With Easter recently passing by, many of you may be feeling like chocolate is the last thing on your mind… however recent findings show that those eggs over easter may in fact help improve your sports performance.

The benefits of chocolate milk for recovery have long been known and acknowledged, however recent findings have shown that dark chocolate may in fact boost sports performance, through increased bioavailability of nitric oxide.

Whilst a small study (only 9 participants), the key finding was that consumption of 40g of dark chocolate on a daily basis resulted in reduced the oxygen cost and enhanced performance in the group of cyclists performing at moderate intensity; those consuming dark chocolate rode 17% further than when consuming no chocolate, and 4% further than those consuming white chocolate (who rode 13% further than with no chocolate).

Was there any limitations? Yes.  Two key limitations from this study relate to caffeine content, and diet prior to testing. Dark chocolate contains caffeine, which has been well established as a performance enhancer. White chocolate does not contain caffeine. Diet was only controlled in the 24 hours before exercise testing. there are other dietary factors that could have confounded the results, such as larger carbohydrate quantity, or elevated nitrate concentration in the diet.

So what is so good about nitric oxide? Nitric oxide acts as a vasodilator, meaning more blood and oxygen is able to be delivered to muscles. It may also reduce the energy cost of exercise and improve muscle contraction. There has previously been significant research done in the role of beetroot juice and sports performance, for the high content of nitric oxide it contains.

So will I be recommending dark chocolate to my clients? Whilst the study was small, and had its faults, if you are a chocolate fan, inclusion of 40g of dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa) on a daily basis is unlikely to have any negative side affects, so why not?

Beetroot and Chocolate Cake anyone? (PS – I like swapping the ground almonds for hazelnut meal in this one!)

 

Reference: Patel, R. K., Brouner, J. & Spendiff, O. 2015. Dark chocolate supplementation reduces the oxygen cost of moderate intensity cycling. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12, 1-8.

 

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