April 2018, Recipes

Powered by Banana

Going Bananas for Performance

Since first starting to work with athletes in nutrition for enhancing sports performance the one food requested most often for information and recipes is the humble banana.

It is one of the most popular foods in New Zealand and not just among sports people. New Zealanders eat more bananas per head of population than anyone else in the world (eating 18-20 kg per person per year).

The ultimate healthy convenience food bananas provide an excellent and popular source of carbohydrate in a neat package that transports well to school, work, gym or training. A popular choice as a breakfast on the go, before morning training sessions, a simple and fast snack, a convenient recovery meal for athletes and a quick dessert. Bananas greatest assets is the ability to combine well with other flavours (served as a vegetable, used in meats and curries, baked items, drinks and desserts).

They also compliment other tropical flavours such as mango, coconut, pineapple and passionfruit. The banana can be eaten raw, boiled, baked, fried, BBQed, mashed, whipped and made into chutney and jam.

Many, possibly hundreds, of different varieties of banana can be found in the tropical countries. Banana’s possibly originated in South East Asia and have since traveled the world. Alexander the Great first experienced bananas on his travels to India. In Europe and America, bananas were to remain virtually unknown until the 1890’s, when the first refrigerated ships were developed to transport them safely over long distances. A day without bananas seems hard to imagine.

Of all the fruits from the tropics, bananas are one of only a few that should be harvested while they are still green and immature, then allowed to finish ripening off the plant. If they are left to ripen fully on the plant, they will develop a stronger flavour. A common mistake is eating the fruit before it is fully ripe, not appreciating a skin lightly speckled with brown spots is a sign of ripeness and certainly does not mean that the banana is going bad. In fact, the best flavoured and most velvety textured is found inside a banana skin that is almost black (these make the best banana cakes).

Cooking bananas makes them easy to digest and brings out the flavour. Once a banana has been peeled and cut up it starts turning brown (enzymatic oxidation). This process can be slowed down by sprinkling it with lemon juice or some other acid fruit such as orange or grapefruit. When making fruit salad add the banana just before serving as prolonged soaking turns the slices unpleasantly slimy and soggy.

Unripe or partly ripe bananas have only a small to moderate amount of digestible starch and very little readily available glucose. Green bananas are almost indigestible and require cooking before eating (a common practice in the Islands and parts of Asia). This is due to the presence of resistant starch in the banana (resistant starch means resistant to the digestive enzymes in the gastrointestinal tract which normally breakdown the starch for absorption).

Only fully ripe bananas –that’s yellow with a few brown spots are completely digestible. Enzymes within the banana are responsible for increasing the digestibility (ripeness) of the fruit starch as it ages which is a natural process. This ripening increases the absorption of more of the available carbohydrate for the athlete.

Some New Zealand athletes eat their banana’s too green. A green banana has been reported to cause mild stomach discomfort in some sportspeople. For readily available energy eat a yellow banana with a few brown spots rather than greenish to yellow banana. Practice your banana eating strategy several times in training before using in a competition or important event.

The Life of a Banana
Days 0 2 4 6 8
Appearance green greenish yellow yellow yellow some spots yellow lots spots
CHO (g) 28 29 28 27 26
Starch % 82 41 26 9 3
Sugar % 7 48 63 81 88
Digestibility poor moderate OK good excellent

An average size yellow ripe banana provides around 100-120 calories (424-504 kilojoules) of energy with almost no fat and only a trace of protein (1-2g).  To boost the protein content add some yoghurt or milk (make into a smoothie). All the energy provided by bananas is from the carbohydrate, which is the preferred fuel for muscle activity in many sports and activities.  Bananas are also low in sodium (salt), calcium, iron and zinc. They do supply a little vitamin A, a few B vitamins including folate and around 20% of the daily recommended intake of Vitamin C. Bananas are good source of potassium.