Eating small amounts of dark chocolate may improve your endurance performance when working out, according to researchers at Kingston University in England.
Dark chocolate contains the ingredient epicatechin, a plant nutrient found in cocoa, and previous studies have shown it to have positive effects on the heart and brain.
The New York Times reports, “Epicatechin is known to prompt cells that line blood vessels to release extra nitric oxide, a substance that has multiple effects in the body. Nitric oxide slightly increases vasodilation, or a widening of the veins and arteries, improving blood flow and cardiac function. It also gooses muscle cells to take in more blood sugar, providing them with more energy, and it enhances the passage of oxygen into cells.”
Athletes have commonly tried to boost the amount of nitric oxide in their bloodstreams by ingesting things such as the terrible tasting beetroot juice. Dark chocolate is a much better alternative for our taste buds.
The study was published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Medicine in December. It examined eight male bicyclists, who supplemented their diets with either dark chocolate or white chocolate for two weeks.
Those who ate dark chocolate performed better in most tests. They used less oxygen while riding at a moderate pace. They also covered slightly more distance during a two-minute, “all-out” time trial.
Rishikesh Kankesh Patel, a graduate student at Kingston University who led the study, explained that “recreational athletes who would like to improve their performance” might want to eat a square or two of dark chocolate instead of a cookie or soda when they’re reaching for a snack.
He noted that the amount of chocolate an athlete should eat is unclear. More than 40 grams would be too much, and cocoa and epicatechin levels vary for every chocolate bar.
In a related study, researchers found that people who eat chocolate at least once a week “tend to perform better cognitively.” Specifically, chocolate eaters have superior “visual-spatial memory and [organisation], working memory, scanning and tracking, abstract reasoning and the mini-mental state examination.”