Weight Loss Nutrition

Going Bananas: The Benefits & Nutrition Facts of the Potassium-Rich Fruit

Dr. Allison Brager
Dr. Allison Brager

Six years ago, I had an incredible experience. I had the opportunity to visit one of the largest banana plantations in the world: The Dole Plantation in Costa Rica. I visited during the peak heat of the summer.It was in this moment while profusely sweating walking through the rows and rows and rows of bananas being plucked by long-time workers who barely looked like they were breaking a sweat that I realized just how resilient the banana is. The banana is the fourth most mass-produced agricultural crop in the world.

It is grown in more than 130 countries and can even survive at moderate altitudes in subtropical regions of the earth. The resiliency of the banana to the elements carries over to its many health-promoting benefits.

Thus, there is actual scientific justification as to why the banana is the most distributed food at road races and sporting events around the world and why the world's best athletes continually rely on the nutrient-dense banana to fuel them through grueling training sessions and competitions. If you are a sports nutrition specialist, be sure to study up on the following banana facts for your clients. 

Banana Nutrition Facts

  • Carbs in a banana: there are generally 25 grams of carbs in an average banana.
  • Calories in a banana: On average, there are 100 calories in a banana.
  • Macronutrients: The banana contains numerous micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals, including phenols that are important for overall physiological health.

The anti-inflammatory properties of bananas

Several studies have examined blood panels of athletes undertaking intense training who had eaten a banana before and following an intense training session. Typically, intense training workouts elicit a pro-inflammatory stress response that must be counterbalanced through proper recovery routines and exercises that aim to minimize inflammation.

Fortunately, eating a banana before and following intense training can be a solution. These blood panels revealed that athletes who consumed a banana relative to those who consumed water had clinically significant reductions in biomarkers indicative of a pro-inflammatory stress response: cortisol, interleukin-10, and leukocytes (i.e., cells that fight infections).

Pro-insulin properties

Bananas have been advertised as an excellent food choice for individuals with diabetes. Bananas can raise blood glucose and insulin. Thus, bananas can help to normalize blood glucose and insulin levels. For individuals with diabetes, consult with your medical provider to determine when and how many bananas you should consume on a daily and weekly basis.

Anti-hunger properties 

Because bananas can regulate blood glucose and insulin levels, bananas are also an excellent way to promote satiety and minimize hunger. Bananas make for an excellent breakfast particularly for those who otherwise do not practice intermittent fasting but feel overly sluggish with too large of a breakfast.

Bananas also make for an excellent post-dinner snack (minus the ice cream, hot fudge, whip cream, nuts, and cherries). The overall sweetness of bananas can help satisfy cravings for sweets after dinner and yet delay hunger signals until the next morning.

Performance-enhancing properties 

There have been several studies on the impact of banana consumption on athletic performance completed in elite and recreational athletes. There is scientific justification for why a banana is an excellent pre-workout, post-workout, and even interim-training snack for all athletes but particularly for endurance-focused athletes.

Because bananas can raise blood glucose and insulin levels, bananas provide quick energy to the endurance athlete allowing them to maintain their current training or race pace and stamina throughout a race.

Bananas post-training or competition can help replenish energy and glycogen stores thereby accelerating physiological recovery. In one study where cyclists ate a banana before biking 75 kilometers, the athletes eating a banana over drinking water (in a study wherein the athletes' calorie consumptions were normalized before the training session) saw a 15% increase in overall performance.

As a sleep scientist, I do warn against eating bananas close to bedtime. Because bananas can raise blood glucose and insulin levels, this may impact the ability to fall and stay asleep. In general, clients and athletes should consume foods low on the glycemic index before bedtime and bananas are unfortunately not one of them.

Regardless, a banana a day can help truly keep the doctor away. Below are some ideas for clients and athletes for how to incorporate bananas into one's daily diet whether for overall health and athletic performance.

A banana for breakfast

Macronutrients, micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals are found in both the pulp and the peel. Bananas in the morning can provide necessary energy while promoting satiety. Plus, it is as if you have already fulfilled your daily craving for sweets.

Dried bananas as an afternoon snack

Despite the dehydration process, many of the macronutrients, micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals that the banana affords remain present. Dehydrated bananas are excellent for athletes who otherwise do not want to feel overly full before a difficult training session.

Add a banana to a post-workout protein shake

A banana can help restore glycogen energy stores while further driving the replenishment of protein stores to promote muscle and energy maintenance in endurance-focused athletes and even hypertrophy in strength-focused athletes.

Have a frozen banana on a stick as a post-dinner snack

Because bananas can satisfy sweet cravings and curtail hunger signals, bananas make for an excellent post-dinner dessert choice (but if it is not too close to bed).

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The Author

Dr. Allison Brager

Dr. Allison Brager

Dr. Brager is a subject matter expert in behavioral genetics, sleep, and biological rhythms research. She is passionate about discovering new factors that promote resiliency in extreme environments. She also serves on the NCAA task force for mental health and sleep, contributing to the first edition of the NCAA student-athlete mental health handbook. She is author of Meathead: Unraveling the Athletic Brain, which debunks the myth of the 'dumb jock' and serves as a performance manual for functional athletes. Outside of the laboratory, Allison was a two-time CrossFit Games (team) athlete, a two-time CrossFit Regionals (individual) athlete, and a four-year varsity NCAA Division I athlete in track and field. Dr. Brager has an Sc.B. in Psychology from Brown University and a Ph.D. in Physiology from Kent State University.