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article imageNew study shows chocolate or cocoa may boost athletic performance

By Claudio Buttice     Apr 25, 2016 in Health
A British study performed at Kingston University showed that eating dark chocolate and cocoa may improve athletic performance and help during fitness training. Chocolate and cocoa are already known to have a positive effect on cardiovascular health.
Results from the study led by postgraduate research student Rishikesh Kankesh Patel have been published in The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. The team tried to demonstrate that dark chocolate and cocoa may boost athletic performance by increasing tissue oxygenation. Their hypothesis was based on the assumption that many sports enthusiasts often use beetroot juice as a performance-enhancing supplement. Beetroots are, in fact, rich in nitrates which are converted to nitric oxide in the body, a substance that improves athlete's endurance and stamina by stimulating vasodilation. The more the vessels are dilated, the more blood reaches muscular tissues, reducing overall oxygen consumption. Cacao beans contain a flavanol called epicatechin that increases nitric oxide levels in the body in a similar way.
To test their theory, the researchers team supervised by the sports analyst James Brouner, and Dr. Owen Spendiff, a sports science field leader, examined the performance of a group of nine amateur cyclists. After performing some initial fitness tests to establish a "blank", they were divided into two groups. The first one replaced one of their daily snacks with a 40g dark chocolate bar while the other one replaced it with a 40g white chocolate bar. White chocolate does not contain cocoa powder and is thus devoid of flavanols. For two weeks, each group performed a series of cycling exercise tests while researchers measured their oxygen consumption levels and their heart rates and. After a week-long break, the two groups switched chocolate types, and the trial battery was then repeated.
Results showed that cyclists who ate dark chocolate required a reduced amount of oxygen while cycling at a moderate pace, and were able to cycle for a longer distance in a 2-mins flat-out time trial. Although the optimal levels of flavanols in commercially available chocolate have yet to be found, the results provided evidence that eating cocoa may help athletes exercise for longer.
Daily dark chocolate consumption has been already found to be beneficial to subjects affected by cardiovascular diseases, due to its cholesterol and blood pressure lowering effects. Chocolate products containing at least 60% cocoa solids are also very rich in flavonoids, which may also play a critical role in heart protection thanks to their powerful antioxidant and radical-scavenging activity.
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