If you want a better workout, you may want to add bananas to that morning smoothie, says a new study published in the Journal of Proteome Research. (We suggest one of these eight simple slimming smoothies.)
After fasting overnight, 20 male cyclists drank only water or consumed water with pears or bananas before cycling 75 kilometers at high intensity. Those who consumed water with fruit experienced a 50 percent faster recovery than those who consumed water alone. They were also faster and had more energy and focus.
"Many athletes train and race without eating or drinking anything other than water or sports drinks," says David Nieman, DrPH, Director of the Appalachian State University Human Performance Laboratory and co-author of the study. "It's a little bit of a mismatch for healthy fitness enthusiasts to be drinking sugar water instead of using fruit. The sugar in the banana gets through the intestines just as fast as that of sports drinks, but it's bundled with good things, like potassium and vitamin C." Bananas also stimulate the production of dopamine in the brain, says Nieman.
So what's the deal with the dopamine? Exercise generally causes an elevated aerobic metabolism, which then increases the production of damaging molecules called free radicals. The dopamine stimulation from the fruit helps improve antioxidant capacity, according to Nieman, which in turn combats the damaging effects of free radicals.
As if we didn't love bananas enough already (take a look at these this delicious banana pop recipe), there's a reason why this fruit, in particular, has a leg up on other options in your grocer's produce department. According to Nieman, bananas tote the ideal mix of the types of sugars athletes need, including glucose, fructose, and sucrose, similar to what's inside most sports drinks. "It's as if the big companies adopted the banana sugar profile for their products," he said.
Want to reap the benefits of fruit for a better workout of your own? Of course, you do. In order to experience a similar experience to those athletes analyzed in the study, consume a half-banana with a cup of water 15 to 20 minutes before your workout. To sustain performance that lasts over an hour (think athletic competition, long bike rides, half-marathons, and beyond), eat an additional half-banana every 15 minutes during exercise.