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ASU Researchers: Bananas as Beneficial as Sports Drinks for Source of Energy, Potassium and Other Nutrients

May 28, 2012. Bananas have long been a favorite source of energy for endurance and recreational athletes. Bananas are a rich source of potassium and other nutrients, and are easy for cyclists, runners or hikers to carry.

Research conducted at Appalachian State University’s Human Performance Lab in the Kannapolis-based North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) has revealed additional benefits. 

“We wanted to see which was more beneficial when consumed during intense cycling – bananas or a carbohydrate sports drink,” said Dr. David C. Nieman, director of the human performance lab and a member of the College of Health Sciences faculty at Appalachian.

“We found that not only was performance the same whether bananas or sports drinks were consumed, there were several advantages to consuming bananas,” he said.

The bananas provided the cyclists with antioxidants not found in sports drinks as well as also a greater nutritional boost, including fiber, potassium and Vitamin B6, the study showed.  In addition, bananas have a healthier blend of sugars than sports drinks. 

The study, funded by Dole Foods, has been published in the peer-reviewed online journal PLoS ONE. 

For the study, trained cyclists consumed either a cup of carbohydrate drink or half a banana every 15 minutes during a 75-kilometer simulated road race lasting 2.5 to 3 hours. Blood samples taken from the cyclists before and after the exercise were analyzed at the NCRC Metabolomics Laboratory for more than 100 metabolites – molecules associated with metabolism. 

“Bananas come prepackaged with fiber, nutrients and antioxidants,” said Nieman, adding the research translates to any exercise. 

“The mode of exercise is not the issue. I think there are a lot of athletes who don’t like the thought of drinking carbohydrate sports drinks, which are essentially flavored sugar water,” he said. “This type of research shows that you can have healthier carbohydrate sources before and after exercise that will support athletic performance just as well as a sports drink,” Nieman said. 

About the research team

Other members of the research team from Appalachian were Dr. Dru Henson, Department of Biology; Dr. Andrew Shanely, Human Performance Lab; Dr. Amy M. Knab, Human Performance Lab; Dr. Lynn Cialdella-Kam, Human Performance Lab; Dr. Nicholas D. Gillitt, Dole Nutrition Research Laboratory, N.C. Research Campus; Dr. Wei Sha, UNC Charlotte and N.C. Research Campus; and Dr. Fuxia Jin, Dole Nutrition Research Laboratory, N.C. Research Campus.

About the N.C. Research Campus

Boasting partnerships with academia, industry and government, the North Carolina Research Campus is driving innovation at the intersection of human health, nutrition and agriculture. This innovation means the discovery of new solutions for the prevention, treatment and development of cures for the world’s most prevalent and debilitating diseases such as cancer, diabetes and obesity.

Founded by visionary David H. Murdock, owner of Dole Foods and Castle and Cooke Inc., the NCRC opened in October 2008. The NCRC is anchored by the David H. Murdock Research Institute (DHMRI), the Rowan- Cabarrus Community College Biotechnology Training Center, the LabCorp BioRepository, eight of North Carolina’s top universities, and nine corporate and non-profit partners. The NCRC is an unprecedented teaming of scientists, nutritionists, public health experts, physicians, information analysts, farmers, food companies and entrepreneurs. The collaborative atmosphere has spawned more than $26 million in federal research grants and spurred new public-private research collaborations.

In addition to Appalachian, campus partners are: Duke University, UNC Chapel Hill, N.C. State University, UNC Charlotte, NC Central University, N.C. A&T State University, UNC Greensboro, Dole Nutrition Research Institute, General Mills, Monsanto, LabCorp, Carl Zeiss MicroImaging, Carolinas Healthcare System, Cabarrus Health Alliance, Sensory Spectrum and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.