During an Australian Open match in January, tennis star CoCo Vandeweghe refused to continue play until someone gave her a banana. She was mocked, reports Deadspin, but the snack was probably worth the scorn. Like sports drinks, bananas are packed with sugars—14.43 grams in a medium-size one—proven to fuel muscles during exercise, allowing for longer, more intense workouts and faster recovery times, reports the New York Times. Indeed, when consumed during exercise, bananas replace nutrients and prevent inflammation just as effectively as sports drinks, which are man-made, cost quite a bit more, and may lack the additional benefits of fiber and vitamins C and B6, according to research out of Appalachian State University. Sports drinks also apparently lack another benefit of bananas not fully understood.
Researchers—partially funded by Dole Foods, which had no involvement in the study's design or execution—analyzed the blood of 20 cyclists who were given water, plus either half a banana or 8 ounces of sports drink every 30 minutes during a 47-mile bike ride. Unlike the sports drinks, bananas were found to contain "unique metabolites" that "knock down" a gene promoting pain and inflammation after exercise, the same gene targeted by painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs, study author David Nieman tells Men's Health. "To our pleasant surprise, we found something natural in bananas is working like [painkillers] but without the risks" of cell damage that promotes inflammation, Nieman says, noting it's not yet clear how this works. There was one downside to snacking on bananas, though: "Quite a bit of bloating," Nieman tells the Times. (Gatorade has gone organic.)