Dark chocolate has quickly earned a reputation of a superfood, thanks to cocoas’ incredibly nutrient density, especially when it comes to flavonoids, antioxidants, iron, magnesium, manganese and phosphorous. Nutrition experts associate dark chocolate with a decreased risk of developing certain types of cancer, reduced blood pressure, heart health and prevention against the negative effects of chronic stress. And we already know it’s a great way to combat temporary fatigue and low levels of energy.
But what about its effect on athletic performance? We’ve recently stumbled upon a new study from London’s Kingston University, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, which claims that consuming a daily serving of dark chocolate could be very beneficial for athletic endurance and muscle recovery.
The postgraduate research student Rishikesh Kankesh Patel, who led the study, found that dark chocolate has similar effects on performance as beetroot juice, a popular performance-enhancing dietary product among professional athletes. Dark chocolate contains a substance called epicatechin, which is a type of flavanol found in the cacao bean. This compound is responsible for increasing the nitric oxide production in the body, which leads to dilatation of the blood vessels and a reduced oxygen consumption, thereby increasing athletic endurance.
The nine test subjects were split into two groups – the first one was asked to replace one of its usual daily snacks with 40g of a high quality dark chocolate, while the second one was asked to consume 40g of white chocolate as one of their daily snacks. Both groups followed the new regime over the course of two weeks. In the meanwhile, their performance was assessed through a series of cycling exercise tests which included measuring of the heart rates and oxygen consumption levels during moderate exercise. After one week, the groups switched chocolate types and the exercise tests were repeated.
The results showed that after eating dark chocolate, the subjects used less oxygen when cycling at a moderate pace and covered more distance in a two-minute flat-out time trial.
“We found that people could effectively exercise for longer after eating dark chocolate – something that’s not been established before in this way“, concluded Mr. Patel. He and his associated believe that the increased levels of nitric-oxide are responsible for these beneficial effects. According to them, their findings have opened the door for future research which could prove that dark chocolate deserves to become a staple in the menu of professional athletes’.
There is still a lot to be discussed, like the amount of dark chocolate that should be consumed in order to achieve these gains, but this study is a great start – especially in relation to previous studies that have shown that the high amounts of flavanols found in dark chocolate contribute to a more efficient post-workout recovery.
That means that consuming an adequate amount of dark chocolate every day can significantly improve the quality of your workout and reduce the time your body needs to fully recover, making dark chocolate the tastiest way to naturally enhance your training sessions.
“From a performance perspective, making an athlete more efficient can have major advantages in long duration steady-state exercise“, says James Brouner, a sport analysis lecturer. “With so many athletes consuming beetroot juice to achieve this gain but complaining of the palatability, dark chocolate could have a similar effect but with the additional benefit of tasting good too.“
What’s your opinion? Could dark chocolate be the magical solution to our endless search for the perfect performance booster?
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