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 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 published by the nonprofit Public Library of Science.
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.