So we’re going to go ahead and call this the best news ever: A small recent study, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Medicine, found that eating a small amount of dark chocolate every day improved cyclists’ athletic performance, The New York Times reports.
As the Times explains, dark chocolate contains a substance called epicatechin.
“Epicatechin is known to prompt cells that line blood vessels to release extra nitric oxide, a substance that has multiple effects in the body. Nitric oxide slightly increases vasodilation, or a widening of the veins and arteries, improving blood flow and cardiac function. It also gooses muscle cells to take in more blood sugar, providing them with more energy, and it enhances the passage of oxygen into cells.”
So for the study, performed at Kingston University in England, researchers had eight recreational cyclists come into the lab and, to get a baseline, they measured the cyclists’ oxygen use and performance during moderate rides and sprints on stationary bikes. Then they told half of the cyclists to eat 1.4 ounces, which comes out to one and a half squares (i.e. the perfect afternoon pick-me-up) of Dove dark chocolate daily. The other half was told to eat the same amount of white chocolate, which contains little to no epicatechin (Note: Levels of epicatechin are also much lower in milk chocolate than dark chocolate). Two weeks later, they had the cyclists come back to the lab to tackle the same rides again. Then the participants switched their chocolate-eating habits for two weeks and came back to the lab for a third time to have their performance measured.
And get this: When they were eating dark chocolate every day, each of the cyclists performed better in most of the physical tests, using less oxygen (which means they would be able to ride for longer or go harder without tiring as quickly) and covering more distance, than they did in their baseline tests and when they were eating white chocolate. While the researchers didn’t measure the riders’ nitric oxide levels, their thought is that the dark chocolate boosted levels of the substance.
I repeat: Best. News. Ever. Right? As the Times points out, the improvements in performance weren’t huge, so a little dark chocolate is not going to magically transform you from a can’t-run-a-mile human to a marathoner human. But it won’t hurt. And hey, eating a little dark chocolate requires zero effort, so if there’s a chance it might help me beast through my workout a bit more, you don’t have to tell me twice.
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