May 18, 2024

A staple in most pre-run breakfast recipes and in every post-race goodie bag, bananas are somewhat of a running icon – and, it turns out, they have every right to be.

Runners are, in fact, so crazy about bananas there has been some bizarre running-related fruit contraptions made over the years. Enter the edible, wearable race banana. In 2015, Dole Japan designed a device in the form of a banana that can be strapped to participants’ wrists and displays the time, measures heart rate, shows inspirational messages, and be eaten post-race. Look out Garmin, the banana watch is here.

What makes bananas so good for runners?

Tasty and a nutritional powerhouse, bananas are the UK’s most popular fruit. On average, people eat 10kg of bananas (about 100 bananas) each year. And with an elite nutritional profile, bananas benefit everybody, but especially runners.

Providing instant yet sustained energy, bananas are a pre-workout powerhouse. Since they have a low water content, they typically have more calories (a medium banana contains around 105 calories) and a higher carbohydrate content (27g) compared to other fruits, providing the all-important fuel you need to power you through your run. They are a great source of easy-to-digest carbs, and the sugar they contain is sucrose, fructose and glucose, which allows a sustained energy boost without digestive discomfort on the run.

Additionally, they contain potassium, which is a godsend mineral for runners. It works with sodium to balance the fluids and electrolyte levels in your body, helping to regulate your heartbeat and prevent muscles from cramping. There’s no denying that running is demanding on the heart. Therefore, as a runner, no matter the distance you’re covering, you should be prioritising your heart health. The high potassium in bananas is proven to help heart function and blood pressure regulation.

Another nutrient packed into the curved yellow fruit is magnesium, which helps your body use calcium and vitamin D, contributing to healthy, strong bones. Running is a high-impact form of exercise for which strong bones are essential. So, every runner should be thankful for that extra hit of magnesium found in bananas.

Beyond benefitting the body, bananas can also make you happy. This is because they contain tryptophan, which converts to serotonin – the hormone that boosts mood. Coupled with those post-run endorphins, this serotonin boost can really make you feel on top of the world – runner’s high and then some.

Ditch the sports drinks, grab the bananas

A 2018 study published in PLOS One found bananas to be a better choice than sports drinks for post-run recovery.

Researchers compared the effects of bananas and sports drinks and found that the fruit provided equal or greater anti-inflammatory benefits for exercisers. In the study, 20 male and female regular road-racing cyclists, aged between 22-50 years, completed several 47-mile bike rides. During one ride, they drank water. For the others, they were given water and 230ml of sports drink or half a banana every 30 minutes.

Cyclists who took in only water had relatively high levels of inflammation in their blood; this level was far lower if the cyclists had fruit or the sports drink. Interestingly though, the riders who ate bananas also produced less of a genetic precursor of the enzyme COX-2, which intensifies inflammation.

The author of the study and director of Appalachian State University’s Human Performance Lab, David Nieman, also found that bananas help you recover quicker after running. ‘There’s no question that sports drinks work, but when you look at bananas, the sugar profile is almost the same. But bananas also have other nutrients – vitamin C and [vitamin] B6 and fibre and these unique metabolites – that you don’t get with a sports drink,’ he said.

So, there you have it, another reason to love this yellow superfood.

Wait, don’t throw away the skin

Fun fact: the banana peel is fruitful too. There are several reasons why runners should be consuming the banana peel as well as the banana itself. In fact, the peel is believed to be more nutritious than the pulp. Packed with even more vitamin A, potassium, fibre and antioxidants, the banana skin protects your eyes, helps your heart, improves mood and can help you lose weight. What’s more, by eating the peel you’re doing your bit for the planet – considering it actually takes two years for a banana skin to biodegrade.

Granted, nibbling on the tough outer skin of a banana won’t be the most pleasant eating experience, so we recommend throwing it in a smoothie – do note though, that a high-powered blender will be needed.

All things considered, bananas prove themselves a great pre- or post-run snack – best enjoyed on top of a bagel, mixed in porridge, lathered with nut butter or blended in a smoothie – but as with every food, they should be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet.


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