Dark chocolate is apparently good for all, even for those who are into sports. A new study, published in The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, suggests that dark chocolate might boost the performance of athletes.
The key ingredient in chocolate (cacao bean) behind this suggestion is a flavanol, more specifically epicatechin. This compound is correlated with an increase in nitric oxide production in the body which will, in turn, cause the dilation of blood vessels, thereby lowering the consumption of oxygen such that athletes are able to maintain a longer pace. This is also the reasoning behind drinking beetroot juice before athletic events.
It all started when post-graduate researcher Rishikesh Kankesh Patel from Kingston University based in London wanted to understand whether dark chocolate would yield the same benefits as beetroot. He worked in concert with sports science field leader Dr. Owen Spendiff and senior lecturer in sports analysis James Brouner.
To test his hypothesis, 9 amateur cyclists were divided into two groups: one ate dark chocolate rich in flavanols while the other consumed white chocolate. This went on for two weeks. Following this phase, the cyclists went through several cycling exercise tests, and their heart rates and oxygen consumption levels were measured. After a week, the two groups switched chocolates and repeated the trial and tests.
The results show that the cyclists would use less oxygen when exercising at a moderate rate after having consumed dark chocolate. Patel explains that the increase in nitric oxide apparently caused by dark chocolate is behind the results. He says that the participants exercise for longer periods of time after consuming the chocolate.
Patel now intends to find out the optimal level of flavanols in the food that can enhance the performance of athletes.
It is to be noted that, while dark chocolate is increasingly being praised for its benefits, researchers explained that commercially-available chocolate might not be the ideal food to consume in large amounts. Furthermore, some experts say that a part of the research papers focusing on this topic are not confirmed, and therefore, consumers are to be cautious and not overindulge.