Dear Alice,

My soccer coach is suggesting we eat bananas at half-time of our soccer game to rebuild our energy for the second half. I understand that bananas are a very good source of energy, among other things. I don't see any detriment to this idea, but my question is this: Does the consumption of bananas result in an immediate energy boost? I have always been led to believe that food must be digested through the system before the body realizes the benefits, and that usually takes several hours. Can you enlighten me?

Dear Reader,

Many athletes wonder whether it’s beneficial (or not) to eat before, during, or after their workouts and which foods are best to eat at which times. As you suggested, it's recommended that you consume food a couple of hours prior to vigorous exercise so that your body can use that food as fuel. However, it’s also recommended that snacking on carbohydrates and staying hydrated during an extended workout (an hour or more of vigorous exercise) may keep athletes energized as well as prevent low blood sugar and fatigue. Also, keep in mind that carbohydrates are the brain's major source of energy — keeping it well-fed can help you think clearly, focus on the game, and maximize your performance potential. If you’re active for less than an hour, a snack is generally not needed.

As you suggested, it can take a while for your body to digest food. When it comes to eating during a workout, it may help to keep in mind that what’s optimal for you can be dependent on many factors, including how long and what you ate before your event, the duration of the event, and the intensity of your activity. For example, if it's been a while since you've eaten and you’re in the middle of a long, intense game, a snack could assist. You may not experience a surge of energy, but following your coach's suggestion may help you to stave off fatigue through the second half of your soccer games. That being said — listen to your body. Eating too much could cause you to feel sluggish or to have an upset stomach.

So, could a banana help you out? Sure! Bananas are a great source of carbohydrates, as well as potassium, folate, and other nutrients — and they are easily digested. Bananas also may help with preventing muscle cramping. But, there are other food and drink options that could help you maintain your energy without upsetting your stomach. Whatever you choose, it's good to pick foods that are easily digestible such as granola bars, energy bars, or a sports drink containing carbohydrates and electrolytes. If you decide to try a new snack, giving it a test run at a practice rather than on game days may be wise — you probably don't want to find out in the middle of a game that your new half-time snack actually makes you feel sick.

As long as it isn’t making you sick to your stomach or making you feel sluggish, having a banana during your game may help. Game on!

Alice!

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