By: Matt Weik
Who would have thought that a visit to Chocolate World at Hershey Park in Pennsylvania would give athletes an advantage over their competition? As ridiculous as it sounds, it could actually be true! Recent studies are showing that dark chocolate is able to boost athletic performance.
Elite endurance athletes listen up! No, this is not a joke. Head to your nearest grocery or convenience store and pick up the biggest bar of dark chocolate that you can find. Why? Because it might be your golden ticket to having a leg up on the competition. Whether you’re competing or simply hitting the gym, the flavanols found in dark chocolate have the ability to improve performance, improve energy levels, improve recovery time, and reduce oxygen cost. Just think of all the possibilities you’ll have come Halloween!
A recent study on flavanols took nine amateur athletes (cyclists) and had them perform baseline tests. After their baselines were recorded, two groups were formed—one who was to use white chocolate as a snack and the other to use dark chocolate as a snack. Each group was then asked to perform several cycling exercise protocols in which they recorded heart rates, oxygen consumption, and actual time trials that dealt with distance covered. This continued for seven days before the groups switched forms of chocolate. The group that was using dark chocolate now was to use the white chocolate and vice versa. Each of the previous tests were again performed and the results were documented.
Interestingly enough, it was found that the dark chocolate groups outperformed the white chocolate groups in every category. The cyclists who consumed the dark chocolate used less oxygen during the tests and were also able to travel more distance in the time trials. This finding confirms the thought that flavanols improve nitric oxide (NO) production in the body.
What does this mean? Ultimately, flavanols give the body the ability to dilate blood vessels which in turn will allow for a much better blood flow to supply more oxygen to the muscles of the body. What does better blood flow and more oxygen mean for working muscles? More work capacity with less fatigue.
One of the researchers in this study indicated these findings are just the tip of the iceberg when he said, “We want to see whether the boost in performance is a short term effect—you eat a bar and within a day it works—or whether it takes slightly longer, which is what the initial research is showing. We are also investigating the optimal level of flavanols. There is not a lot of consistency in flavanol levels in commercially-available chocolate. Once we’ve found the optimal dose, we’ll compare its effects to those of beetroot juice, as they produce nitric oxide increases in different ways.”
While preworkouts, powders and drinks will always be prominent in the fitness industry, it’s good to know that in a pinch, dark chocolate consumption can also be used as an ergogenic aid. This is especially of importance to collegiate athletes who are highly regulated by the NCAA on what they can and cannot use.