A new study by scientists at Appalachia State University and the Dole Nutrition Institute suggests that eating a banana is as good as a sports drink after a workout. By looking at metabolites, the researchers determined that bananas could also have an influence that is similar to ibuprofen; they inhibit the expression of a gene, COX2, which works to reduce swelling and pain. Bananas can help the body cope with stress, such as that brought on by intense exercise. The work is briefly summarized in the video and has been reported in PLOS ONE.
“Ibuprofen is the number one drug taken by athletes to combat inflammation,” said study author Dr. David Nieman. He is the director of the Appalachian State University’s Human Performance Laboratory on the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) and a professor of health and exercise science in the Beaver College of Health Sciences.
“Research shows that it can cause intestinal cell damage and, in some studies, was found to increase inflammation in athletes. Now, athletes know there is a natural alternative — bananas and water.”
This work utilized data from twenty cyclists, male and female, who finished four time-trials of 75 km following an overnight fast. Several weeks elapsed between each ride, and the bikers ingested water, a sugar beverage, or bananas.
After eating the bananas, there was an increase in banana metabolites, chemicals that are produced as our body breaks down the fruit. Those metabolites included chemicals that are byproducts of dopamine and serotonin. There was a concurrent reduction in the expression of a gene, COX2, but that expression normally increases after exercise. A lessening in COX2 expression is associated with reductions in swelling, inflammation and pain perception.
Another observation made by the scientists was that antioxidants from the bananas maintained immune cells in an optimal operating state, so they consumed less energy. Immune cell function is normally depressed by intense exercise because of physical stress.
This work also showed that any form of carbohydrate ingestion, whether from a beverage containing six percent sugar or from a banana, aided athletic performance, contributing to a quicker recovery as evidenced by a reduction in inflammation seen after exercise.
“Consuming bananas with water during exercise has several advantages for athletes and fitness enthusiasts, above those linked to regular sports drinks, including a stronger anti-inflammatory effect, better nutrition and improved metabolic recovery,” Neiman noted. “Within an exercise context, banana metabolites that increase in the blood following ingestion have a similar effect to aspirin or ibuprofen that inhibits COX-2 activity. This makes bananas close to the perfect athletic food.”