Bananas are the most commonly purchased supermarket fruit, but their bad reputation for delivering a deluge of sugary carbs keeps them off the shopping lists of many a fitness enthusiast. You might be surprised to learn that underneath that yellow peel is a fruit that contains nutritional heft that promotes a healthier body inside and out. And who doesn't love the power of a banana to add a sweet, thickening touch to any muscle-making protein shake? At an average of about 56 cents per pound, they'll help your wallet stay trim, too.
Bananas Before and After Your Workout
If there was ever a time to eat a deliciously ripe banana, it would be after a spirited workout. As bananas ripen, their starch is converted into simple sugars, making the flesh sweeter and gooier. A single medium-sized banana has about 14 grams of naturally occurring sugars. That may sound like a bad thing, but you can use it to your advantage when you're in recovery mode.
After a workout, these fast-digesting natural sugars help replenish your spent glycogen, a storage form of carbs that is your main source of energy during high-intensity exercise. The sugars also stimulate insulin release to help drive amino acids into your weary muscles.
Before a workout, chomping down on a ripe banana can provide you with a burst of energy to help power you through your latest sufferfest. And don't forget that ripe bananas can be used as a more "natural" way to tame a sweet tooth compared to packaged foods full of added sugars. This makes ripe bananas a great addition to desserts, post-gym smoothies, or a bowl of oatmeal.
More Than Just Potassium
When people think of bananas, they often think "potassium"—and that's a good thing. Potassium governs muscle and nerve functioning as well as supporting healthy blood flow throughout the body. But wait, there's more! Bananas also contain vitamin C, manganese, and vitamin B-6. In fact, bananas are one of the few fruits to provide useful amounts of vitamin B-6, an important vitamin involved in multiple enzyme reactions in the body. B-6 may also support brain functioning and healthy neurotransmitter levels.
Choose Green Bananas for Resistant Starches
While most people eat ripe bananas, there's a lot to be said for finding a place in your diet for greener, less-ripe ones. Unlike in ripe bananas, the carbohydrate in green bananas is not sugar, but starch—and not just any starch. Resistant starch is a unique type of carbohydrate that resists processing in our small intestines, the site of digestion of most food.
Instead, our bodies digest this starch in our large intestines, where the starch acts as a "prebiotic," In the large intestine, these starches serve as a fuel source for bacteria that release beneficial compounds, such as short-chain fatty acids, and improve the health of our gut microbes. This lower-glycemic form of carbs can help promote healthy blood sugar levels and help you feel less hungry.
What's more, some research suggests that adding resistant starch to meals can raise post-meal fat-burning rates. And since resistant starch isn't properly digested, it doesn't contribute calories to foods that contain it.
Note: If your current diet is low in resistant starch, don't suddenly start blending green bananas into your protein shakes. You want to gradually up your intake to limit uncomfortable digestive woes like gas.
1. Chocolate Banana Cocoa Pucks
Ideally, a dessert should do more than satisfy your sweet tooth, it should also provide your diet with a nutritional boost. Full of good-for-you fats and natural sweetness, these frosty cocoa pucks fit the bill and are a perfect substitute for ice cream. Blending in the cayenne provides a surprising kick. Before serving, let the pucks sit at room temperature for a few minutes to soften.
2. Curry Chicken Banana Stir-Fry
The next time you find yourself with a bunch of green bananas, don't wait for them all to ripen. Instead, make them the backbone of this stir-fry, which will put some spark into your weeknight dinner routine.
3. Banana Cream Pie Smoothie Bowl
This extra-thick smoothie has what it takes to help you recover after a hard workout. Crunchy options for toppings include walnuts, coconut chips, cacao nibs, and/or chopped banana chips. To freeze bananas for all your smoothie needs, peel ripe fruit, chop into 2-inch chunks, and spread out on a baking sheet. Place sheet in the freezer until bananas are frozen, then store in a zip-close bag.
Here is another tip: To keep your thick smoothie from turning into smoothie soup, serve in a frosty bowl.
Want more info about fitness nutrition? Check out Bodybuilding.com's Foundations of Fitness Nutrition course to learn the essentials of eating right for any goal.
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