The Big Deal about Bananas


Bananas have been getting a lot of headlines lately thanks to research by David Nieman, DrPH, director of the Appalachian State University Human Performance Laboratory, which is on the NC Research Campus. What could be so astounding about the fruit that top news outlets like the New York Times and Men’s Health reported on his study?

Dr. David Nieman, DrPH

Quite simply, Dr. Nieman used a technology called metabolomics to find that banana metabolites (the small molecules that are created when our bodies breakdown food) mimic the way that over-the-counter pain killers like Ibuprofen reduce pain and swelling, and how they help the immune system function during a physically stressful time such as intense exercise.

In another research study published in 2012, Nieman told Men’s Health, he found that the “sugars in banana support performance just as well as a sports drink” and that “18 unique metabolites” appeared in the blood of athletes who ate them, but “we didn’t know what those metabolites were doing.” Now he knows those metabolites may be the reason for the anti-inflammatory action.

For athletes or anyone who uses OTC pain killers to manage inflammation, this is useful news because Dr. Nieman says:

“Ibuprofen is the number one drug taken by athletes to combat inflammation. 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.”

What else makes bananas a nutritional big deal for athletes? According to a 2016 article by Dole Foods:

  1. Bananas provide sucrose—nearly 3 grams in a medium banana, plus about 6 grams each of glucose and fructose. The sugars are needed to restore your body’s energy after exercise.
  2. Bananas also provide potassium, vitamins C and B6, manganese and plenty of antioxidant compounds.

Bottom line, bananas are far more nutritious than a sports drink and cost a lot less.

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