Eating a bar of chocolate a day might not seem the obvious diet for athletic greatness, but a new study shows it can significantly boost performance.
Scientists at London’s Kingston University asked nine amateur cyclists to eat a 40g bar of dark chocolate each day for two weeks and then measured their performance.
Compared with their baseline scores, dark chocolate consumption increased the distance they were able to travel in a two minute sprint by 17 per cent, or 518 feet (158 m).
The effect was also found to be 13 per cent greater than white chocolate suggesting it is not just the extra calories which are causing the effect.
The team believe that substance called epicatechin – a type of flavanol found in the cacao bean, that also increases nitric oxide production in the body. This dilates blood vessels and reduces oxygen consumption – allowing athletes to go further for longer.
“We found that people could effectively exercise for longer after eating dark chocolate –something that’s not been established before in this way,” said postgraduate research student Rishikesh Kankesh Patel who led the study.
Tests also showed that the cyclists used less oxygen during moderate cycling.
Mr Patel said the results opened the door for more research which could eventually lead to dark chocolate becoming a staple part of endurance athletes’ diets.
Now the team is hoping to investigate how quickly the effect can be achieved and how long it will last.
Dr Owen Spendiff, of the sport performance laboratory said: “We want to see whether the boost in performance is a short term effect – you eat a bar and within a day it works – or whether it takes slightly longer, which is what the initial research is showing.
“Rishikesh’s findings are really interesting, as he has proven the exercise benefits of dark chocolate for the first time.”
Kingston sport analysis lecturer James Brouner said: “From a performance perspective, making an athlete more efficient can have major advantages in long duration steady-state exercise.”
“With so many athletes consuming beetroot juice to achieve this gain but complaining of the palatability, dark chocolate could have a similar effect but with the additional benefit of tasting good too.
“When performing endurance-based activity, being as economical as possible in energy provision is key to enhancing your performance. From our results, the consumption of dark chocolate has altered the participants’ response to the activity and therefore could enhance their endurance performance.”