Behold: Training Chocolate

Recent research suggests cyclists who added daily dark chocolate to their training diet improved their endurance levels.

What if you could add a melt-in-your-mouth morsel to your training diet and effortlessly improve your endurance? Dark chocolate just might do the trick, according to recent research on cyclists.

While scientists have focused on the heart and brain-boosting potential of dark chocolate, little research has focused on ways the stuff can pump up nitric acid, and subsequent performance, writes Gretchen Reynolds in a New York Times post about the research. This may be so “in part because chocolate can cause weight gain and also seems neither medicinal nor unpleasant, two attributes often associated with ergogenic aids,” she writes. 

Researchers at Kingston University in England suspected dark chocolate might be a powerful performance enhancer if the chocolate were deployed carefully, and designed a study to test their theory.

Researchers first tested the bikers’ baseline fitness and oxygen uptake during moderate rides and all-out sprints on stationary bikes. Then, half the cyclists replaced one of their normal daily snacks or desserts with 40 grams (about one and a half squares) of Dove brand dark chocolate for two weeks. Dove has most epicatechin than most brands. The rest of the bikers were told to do the same, but with white chocolate, as a control.

After two weeks, they returned to lab for more testing. Then, each group was given whichever type of chocolate, white or dark, they hadn’t eaten before. The bikers continued the routine for two more weeks, then returned for more testing.

Each of the cyclists performed better in most of the physical tests after two weeks of supplementing with dark chocolate, compared to baseline results and after they had eaten white chocolate. The riders utilized less oxygen to ride at a moderate pace, a change that would generally allow them to ride longer or harder before tiring; and they covered more distance during a two-minute, all-out time trial, meaning that their anaerobic, sprinting ability had been enhanced.

What’s the upshot of all this pedaling, measuring and munching? It seem that “recreational athletes who would like to improve their performance” might consider swapping a daily cookie or soda for a square or two of dark chocolate, Rishikesh Kankesh Patel, a graduate student at Kingston University who led the study, told the Times. He cautioned, however, that scientists do not yet know the ideal dosage of dark chocolate for athletes, and that more than 40 grams is unlikely to be helpful, so put away the rest of that bar. Cocoa and epicatechin levels also vary widely from bar to bar, he said, which makes precise dosing of the performance-enhancing content tricky.

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