Thursday, April 9, 2015

Going Bananas for Bananas

The poor banana. It gets so much bad press. High carb! High sugar! Many diets shun the banana. So I get that it’s not the most exotic or exciting fruit. It might even be considered a little boring, especially with all the pomegranate, acai, and mangosteen madness the past few years. I've always been against labeling foods as “super foods,” however, and I don’t put bananas lower on the nutrition totem pole than any other fruit (anyway, does anyone really eat mangosteen?). I admit I tend to root for the underdog, but the banana really does have a lot going for it. It may not be an especially glamorous fruit, but there is still so much to love.

I forgot about the banana once. I’m still not sure why, but I probably went several years without buying a single one! It wasn't on purpose; I was just distracted by other, more thrilling fruits, I guess. I came back to the banana, though. I was trying to up my fruit and veggie intake and was on the lookout for new, easily digested foods to integrate into my pre-workout meals and snacks. The banana was the perfect solution, and I've been buying them weekly ever since.

Here's why I like bananas and hope you will too!
  • Bananas are portable and easy to eat. There are no messy seeds or juices, and no utensils are needed, making it a great on-the-go snack. They're also easy to shove in a bike jersey pocket! (Tip: consider pre-peeling the banana if your bike handling skills aren't impeccable).
  • Bananas are easily digested and are a good source of carbohydrate, making them a great food to consume immediately before and during exercise. They're a great alternative to gels, bars, and chews for athletes who prefer to use real food instead of (or in addition to) sport nutrition products. One medium banana provides about 30 grams of carbs, which is comparable to one gel.
  • Bananas are high in nutrition. They're commonly known for being high in potassium, but they're also great sources of vitamin B6, vitamin C, manganese, and fiber! 
  • Bananas are cost effective. They typically cost less than $1 per pound even for the organic kind, so they aren’t gonna break the bank. It’s also nice that you can buy just a few at a time so you don’t have to worry about them going bad before you get around to eating them. 
  • Bananas may help with weight management. They're high in resistant starch, which is a type of fiber that isn't easily digested and is thought to promote feeling satiated and to improve glycemic control (in other words, stabilize blood sugars). Some studies have linked diets high in resistant starch to lower body weight, but the jury is still out, so don’t overdo it with your banana intake. Eat them uncooked to get the full benefits of resistant starch.
On top of all those reasons, bananas are super versatile and make an awesome addition to all sorts of meals and snacks, such as the following:
  • Breakfast: Slice up a banana and add it to your morning cereal or oatmeal.
  • Snacks: Add sliced bananas to Greek yogurt or cottage cheese. Or top a slice of whole wheat toast with banana and your favorite nut butter. This is one of my go-to pre-race breakfasts!
  • Lunch: Make a wrap with one whole wheat wrap, peanut or almond butter, sliced banana, and a drizzle of honey for the perfect on-the-go lunch.
  • Dinner: Spice up a traditional Hawaiian pizza by adding sliced banana.
  • Post-workout: Make a recovery smoothie by blending 8 ounces of low-fat chocolate milk with 1 frozen banana.
  • Dessert: Slice a banana down the middle and fill the inside with a tablespoon or two of chocolate chips or bits of dark chocolate. Pop in the oven until the chocolate melts. Bonus points if you have  a campfire to make this over!
Bananas really are an athlete’s best friend. Eat up!

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Jen Sommer is a registered dietitian, a certified specialist in sports dietetics, a former NASM certified personal trainer, and a self-appointed mountain girl. As a cyclist, skier, hiker, and runner (among other things), she knows firsthand the importance of proper nutrition and training. She offers nutrition coaching and consulting through Peaks Coaching Group. Find more great tips, recipes, and articles at Jen's blog, Mountain Girl Nutrition and Fitness

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