Bananas and Beer for Olympic Greatness


Now this truly is magic to my ears. It’s official; bananas beat sports drinks hands down for the exercise bunnies amongst us. It’s a good feeling when something you have been ranting on about for years gets a bit of bona fide scientific evidence behind it! In no way do I want to take the fun out of life by continually flagging up nutritional negatives and using words like don’t, avoid, resist, remove, ditch, dodge, shun and exclude. After all, I am a paid up member of the 80:20 club; get it right 80% of the time and you can pretty much do what the hell you like for the other 20%. But, I have to confess to being a fizzy drink fanatic – fanatically against them that is. There are a few exceptions like champagne and beer but i’ll come on to that in a minute.

The global sports and energy drinks market is massive and is expected to reach a staggering $52 billion by 2016. You’ve got to hand it to the marketing men – great job. And, those shareholders who bought into the market in the early days must be rubbing their hands in glee but from a health point of view they are still just sugary, fizzy drinks with a few added extras and a lot of claims on the bottle. Gatorade is the undisputed market leader and guess who makes it? Mr Pepsi Cola! Red Bull currently claims the silver and the two gentlemen who own 98% of the company are listed in the worlds‘ richest list as having a net worth of a cool $5 billion each.

Back to bananas and the recent study. 14 cyclists were given either a 6% carbohydrate sports drink or half a banana every 15 minutes during two 75km cycling time trials. Blood samples were taken prior to the time trials, immediately after and one hour later and immune functions, oxidative stress, exercise-induced inflammation and levels of 103 metabolites were measured. Both the bananas and the carbohydrate drinks performed similarly with regard to changes in exercise-induced inflammation, oxidative stress and immune function but the cyclists who consumed the bananas had much higher antioxidant levels and dopamine levels (the feel good chemical) than the cyclists that consumed the sports drink.

Bananas have more protective antioxidants, more digestion-friendly fibre, more muscle-friendly potassium and more energy-giving vitamin B6 than sports drinks whilst also having healthier more easily-absorbed sugars like fructose and glucose whereas many sports drinks contain sucrose and/or the now recognised health-disrupting high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). If you were ever tempted to buy into the “bananas are fattening” hype, bin that notion now and get them into your kit bag. I can’t leave this self-indulgent banana promotion without adding another of its benefits – fat loss.

Unripe bananas (not rock hard but slightly green about the skin) are rich in resistant starch, a type of starch that largely resists the normal digestive process and carries on down to the colon where it goes through a process that produces short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) which are protective of colon cells and associated with less genetic damage which can lead to cancer, increase mineral absorption; particularly calcium and magnesium which are important for heart and bone health and by feeding the healthy bacteria, growth of unhealthy bacteria and their toxic by-products is suppressed. Resistant starch also promotes a phenomenon known as second meal effect where the insulin response is controlled not just after consumption but also for hours thereafter and well into our next meal resulting in less fat storage.

So what about champagne and beer, they are fizzy drinks after all? Ultra brut, extra brut or brut sauvage champagnes contain no added sugar are quite dry and have a very low sugar content, usually less than 1.5% – and they are natural sugars – so if funds allow (or even better, if someone else is buying) go for the ‘bubbly’ and make sure the word brut appears on the label. You can’t have failed to notice that skinny celebs rarely drink anything else!

Hallelujah, the myth of the beer belly may finally have been laid to rest. The major source of calories in any alcoholic drink is the alcohol itself and because beer is in the drinks category with the lowest average alcohol content it is therefore amongst the lowest in calories. Let’s not forget that rough stone-ground bread and beer were the staple diet in medieval times, providing a wealth of essential nutrients and lots of hydration (nobody drank water as this was long before purification techniques were in place and consumption was regularly associated with such killer diseases as cholera and typhoid).

Beer produced by the growing numbers of ‘real ale‘ enthusiasts contains just three ingredients; water, grains and yeast, provides significant amounts of magnesium, selenium, potassium, phosphorus and a load of B vitamins and studies continue to reveal that the so-called beer belly is purely a result of how many pints are downed in one sitting and how often (and probably combined with the snack-attack that often goes hand in hand with overconsumption and the ‘need’ for a take-away on the way home after a few pints!)

I appreciate that the athletes who are wowing us with their speed and fitness at present during the London 2012 Olympics are not downing a pint of real ale before getting off the starting blocks and have you seen the lengthy lists of banned substances, both chemical and natural that could have them hiking back home in super fast time were they to be uncovered during the regular drug tests? Mind-boggling. Clearly, dedication, focus, training and endless hours of practice are the route to Olympic gold. However, most of us will never reach those heady heights of physical achievement and are not subject to drug testing so we can perhaps reach for the odd hydrating drink with a few little added extras – natural extras of course.

I make no apology for championing the enthusiastic beer boys at www.brewdog.com, a Scottish company whose passion and wit take beer drinking to a whole new level. I don’t know them personally but their website and blog are hugely entertaining, they share my disgust at fast food companies and fizzy drinks manufacturers being the chief sponsors of major sporting events worldwide and who knows, one day I might meet up with them and have a couple of beers. On the back of the Olympic frenzy, they have produced a beer called Never Mind the Anabolics (cracking name) which is 6.5% India Pale Ale infused with creatine, guarana, ginseng, gingo, maca powder, matcha tea and kola nut (all natural performance-enhancing ingredients). Have a look, have a laugh, have a few and perhaps even run that extra mile in under four minutes!

Images reproduced from en.wikipedia.org, crimsonedgeevents.com and brewdog.com

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About Fiona Kirk

When it comes to healthy eating, dieting and finding a route that works, confusion reigns! Nutritionist and best selling author Fiona Kirk’s ability to cut through the ‘noise’ that is being hurled at us from all sides, enables us to make a few small changes that can reap big rewards in minimum time. By writing articles for the press, books (4 to date), giving talks, blogging and contributing to numerous diet and health websites, Fiona has discovered that her somewhat cynical (but always honest) take on some of the nonsense being touted has struck a chord with her ‘followers’ - putting them back in the driving seat of their diet and long term health. After all, she knows good nutrition... and isn't afraid to talk about it! For more from Fiona, check out www.fatbustforever.com
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3 Responses to Bananas and Beer for Olympic Greatness

  1. Mark says:

    Beer isn’t as bad as they make out! Thanks for clearing that up Fiona!

  2. Damien says:

    Thanks for this really interesting article

  3. Jenny says:

    Great article – good to hear bananas are so good for you

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