We all probably remember the old maxim that our mothers told us: An apple a day keeps the doctor away. If you’re a runner—especially a newbie–that should be amended to include bananas. Without a doubt, eating a banana every day is one of the best fruits for your general health and success in racing and training.
For many of us, bananas were the first solid food we ever ate. Good thing too. Bananas are the perfect health food—for runners and non-runners alike.
From a runner’s perspective, bananas are nature’s energy food. They are easy to eat and transport, taste great, offer plenty of quick carbs and—get this—are 75 percent water. So not only do bananas fuel your run, they keep you hydrated—a real key during our disgustingly hot, humid summers. It’s no wonder that aid stations in marathons, ultramarathons and triathlons are often well-stocked with bananas.
Bananas are so omnipresent that we tend to take them for granted. In America, 95 percent of us have eaten bananas in the past month and on a per capita basis, Americans eat 26 pounds a year. That’s more than apples and oranges, making bananas the most popular fruit in the country.
Aside from their obvious nutritional value, the best aspect of bananas are their availability. There’s no seasonal fluctuations with bananas. You can buy ripe bananas every day of the year.
Bananas grow on huge plants that can be as high as 30 feet and live for 30 years or more. Harvested year-round, there usually isn’t a commercial fluctuation with prices. Even though most commercial bananas are grown near the equator, they can grow anywhere where there is ample sunlight and warmth such as California.
Bananas are an especially important fruit for runners for a myriad of reasons. Nutritionally rich, bananas are a great pre-race food because they are so easy to digest and form a barrier in the stomach which prevents nervous stomach knots. Plus, the pectin in the banana (a fiber), absorbs water in the colon and helps to control diarrhea.
Still, the nutrients are the big payoff. A banana has about 28 grams of carbohydrates which is more than any other fruit. These carbs allow the steady release of glucose into the bloodstream which preserves the glycogen in the liver and muscle for later in the race. Eating a banana in mid-race is also a good nutritional strategy to avoid bonking in the final miles of a marathon or triathlon.
Bananas have plenty of magnesium and potassium—two important electrolytes that are lost in sweat and play a role in late-race or long -run cramping. Plus, the calcium and protein in bananas build strong bones and repair muscle damage. Bananas are also rich in B vitamins, antioxidants and the vitamins A, C and E that counterbalance the damage of free radicals.
So clearly, if bananas aren’t on your weekly shopping list, they should be. When you go to the grocery store, you’ll notice some of the bananas might not be quite ripe. That’s OK.
As soon as you get home, remove them from the grocery bag and allow them to breathe. That’s right: Breathe. All types of fruit are living things that give off a gas that quickens the ripening process. Bananas have so much of this gas they ripen quickly. If you need to quicken the ripening, place them in a paper bag.
Once they are ripe, they can be refrigerated. The peel will turn black and ugly, but the fruit inside is fine. You can also freeze bananas for a couple of months either peeled or wrapped in plastic.
The best advice for runners is to eat a banana every day. Before a race, eat one an hour before the starting time.
On a daily basis, use bananas in smoothies, eat them in cereal or bake them in casseroles or utilize them as a topping in desserts. But the best way to eat a banana is to simply peel it and enjoy the fruit.
Eating a banana every day will supply you with plenty of delicious nutrients and carbs to fuel your run.