Banana Before Workout for Exercise Performance: Does It Work?

Banana Before Workout for Exercise Performance: Does It Work?

Hi, I’m Amber, and I work out—a lot. I’m a certified personal trainer and I exercise 5-6 days a week. Even on my rest days, I try to get in some form of movement, like a gentle yoga class, some mobility exercises, or a leisurely walk. In my quest to lift heavy and run fast, I’m also always in search of the perfect pre-workout snack.

I’ve tried all the fads and recommendations. Pre-workout drinks? Check. Protein bars? Yep. Rice Krispies Treats? If I must! So when I recently discovered that something as simple as a banana might actually be the best option for a pre-workout snack, I knew I had to give it a try. I decided to eat a banana before every cardio and strength-training workout for a month.

Overall, I had a few findings. Did they give me something cheap, tasty, and easy to eat before I hit the gym? Absolutely. Did they improve my workouts enough for me to notice specific gains? Not so much. Overall, would I incorporate a pre-exercise snack roster? Yes… just not every day (a girl can only stomach so many bananas!).

Claudia Totir / Getty Images

“Why bananas?” you might ask. It turns out this fruit is a nutrient powerhouse, especially when it comes to keeping your energy high and muscles strong.

Bananas are a convenient and nutritious way to fuel a workout,” Amy Stephens, RD, a sports dietitian for NYU Track and Field told me. “They offer key nutrients that improve exercise performance, such as potassium and carbohydrates.”

Potassium, Stephens said, is an essential electrolyte that helps with hydration and nerve signaling (which sends messages from your brain to your body), and can prevent muscle cramping. Bananas are also rich in carbs, which are your body’s main source of fuel and can help provide energy for a workout.

There hasn’t been a ton of research on how bananas directly affect exercise performance, but in one small 2015 study, eating bananas or pears before a 75-kilometer race improved athletic performance and recovery among cyclists. Another study, published in 2018, found that bananas were not only a good alternative to sports drinks, but a healthier option for athletes. The fruit also helped reduce soreness caused by post-exercise inflammation.

This is the part where I’d normally tell you to discuss any major dietary changes with a healthcare professional—but for the large majority of people, adding in one banana each day (or before each workout) is unlikely to have any major effects.

That said, people who have kidney problems or those with high blood potassium levels (hyperkalemia) may need to limit their intake of foods high in potassium. Those people should consult their physician or medical doctor.

Bananas are rich in carbohydrates, and natural sugar, but also contain fiber. For people with diabetes, paying attention to carbohydrates is important for blood sugar management. Meal planning and pairing carbohydrate-containing foods with some protein and a little healthy fat can help keep blood sugars in good control.

If you’re following a low FODMAP diet, you’ll want to cool it on the bananas, too. Bananas are high in oligo-fructans (natural sugars that can cause excess gas) and may be difficult to digest for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or other gastrointestinal conditions.

Some people also don’t particularly like (or feel well) working out after eating and choose to exercise on an empty stomach—this is considered a “fasted” workout and typically happens first thing in the morning. The jury’s still out on whether there are more benefits to working out on a full or empty stomach, so experts recommend doing what feels best to you.

Amber Brenza

Like I said before, I typically work out five to six days a week, but get still get some sort of movement in on the days I don’t do a full workout. I didn’t necessarily want to eat a banana every day before any type of movement, so I chose to get my banana fix about an hour before any full cardio or strength training workout. I did that for the entire month of February, which came to 24 out of 29 days.

Alongside my single banana, I also drank my pre-workout cup of iced coffee. I’ve been doing this for years because I like a caffeine boost before a workout, especially because I’m strictly an evening exerciser. (FYI: Caffeine is a known exercise performance booster and can enhance muscular performance and strength, aerobic and anaerobic performance, and sprinting, jumping, and throwing performance.)

Some websites suggest getting creative with your pre-workout banana snack by adding it to granola or throwing it into a smoothie. But I wanted the full, unadulterated banana experience, so I kept it to just the fruit, sometimes with a tablespoon of peanut butter.

To track any performance benefits of my banana journey, I took notes after every workout, jotting down how I felt during my run or strength training session. I also attempted to note if and/or when I experienced any post-exercise muscle soreness (spoiler alert: I didn’t—I was sore muscle-free).

Truth be told, I am typically pretty happy with my workout performance, and I knew eating a banana before exercising wasn’t going to change my life. Still, I was hoping for some minor improvements, like maybe I’d run a little faster or farther, fit in an extra few push-ups, or PR on my deadlifts.

My first day on my new banana regimen got me excited for the month ahead (see the screenshot below—full of hope!). At the time, I was unsure if my workout routine was experiencing some sort of banana magic, if I was feeling the placebo effect, or if it was just an energized Monday workout after a restful weekend.

Amber Brenza

Turns out, it wasn’t the banana, but rather the typical ebb and flow of a daily workout routine. There were some days during the month when I felt amazing—I hit or exceeded my running goal, went up in weight (or reps), or left the gym feeling energized. On other days, I felt like I was dragging and could barely find the motivation to make it past my warm-up. Most workouts were somewhere in the middle: feeling good about moving my body but also desperately wanting to finish up and go binge Love Is Blind.

As for the bananas’ effects on my post-workout recovery, I don’t have much report back on there, either. I didn’t have any real post-workout soreness during my month of banana eating, which I attribute more to my baseline fitness rather than any of the fruit’s reported effects on post-exercise inflammation.

There is, however, one big positive of using bananas as a pre-workout snack: They’re cheap! Currently, bananas cost around 60 cents a pound—a good $6 less than the mini granola bars I had been relying on previously.

The only real issue I had with this monthlong challenge is that—full disclosure—I’m not the biggest banana fan. In reality, I’m actually quite picky about the bananas I deem acceptable to eat (no green on the peel, a smattering of tiny brown spots, no squishiness). But when you are tasked with eating a banana every day, you’re going to have to choke down a few unripe ones.

Another small but not insignificant hurdle? Banana burps. I’ve been eating a small snack about an hour before my workouts for a long time, so exercising with something in my stomach doesn’t typically bother me. The bananas didn’t bother my stomach either, but I can’t say I enjoyed burping during a run and tasting it again (gross, I know, I’m sorry!).

The only thing I can attribute my banana burps to is their sweetness: Bananas contain sorbitol, a type of carbohydrate known as a sugar alcohol, and sorbitol can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea in some people. The banana burps weren’t enough for me to stop the experiment (and shouldn’t deter you from trying it), they were just something I experienced.

I ate 24 bananas in February, and while I can’t say they improved my workouts or recovery in any noticeable ways, snacking on the fruit before a gym session certainly wasn’t a bad experience.

While I may not continue eating bananas before every workout, I intend to incorporate them into my pre-workout snack routine, along with my mini granola bars and the occasional spoonful of peanut butter.

If you’re a banana aficionado (or just like to have something tasty, cheap, and easily digestible before a workout), I’d suggest giving a pre-workout banana a try, but keep in mind that results will be individual, and it’s always good to experiment with different pre-workout snacks to see what works best for you.

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