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Cyclists who ate half a banana every 30 minutes during a 75-kilometer (47-mile) ride had fewer markers of inflammation (which can slow recovery and lead to injury) in their blood afterward than those who fueled with water or a sports drink, according to new research in PLOS One.
The sugars in bananas are almost exactly the same as those in sports drinks, says study author David Nieman, DrPH, director of the Human Performance Lab at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis. An earlier study of his found that both sources of carbs helped cyclists ride faster and reduced post-workout inflammation.
But his new research shows that bananas come out on top: They’re the only source that lowers the expression of COX-2, a gene that causes pain and inflammation in response to tissue injury (a common effect of exercise), Nieman explains. Ibuprofen also works by knocking down COX-2, but more research needs to be done to figure out why the fruit has this effect.
Eat half a banana before a workout lasting 75 minutes or less, Nieman advises. If your session goes on for longer, he suggests you eat the second half 60 minutes into your workout, and continue doing so at 15-minute intervals.