Posted on Jul 10, 2017, 3 p.m.
Study shows daily consumption of chocolate may give athletes an extra edge in their fitness training.
Dark chocolate, which has been proven to have beneficial effects on cardiovascular health and improve post-exercise markers, is now shown to give an edge in fitness training, when consumed daily. Rishikesh Kankesh Patel, a postgraduate research student of London's Kingston University, led a team that determined that dark chocolate provides similar health benefits to beetroot juice. Beetroot juice is currently taken regularly by elite athletes after studies determined that it can improve their performance. "Beetroot juice is rich in nitrates, which are converted to nitric oxide in the body. This dilates blood vessels and reduces oxygen consumption - allowing athletes to go further for longer," Rishikesh Patel clarified.
Patel's team decided to determine if dark chocolate could provide a boost similar to beetroot juice, since it contains epicatechin. Epicatechin is a a type of flavanol found in the cacao bean, which also increases the body's production of nitric oxide. The team studied nine amateur cyclists, and Patel, the 23 year old researcher, was overseen by a sport science field leader, Dr. Owen Spendiff, as well as senior lecturer in sport analysis, James Brouner. The group of cyclists were given initial fitness tests, to establish a baseline, and then they were separated into two groups. The first group of cyclists replaced one of thier usual daily snacks with 40g of a dark chocolate known to be rich in flavanols, for two weeks. The second group replaced their usual daily snacks with 40g of white chocolate. The cyclists heart rates and oxygen consumption levels were measured during a series of cycling tests given in the sports performance laboratory, during moderate exercise, as well as timed exercises. After a period of seven days, the two groups of cyclists then switched chocolate types. The two week trial, and it's exercises were then repeated.
The team found that after eating dark chocolate, the cyclists used less oxygen then when riding at a moderate pace. They also cycled a further distance in a two minute timed trial, during which they went flat out with their pace. Patel believes that this could be a catalyst for more research, which could potentially lead to dark chocolate being consumed regularly by endurance athletes. "Both dark chocolate and beetroot juice are known to increase nitric oxide, which is the major mechanism we believe is behind these results," Patel stated "We found that people could effectively exercise for longer after eating dark chocolate -something that's not been established before in this way."
Rishikesh Kankesh Patel, James Brouner, Owen Spendiff. Dark chocolate supplementation reduces the oxygen cost of moderate intensity cycling. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2015; 12 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s12970-015-0106-7