Recovery

Is Eating A Banana Before The Gym The Best Choice?

October 10th 2019

Most strength athletes are highly aware of the importance of consuming enough carbohydrates each day in order to maximize performance and recovery. It is generally recommended that strength-based athletes consume between 2.7-4.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight per day. Carbohydrates help maintain blood glucose levels during exercise as well as replace muscle glycogen.  Sources of carbohydrates used by athletes may include whole wheat bread, potatoes, oatmeal, fruit, rice, whole grain cereals, and other similar foods. One of the most popular sources of carbohydrates used by strength athletes is bananas. Bananas can be a great choice for an on-the-go carbohydrate source that is easily digestible and can be eaten right before the gym.

Even though bananas can be extremely helpful for athletes who may be in a time crunch or enjoy their sweet taste there are several factors that come into play when deciding whether or not to consume them prior to lifting. These factors include the amount of time an athlete has to eat prior to training as well as the duration and intensity of a training session.

Eating A Banana Before Going To The Gym

Bananas can be a great source of carbohydrates for a strength athlete under the right conditions. Not only do they supply a generous amount of carbohydrates prior to training but they also rank lower on the glycemic index compared to other popular carbohydrate sources. It is ideal for strength athletes to consume them when there is at least 30- 60 minutes available prior to training and they should be eaten along with a low to moderate amount of easily digestible protein to enhance protein synthesis as well as provide energy throughout the entire lift. Bananas shouldn’t be relied on for all carbohydrates within meals but they can certainly be used to help supplement an athlete’s daily carbohydrate and caloric needs. It’s always best for athletes to consume both simple and complex carbohydrates in their diet and tailor their consumption in respect to training sessions and energy needs.

Again, we ask, should Bananas be used as pre-workout fuel? It depends on the individual’s needs. 

Amount of Time Prior to Training

One of the major factors which affects whether or not athletes should consume bananas prior to training is the amount of time an athlete has before they begin their training session. It is generally recommended that an athlete consume a moderate-to-large pre-workout meal 1-3 hours prior to strength training. If an athlete only has 30 – 45 minutes prior to training they should rely on a meal made up of high glycemic carbohydrates in order to have immediate energy and quick digestion. The best meals for athletes prior to training tend to be those that are overall relatively low in fat and fiber, high in carbohydrates, and moderate in protein.

On average, a medium-size banana (100 grams) contains 23 grams of carbohydrates of which 2.6 grams are dietary fiber and 12 grams are sugar. Bananas have a lower glycemic index compared to other carbohydrate sources, which means they release energy to the body less rapidly than other foods such as bread, rice or pasta. Choosing to consume bananas over higher glycemic foods will allow athletes to maintain more stable blood sugar levels and bananas should be consumed when there are at least 30 minutes before training but not greater than an hour or two beforehand.

Bananas are an ideal choice for strength athletes who have between somewhat limited time available to eat prior to the gym and since they are low in fat and fiber they are easy to digest and readily used by the body. Some athletes might have a slight sensitivity to the few grams of fiber within bananas so it’s always best for athletes to figure out before serious competitions whether or not they can consume bananas beforehand and use them effectively towards energy for meets without risking digestive issues. Strength athletes should also consume easily digestible protein along with bananas to provide a balanced meal and prevent hunger during the lift. Consuming a small to moderate amount of protein along with bananas will also increase carbohydrate availability toward the end of intense training sessions and enhance protein synthesis by increasing amino acid availability. 

Strength athletes who want to eat 2-4 hours before training should rely less heavily on sources such as bananas and more on carbohydrate sources that release energy even slower and provide longer lasting energy. It’s been found that it takes up to 4 hours to fully digest carbohydrates and be stored within muscles and the liver as glycogen so athletes should ensure that they have enough time before their lift to eat a large enough meal which will provide them enough energy for the entire duration of their lift. Research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology stated that eating high carbohydrate meals within this time frame before training had the potential of raising glycogen levels up to 42 percent which is great news for power lifters who tend to train for longer sessions or more frequently during the week. The best carbohydrate sources for meals consumed several hour in advance include oatmeal, whole grain pasta and bread, brown rice and sweet potatoes.

Duration and Intensity of Training

Another critical factor in deciding whether or not to consume bananas prior to training is the duration and intensity of the training session. Bananas can be a great source of carbohydrates for lifting under different circumstances. A situation in which bananas might aid lifting the most include when an athlete has consistently eaten larger meals throughout the day which have contained complex carbohydrates and they need a smaller portion meal prior to lifting to provide them with energy and keep them full.

However, if the athlete decides they need immediate fuel prior to an extremely intense lift, such as a one rep max, they should rely on a food source with a higher glycemic index which contains simple, fast acting carbohydrates. Short, intense lifts require a generous amount of glucose to be available immediately so in situations where an athlete needs a quick energy boost within a few minutes high glycemic foods are the best choice. Foods that would be ideal in this case include honey, fruit juice, sports drinks or sports gels and gummies.

Closing Thoughts

Fasting acting carbs, slow-acting carbs, does it even matter that much? If you want to have an optimal time period where you can utilize the right type of carbohydrates and give your body the necessary fuel it needs to face a tough strength workout, it would be in your best interest to do so.

With that thought in mind, will your body not be able to function if you do not eat high-glycemic index carbohydrates prior to an event that needs bursts of energy? Your body is smarter than that… 

So, what works? A lot of things do. What works for you? You need to figure that out by trying to eat different foods and seeing how your body reacts. What works for me may not work for you and vice versa. You should be in control of the ship (your body) and steer it properly by fueling your body correctly.

References

  1. (2009). Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise41(3), 709–731. doi: 10.1249/mss.0b013e31890eb86
  2. Campbell, B., Kreider, R. B., Ziegenfuss, T., Bounty, P. L., Roberts, M., Burke, D., … Antonio, J. (2007). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition4(1), 8. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-4-8
  3. Kreider et al. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2010, 7:7 http://www.jissn.com/content/7/1/7
  4. Sarwar, G. (1997). The Protein Digestibility–Corrected Amino Acid Score Method Overestimates Quality of Proteins Containing Antinutritional Factors and of Poorly Digestible Proteins Supplemented with Limiting Amino Acids in Rats. The Journal of Nutrition127(5), 758–764. doi: 10.1093/jn/127.5.758
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