Can chocolate improve athletic performance? Some researchers say it can.
Here’s one more study to suggest that indulging in chocolate and physical fitness are not mutually exclusive. Past research has indicated that flavanols in cocoa beans have antioxidant effects the can help lower blood pressure, improve vascular function and reduce the cell damage involved in heart disease. Now, research published in The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition puts forward the notion that one of the flavanols in the cocoa bean and dark chocolate, epicatechin, can increase the production of nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide causes blood vessels to dilate and reduces oxygen consumption, which in turn seems to increase athletic performance.
Nitric acid is also a bi-product of nitrates in beetroot juice, which is popular among elite athletes because it enhances their endurance. A postgraduate research student from Kingston University in London, Rishikesh Kankesh Patel, wanted to know if dark chocolate could provide similar benefits. His supervised study involved nine amateur cyclists who were put into two groups after establishing a baseline in fitness levels. For two weeks, the cyclists replaced a daily snack with 1.5 ounces of chocolate, with one group consuming dark chocolate, the other white chocolate. Following the two weeks, the participants performed moderate cycling exercises and time trials while researchers measured their heart rates and oxygen consumption. The riders then took a week-long break from eating the sweet, then switched chocolate types and repeated the two-week trial and exercises tests.
Patel and his team, noted that after consuming dark chocolate, the athletes used less oxygen when cycling at a moderate pace and out-distanced their white chocolate eating counterparts in a 2-minute time trial. While the results appear promising, more research with a larger study group is needed to determine such factors as the optimal quantity to consume, the time period in which to consume it, and the duration of benefits.
If those questions can be answered, however, dark chocolate may offer a tastier training tool to athletes who find beetroot juice too bitter to palate, and to anyone else looking for a good excuse to each chocolate.