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Yes, dark chocolate is heart healthy. But it can also improve your exercise performance.
The researchers recruited nine young men in their early 20s who were moderately trained in cycling.
The cyclists were tested to establish their gas exchange threshold (GET) baseline. GET is often used as a marker of cardio-respiratory fitness and endurance capacity. The subjects then cycled at 80% of their GET for 20 minutes followed by a two-minute time trial.
The researchers randomly assigned the bikers to eat either 40 grams of dark chocolate or white chocolate every day for 14 days before being tested again. Using a randomized crossover design, the participants then had a seven day wash out period. After that, they switched to the other type of chocolate for 14 days before being tested again.
The researchers found that supplementing with dark chocolate reduced the oxygen cost of moderate intensity exercise. They also found that it improved the time trials of the cyclists.
In particular, the dark chocolate increased GET by 21% compared to baseline and 11% compared to the white chocolate. It also increased the total distance traveled in the time trials by 17% compared to baseline and 13% compared to white chocolate.
The researchers noted that dark chocolate contains abundant flavanols which increase the bioavailability and bioactivity of nitric oxide (NO). Increasing NO bioavailability has been shown to reduce the oxygen cost of exercise.
They suggested that dark chocolate may be an effective aid for short-duration moderate intensity exercise.
Other studies have shown that dark chocolate can lower exercise-induced high blood pressure in overweight individuals.[ii] Another study showed that eating 40 grams of dark chocolate for two weeks may reduce oxidative stress following prolonged exhaustive exercise.[iii]
Chocolate has many other powerful medicinal properties. Research shows chocolate:
- burns belly fat,
- improves metabolic syndrome,
- relieves stress,
- lowers diabetes risk, and
- helps prevent the flu
In the present study the researchers used 40 grams of DOVE®, Dark Chocolate made by Mars, Incorporated. That's about five pieces of Dove Promises. But that will also give you 19 grams of sugar.
Instead try this raw cacao smoothie to boost your workout.
Recipe: Raw Cacao Smoothie
- 1 cup coconut water
- 1 frozen banana
- 2 tablespoons raw cacao powder
- 1 tablespoon raw maca powder
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon raw honey
- 2 tablespoons ground flax seeds or chia seeds
Add all ingredients to blender or Vitamix and blend until smooth. Enjoy!
To learn more about the evidence-based benefits of chocolate visit Green Med Info's page on Chocolate Health Benefits.
[ii] Berry NM, Davison K, Coates AM, Buckley JD, Howe PR. "Impact of cocoa flavanol consumption on blood pressure responsiveness to exercise." Br J Nutr. 2010;103(10):1480–4. doi: 10.1017/S0007114509993382. [PubMed]
[iii] Allgrove J, Farrell E, Gleeson M, Williamson G, Cooper K. "Regular dark chocolate consumption's reduction of oxidative stress and increase of free-fatty-acid mobilization in response to prolonged cycling." IJSNEM. 2011;21(2):113–123. [PubMed]