Photo by Lee McCoy
At least that’s what a study published last week in The Journal of Physiology seems to suggest. Yes, it was done on mice, which we are not. And yes, it might be one of those “what you thought was bad for you is now good” stories that could last a month before they discover something contrary. But for those of us who regularly nosh on the dark stuff without an ounce of guilt, being able to list the training benefits concealed inside that foil wrapper is definitely not a bad idea.
As reported in The New York Times, the study took the known benefits of chocolate (reducing blood pressure, for example) into a new arena: physical performance. By giving mice a purified version of epicatechin (cacao’s primary nutritional ingredient), scientists at the University of California, San Diego revealed that chocolate can affect the body’s response to exercise:
“The animals that had been drinking water were the first to give out during the treadmill test. They became exhausted more quickly than the animals that had received epicatechin. Even the control mice that had lightly exercised grew tired more quickly than the nonexercising mice that had been given epicatechin. The fittest rodents, however, were those that had combined epicatechin and exercise. They covered about 50 percent more distance than the control animals.”
In addition to covering more ground, the chocoholic mice developed new capillaries in their muscles, as well as signs that the cells were developing new mitochondria—the structures in cells that produce energy. Although benefits were found in the mice who had been given epicatechin and not exercised, the combination of the epicatechin and exercise offered the most potent positive effects.
But don’t get too excited yet. Since most of us would be getting the substance through chocolate (and not the pure liquid form) it remains to be seen how the benefits will translate. “Processing destroys epicatechin,” says Dr. Francisco Villarreal, one of the authors of the study. Dark chocolate fans, rejoice! Your pick has more of the good stuff than the heavily-processed milk varieties.
If you’ve read this far because you want to find out how to use chocolate to boost your next brick session, put that bar down. Dr. Villarreal says that five grams of dark chocolate per day (about half of a square of a typical chocolate bar) is all that’s needed, and that any more could “lessen or even undo” the benefits.
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