Watching the French Open, you will see more than one tennis player reach into their bag to grab banana. Bananas are not only great sources of potassium but are just as good as those expensive sports drinks.

Bananas have been a favorite fruit of athletes across the globe. Potassium can help reduce dehydration, cramping and fatigue while providing the sugar and carbohydrates needed for strenuous exercise. In a new study, bananas were better than sports drinks by providing more nutrients and having healthier sugars.

The study was led by David C. Nieman, DrPH, director of the human performance lab at the College of Health Sciences at Appalachian State University. The study involved 14 cyclists who were given either a six percent carbohydrate sports drink or half a banana every 15 minutes during two 75 kilometer cycling time trials. Blood samples were taken prior to the time trials, right after the exercise and one-hour after exercise and researchers measured innate immune functions, oxidative stress, exercise-induced inflammation and levels of 103 metabolites.

Bananas and the carbohydrate drinks performed similarly in regards to changes in exercise-induced inflammation, oxidative stress and immune function. Cyclists that consumed bananas had higher antioxidant levels and dopamine levels than the cyclists that consumed the sports drink.

The bananas had more antioxidants and are loaded with fiber, potassium and vitamin B6, while also having healthier sugars like fructose and glucose whereas some sports drinks contain sucrose or high fructose corn syrup. Compared to Gatorade, bananas have 10 times the amount of potassium per serving.

For researchers, the additional nutrients that are found in bananas and not in sports drinks make the banana a better option. Athletes do not have to worry about getting their source of carbohydrates when choosing a banana over a sports drink and will actually feel better, thanks to the dopamine levels, for making that choice.

While the study focused on trained cyclists, the performance benefits from bananas can be applied to any athlete or exercise-enthusiast regardless of activity choice or level. Sports drinks are effective and have been tailored to help athletes perform better but there are plenty of drawbacks to them, including the higher sugar levels. Bananas may be your new best friend after working up a sweat. 

Funding for the study was provided by Dole. The study was published in PLoS ONE.