I’ve got some great news for all you chocolate lovers out there: consuming one serving of dark chocolate daily can improve your athletic performance.
Yes, you read that right, eating chocolate is actually good for you! A study from Kingston University in London published last year shed some light on the intriguing health benefits of dark chocolate. The results are especially exciting for us fitness enthusiasts.
The study consisted of 9 amateur cyclists who were split into 2 groups. The first group was given one serving of dark chocolate and the other was given one serving of white chocolate to serve as the control. The researchers tested participants’ heart rate and oxygen consumption while they completed endurance and time trial exercise tests on stationary bikes. After 2 weeks of daily testing, the groups switched which type of chocolate they consumed before exercise. The results clearly showed that the athletes who consumed a serving of dark chocolate daily covered more distance in their 2-minute time trials and their bodies consumed less oxygen at a moderate, sustained pace than those who consumed white chocolate.
Sports analysis lecturer James Brouner, who was involved with the study, suggested that these results offer benefits specifically to endurance athletes.
Why exactly does this happen?
In dark chocolate, there is a flavanol (antioxidant that gives the cocoa flavor) called epicatechin. The percentage you find on dark chocolate labels is the percentage of epitechin present. The higher the percentage, the more benefits you reap. Research suggests you consume 70% or higher dark chocolate. Anything less does not have enough epicatechin present to be beneficial.
When dark chocolate is digested in our stomachs, epicatechin is metabolized into smaller molecules by healthy gut bacteria. This breakdown allows much more efficient absorption of the nutrients into our bodies and facilitates the production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide increases the widening of the veins and arteries which improves blood flow. This improved blood flow allows muscle cells to take in more blood sugar and energy due to the high oxygen passage. In simpler terms: it lets you exercise longer and harder.
Not only can eating dark chocolate as a pre-workout snack improve performance, but you can also eat it after a workout to fight muscle fatigue. The same antioxidants that energize you during a workout can decrease muscle soreness by 30% because of their strong anti-inflammatory properties.
Do you drink a post-workout shake after the gym? Try adding a spoonful of raw cacao powder to it! Or if you don’t like eating plain dark chocolate, add cacao powder to a smoothie or oatmeal to mask the taste.
So, next time you’re planning on heading to the gym, pop a few squares of dark chocolate and crush that workout!
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