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Peeling Back the Science Behind the Pre-Workout Banana

It seemed to work for King Kong

For the entire duration of my grad-school tenure, bananas were a critical component of each morning’s breakfast concoction. Said concoction consisted of yogurt, two raw eggs, spinach leaves, ice and a banana, all further sweetened by a tiny touch of honey. I’d love to say I was relying on the banana for its ability to hold the texture of the smoothie together — which it did — but the sugar-addicted part of my brain was far more interested in the banana’s ability to sweeten the blend without adding additional, isolated sugar to it. The presence of that lone banana helped to attenuate my guilt over how syrupy sweet my smoothies actually were.

What do bananas do for my body?

If you ask an average person with a basic knowledge of nutrition what a banana can administer to your body that’s of any value, they’re going to answer “potassium” with no hesitation. The same will likely be true if you ask them what a garden-variety potato is useful for. But no one in their right mind would rather eat a raw potato over a raw banana; the banana is altogether easier to peel, and easier to consume.

The thing is, by no measure is a banana superior to a potato, save for taste quality. The average potato has more calories, more potassium, more vitamin C, more iron and more calcium.

However, we’re not here to debate whether we’d prefer to eat a raw potato or a freshly peeled banana, because we’re all likely to have the same answer to that question. (It’s the potato, right?) So in the comparatively tiny amount of potassium that banana will administer to you, you’ll be replenishing your body’s third most prevalent nutrient, which enables you to process food into energy, increases muscle-protein synthesis and helps to pull excess water out of your cells to make your body appear less bloated.

So there’s plenty of reasons to enjoy a banana aside from the moments when you have a sweet tooth for love.

So does this mean I should eat a banana before I work out?

I’d love to say that eating a banana prior to exercise can’t hurt you. But that’s not necessarily the case.

Depending on how your digestive system responds to bananas will influence whether or not bananas can be considered an ideal pre-workout snack, or smoothie ingredient. Bananas are well-known, and proven by studies, to cause an increase in intestinal gas. This is owed to multiple features of bananas, including their high degree of soluble fiber, and the presence of the sugar alcohol sorbitol, which has laxative effects. All of which can induce the sort of gas production and bloating that no one wishes to train through if it can be helped, and will also arouse a trip to the bathroom, allowing your hard-won pump to drain out of your muscles while you sit atop the porcelain throne. 

When Hollaback Girl Gwen Stefani famously said, “This s–t is bananas,” she may have meant it literally.

What if that turns out to be the case for me?

That’s fine, because you may be better off eating a banana after your workout has concluded, at which point it will help to restore your muscle glycogen, reduce inflammation and ease muscle cramping.

When it comes to fitness, it’s often believed that pre-workout consumption of food and supplements is the way to ensure optimal muscle activity and growth. However, the workout is primarily intended to break down the muscle fibers and tax the aerobic system; the recovery process is when virtually all of the improvement takes place. You don’t need a banana in your system prior to training in order to enjoy the benefits of consuming that banana. Think of that banana more like creatine and protein — supplements generally taken in a post-workout setting — and a lot less like Popeye’s spinach, Hourman’s amulet or Gaulish magic potion.

Here’s the thing: If you’re interested in bananas primarily for their potassium content, plenty of other foods contain it aside from potatoes and bananas — including chicken, yogurt, spinach, beans, oranges and tomatoes. So if you’re among the people who can digest bananas without experiencing unbearable, workout-disrupting cramps, that’s great. If not, it won’t be the end of the world. And it certainly won’t stop you from being the top banana of your training regimen.