Indulge in dark chocolate to celebrate this Easter!
Dark chocolate, which contains large amounts of cocoa, is often promoted as having potential health benefits.
Epicatechins, a type of flavanol found in cocoa, can improve blood flow, reduce oxygen cost of exercise, improve insulin sensitivity and improve immunity through antioxidant activity and increased bioavailability and bioactivity of nitric oxide.
A 2015 study of 9 recreational cyclists found that consuming daily 40g of dark chocolate (around 6 squares) for 2 weeks resulted in a 17% improvement in distance covered during a 2 minute time trial and a 6% improvement in VO2max. A placebo effect cannot be excluded, and the study was small, with some potential for confounding but sparked interest in more research into the potential performance benefits of cocoa flavanols.
A more recently published systematic review, which included 13 studies, found that cocoa flavanols may improve vascular function, reduce exercise-induced oxidative stress, and alter fat and carbohydrate utilisation during exercise, but without effecting exercise performance. The authors concluded that there is a strong need for future studies examining the combined effects of chronic cocoa flavanol intake and exercise training.
Fruits, vegetables, red wine and tea also contain significant amounts of flavanols. Epicatechins, a type of flavanol, are classified as Group B under the latest AIS Sports Supplement Framework, meaning they have emerging scientific support, deserving of further research.
So, why not follow tradition and indulge in a little dark chocolate to celebrate this Easter? If you can ration your Easter bunny treats over the next couple of weeks you may even be a better athlete for it!