Dark Chocolate Improves Exercise Performance

Chocolate Does More than Dessert

Fitness-minded people are very aware of the good, bad and ugly when it comes to best foods for a healthy body. Chocolate, especially dark chocolate is no longer banned and encouraged as part of a healthy diet. 

We have relaxed our nutritional denial of dark chocolate and now give high praise for its antioxidant health benefits. Past studies have already shown people who consume dark chocolate regularly reduce their risk of heart disease, hypertension, and stroke. 

Researchers are now turning their attention to how dark chocolate can improve exercise performance. A recent study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JSSN) has shown dark chocolate “may be an effective ergogenic aid for short-duration moderate intensity exercise.”  This is exciting news for chocolate lovers.

Let's take a look at the research and how dark chocolate works in the body to improve our workouts.   

The Research

Dark Chocolate and Athletic Performance
Dark Chocolate Improves Athletic Performance. Peathegee Inc/Getty Images

The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition released the first study to examine the effects of dark chocolate on VO2 max (maximum oxygen the body uses during a period of exercise) and gas exchange threshold (GET). GET is a breath by breath value amount achieved by measuring carbon dioxide and oxygen uptake during exercise testing. 

The researchers set out to prove eating dark chocolate would improve GET, lower the amount of oxygen used during moderate intensity cycling and enhance athletic performance during a sprint time trial. 

Research participants were twenty-something moderately trained males instructed to follow a specific clinical criterion before exercise testing. They were randomly assigned to consume either dark or white chocolate for 14 days prior to testing. 

The exercise challenge consisted of 20-minutes of endurance cycling at 80% GET followed by an all-out timed sprint.  

Why Dark Chocolate?

Dark Chocolate
Dark Chocolate Compounds Improve Our Workouts. Ben Monk/Getty Images

Now that the research stage has been set, let’s discuss why dark chocolate was chosen and how it helps exercise performance.

Dark chocolate contains a chemical compound called epicatechin. Epicatechin communicates to cells in our body to release nitric oxide (NO) gas in our bloodstream. The increased amount of NO in our body dilates vessels and creates better blood flow for gas exchange.

The research results did prove regular consumption of dark chocolate significantly improved gas exchange threshold (GET) and decreased VO2max (maximum oxygen body uses during a period of exercise).  This means the body was performing more efficiently during moderate exercise and also noted was better fat oxidation (burning)

The European Journal of Nutrition has also published research on dark chocolate and exercise performance. According to the study, dark chocolate consumption showed a positive effect on insulin and glucose levels and improved antioxidant values. 

The Journal of the American College of Nutrition published additional findings to support increased epicatechin concentrations in healthy adults. Dark chocolate has received a ringing scientific endorsement as “an effective ergogenic aid for short-duration moderate intensity exercise. However, future double-blinded studies will need to confirm this effect.”

Sources

Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, Dark chocolate supplementation reduces the oxygen cost of moderate intensity cycling, Rishikesh Kankesh Patel et al., 12/15/15

Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Flavonoid-rich dark chocolate improves endothelial function and increases plasma epicatechin concentrations in healthy adults, Engler MB et al., 6/04

Acta Physiology, Effects of dietary nitrate on oxygen cost during exercise, Abstract, F. J. Larsen et al., 7/17/07

International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, Regular dark chocolate consumption's reduction of oxidative stress and increase of free-fatty-acid mobilization in response to prolonged cycling, Allgrove J et al., 4/11

European Journal of Nutrition, The effect of acute pre-exercise dark chocolate consumption on plasma antioxidant status, oxidative stress and immunoendocrine responses to prolonged exercise, Davison G et al., 2/12

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