Thursday, December 28, 2006

Why we should all go bananas

The lowly banana is the Eddy Merckx of energy food. Today the hype goes to trendier, micro-engineered energy bars and gels, but if you bring this stalwart yellow delicacy out of retirement, you'll rediscover a classic piece of cycling perfection. The banana has loads of carbs, potassium (an important electrolyte), and ride-enhancing vitamins--it's almost as if it were designed just for us.

Bananas weren't an energy food for the first cyclists, who usually fueled their efforts with bread and cheese, washed down liberally with wine. It became a tradition for European racers to disdain the banana as difficult to digest. Andy Hampsten, the only American ever to win the Tour of Italy, says his teammates during his early years as a European pro would tease him about eating bananas.

"They'd say I was going to fall asleep mid-race because they thought the bananas would just sit in my stomach," Hampsten says. But he knew that a ripe banana is actually pretty easy to digest and makes a great, portable on-ride food because it readily converts to energy. The glycemic index ranks foods on a scale of 0-100, based on how quickly they're converted to usable energy (with 100 representing pure glucose). A banana has a glycemic index rating of 55--a quicker energy boost than other common fruits. For example, an apple has a rating of 38 and an orange is 44. The banana beats the peanuts out of a Snickers bar, which is ranked at 41, and is close to a chocolate PowerBar Performance bar at 58.

Bananas are famous for containing potassium, an essential electrolyte that helps regulate blood chemistry (particularly Ph) and improves carbohydrate metabolism by helping the muscles act efficiently. Without potassium (and sodium), your muscles stop firing correctly. Severe loss of sodium can produce really nasty complications all the way up to shock and death. (Of course, you'd stop riding before then.) Potassium also prevents the blood's Ph from _becoming too acidic. With enough potassium in your system, blood glucose is more easily transported through cell walls and used in ATP production. Translation: more energy, more quickly.

Bananas are also rich in vitamin B6, which helps metabolize more than 60 proteins and assists in red blood cell production that transports oxygen to muscles. And folate in bananas helps concentration and memory. If you get lost a lot, try eating a banana.

This magic fruit also gives you 17% of your Daily Value of vitamin C, an antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals (harmful waste products) in your body and helps produce collagen, the building block of the connective tissues such as tendons and cartilage that keep your knees strong. And the banana's magnesium (yep, the same stuff they make fork lowers out of) plays _a role in energy transport and your body's ability to keep pushing those cranks around. It's also involved in the synthesis _of protein, which helps recovery.

And, finally, the ultimate benefit: Unlike a gel container, bar wrapper, or a plastic bag holding a bunch of cookies, the banana's "container" is biodegradable: Toss it to the side of the road and it breaks down in one to two weeks.

Like Eddy (and Elvis, whose favorite food was fried peanut butter-and-banana sandwiches), the banana is king.

by Joe Lidsley, Bicycling Magazine

Source: Bicycling Magazine/ photo courtesy of MicrobeWiki

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Established in December 2006