Mangos, bananas, grapes—do these and other fruits make you pack on the pounds? While fruits do contain sugar, that doesn’t mean it will all automatically turn to fat. Fruits are actually an important part of your muscle-building regimen and should be included regularly in your diet.
Data from the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans reveals that 85 percent of Americans do not meet the daily recommended amount of fruit, which ranges from a cup and a half to two cups of fruit every day. Besides providing fiber, a nutrient most Americans don’t get enough of, fruit also provides an array of antioxidants, potassium, and phytochemicals that have been shown to help prevent chronic diseases and fight inflammation caused by any excess visceral fat, if it’s present.
Manuel Villacorta, M.S., R.D., author of Flat Belly 365: The Gut-Friendly Superfood Plan to Shed Pounds, Fight Inflammation, and Feel Great All Year Long, says, “No food, not even fruit, is fattening unless you overeat it. In my 20 years of experience counseling clients, I’ve never seen someone walk in my office claiming they got fat from eating too many bananas.”
Although you may have heard that sugar spikes insulin, which is problematic, Villacorta explains that, “if you have a well-functioning pancreas, high insulin levels do not translate into fat storage and you burn through that sugar for energy.”
Your body needs energy, especially if you’re working out. In addition, sugar alone doesn’t have the power to fatten you up, unless you’re in a calorie surplus, according to Villacorta.
How Can Fruit Benefit Your Workout?
Fruit provides carbs that are rapidly absorbed and ready to be used by the body. It gives your body “a great boost of energy before any form of exercise (cardio or weight training),” explains Jim White, R.D.N., ACSM-certified exercise physiologist, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios, and nutrition partner with Welch’s. This provides your muscles enough energy to fuel your workout. White recommends pairing fruit with a small source of protein (like string cheese, yogurt, or an egg) to not only help but to also increase muscle synthesis. Fruit can also be consumed after a workout as a source of carbohydrates to replenish any glycogen losses while exercising.
In addition, fruit can be a great choice if you like to hit the gym first thing in the morning and don’t have time to digest a full breakfast. If you’re eating fruit by itself as a quick pre-workout snack, White recommends eating it 20-30 minutes before you exercise. If you have an hour to digest, pair it with a small source of protein to avoid muscle injury. Fruits also provide antioxidants, which can beneficial to reduce the oxidative stress that comes from exercising. A 2017 literature review titled “Tart Cherry Juice in Athletes: A Literature Review and Commentary” found that consuming tart cherry juice correlated with faster recovery time and enhanced performance in athletes.
Are Some Fruits Better Than Others for Your Workout?
White explains that “fruits high in fiber, such as berries, can cause digestive [issues] before performing cardio. However, fruits that are lower in fiber (banana, pineapple, peach, orange, dried fruit, apple, grapes) digest faster and do not cause the same sort of stomach cramping or gastrointestinal upset while exercising.” If you’re lifting weights, the fiber in fruit might not cause any gastrointestinal problems like it would prior to running.
All forms of fruit—fresh, dried, or juiced—are made up primarily of carbs, so your body can use any form of fruit for energy. A 2015 study published in the journal titled Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism found that runners that supplemented with purple grape juice took longer to get exhausted, had increased antioxidant activity, and possible reduction in inflammation.
Bottom line: Fruit, in any form, can be part of a muscle-building diet when consumed in moderation. So go on, pick up your favorites to help you fuel up before a workout or help with recover afterwards.