they consumed the sports drink (Gatorade).
To evaluate the differing effects, the scientists collected three blood samples: I) 1 hour before exercise; II) immediately after the exercise; and III) 1 hour after exercise. The samples were analyzed for more than 100 metabolites—molecules associated with metabolism.
The results showed that both foods were beneficial for the body, but only the bananas provided antioxidants that are not found in sports drinks. Bananas also have a higher nutritional value, which includes potassium, fibers and vitamin B6. Furthermore, bananas contain a healthier mixture of sugars than is found in the typical sports beverages.
According to Dr. David C. Nieman, who led the study, the results are applicable to any type of exercise, not only to cycling. He also believes that “there are a lot of athletes who do not like the idea of drinking sports drinks, which are essentially flavored sugar water. This research shows that before and after exercise you can consume healthier sources of carbohydrates [bananas] which sustain sports performance just as well as a sports drink”.
Whenever practicing physical activity strive to be well hydrated, and if the activity is prolonged (particularly if over an hour), consider a carbohydrate calorie source too. As the study showed, a banana is a great choice, and, as well as offering many nutritional benefits, is a food easily transported during most any physical activity.
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