Published on April 7, 2016
The humble banana can so easily be taken for granted, but as a source of energy – and so much more – for runners this readily available fruit is really hard to beat. Here are RunningMonkey’s top reasons to peel at least one on a daily basis…
Counting the Cost
Your average banana isn’t going to set you back much more than about 15p – hit the market at the end of the day and you’ll pick up the overripe ones (perfect for banana ice cream, see below) for even less. To put that into perspective that means you can get a bunch of 10 bananas for less than the price of most energy gels or bars, gaining many of the same benefits but completely naturally. Of course carrying that many bananas on the run is a different matter…
It goes without saying that running burns energy and that energy either needs to be in place to start with and / or topped up as you go. You’ll find around 25g of carbohydrates in your average banana (about half of which is sugar depending on ripeness) ready to turn into running fuel. The 100 or so calories that this represents equates to about what you would find in a typical energy gel. Even better, bananas have a low GI (glycemic index) rating of just 51. The GI rating represents how fast carbohydrates are released into the body and a low GI means bananas don’t cause spikes in blood sugar levels – they have a longer, slower release of energy perfect for running.
Bananas are incredibly rich in vitamin B6; a medium banana containing around 0.45mg. With the recommendation that men consume 1.4mg per-day and women 1.2mg a single banana sets you on a good course, even when slightly higher levels are suggested as being optimum for runners. B6 (also known as pyridoxine) plays a number of key roles: it helps metabolise energy, allowing us to use – and crucially more efficiently store – energy from protein and carbohydrates in food, and it also helps form haemoglobin to transport oxygen around the body.
Balancing Body Salts
Potassium is an electrolyte or ‘body salt’, which has a similar function to sodium in the body; to be very reductive sodium functions inside our cells and potassium outside (please don’t write in…) Along with the other key electrolytes – sodium, chloride, magnesium, calcium, phosphate, Bicarbonate – potassium is lost to the body when we sweat during exercise and needs to be replaced to avoid cramps and other undesirable effects including, in extreme cases, irregular heart beat. A medium banana will contribute 12-15% of the daily requirement of potassium and, consumed after a run, goes a long way towards replacing those lost ‘salts’.
Another electrolyte, magnesium aids the conversion of food to energy in the body. It also plays a role in nerve and muscle function and in supporting the immune system; but perhaps most significantly for runners it improves bone health. Runners put a lot of stress on their bones and magnesium aids the parathyroid glands, which produces hormones vital for healthy bones. An average banana contains around 30mg of magnesium, about 10% of your daily requirement.
Best Before (And During. And After)
The banana really is an all-rounder when it comes to fuelling the run. Pre-race a banana will load up the carbs with plenty of low GI energy and is likely to be much easier on the stomach than most commercial bars or gels. As a bonus they are an excellent source of fructooligosaccharides, a prebiotic that helps the ‘friendly bacteria’ in the digestive system.
Having their own easily removed ‘packaging’ bananas are a go-anywhere source of energy when running and the skins are, obviously, biodegradable so there’s none of the potential littering you get from gels and bars. They pack a reasonable energy punch for their weight – not to the magnitude of an energy bar granted – but at least you know you’re ‘running naturally’.
Post-race the stomach can feel ‘unsettled’, but a banana is, again, going to be gentle here and goes some way to replenishing that lost energy. The magnesium and potassium content will help balance the body salts lost through sweat and the natural antioxidants will mop up those nasty free radicals produced during strenuous exercise.
Beating Energy Drink
Research conducted at Appalachian State University’s Human Performance Lab in 2012 showed that not only were bananas as effective as carbohydrate drinks they were, in many ways, better. The performance of endurance cyclists (it’s like running, but sitting down) was tested with either a ‘cup of carbohydrate drink’ or half a banana consumed every 15minutes for around 3hours.
Dr David C. Nieman, director of the Human Performance Lab commented: ‘We found that not only was performance the same whether bananas or sports drinks were consumed, there were several advantages to consuming bananas…’ In addition to the benefits already listed the bananas also provided fibre, antioxidants and a ‘healthier blend of sugars than sports drinks.’ Whilst RunningMonkey wouldn’t question the results, it’s important to note that this research was funded by Dole Foods, who produce, amongst other things, bananas…
Of course it doesn’t get much simpler than peel-and-eat, but there are plenty of other ways for runners to benefit from bananas. Starting the day (or ending an early morning run) with High Protein Banana Pancakes – recipe here – is perfect, alternatively bananas make a nutritious base for a multitude of breakfast smoothies.
The classic banana loaf can be made as healthily or indulgently as you see fit and slices are perfect for filling a running pack with. We think one of the best recipes, which also happens to be gluten-, dairy- and refined sugar-free, can be found on the ever-excellent glutenfreecuppatea.co.uk
Whilst exceptionally ripe bananas work well for pancakes, smoothies or banana loaf, save the really ripe ones for this couldn’t-be-simpler banana ice cream: Peel as many overripe bananas as you have, slice thinly, lay them on a tray and freeze for around 5hours. Take the frozen bananas out of the freezer, let them stand for 10minutes and blitz in a blender until smooth. That’s it! You can add honey or some frozen berries at the blending stage if you want and the whole thing can go back in the freezer for scoops on demand. You can also use this as the frozen ingredient in breakfast smoothies. Enjoy…
Banana loaf image (c) glutenfreecuppatea.co.uk