A recent study conducted at the University of California, San Diego and published in the Journal of Physiology, which sought to determine the effects of dark chocolate on exercise, discovered that it may have a surprisingly significant influence on the body's response to physical activity.
Research subjects were a group of middle-aged, sedentary male mice. Half the group were given regular doses of epicatechin—the purified form of cacao's primary nutritional ingredient and a compound found in dark chocolate—and flavanol—a class of molecules found in plant-based foods thought to have positive effects throughout the body. Mice in the control group were given water instead of epicatechin.
The experimental and control groups were further divided. One sub-group from each were given a light exercise routine each day, while the other subgroup engaged in no activity. After 15 days, all of the mice performed a treadmill test.
The results distinctly showed that the mice that were given epicatechin and exercised daily were the fittest of all. The epicatechin-mice that did not do daily exercise even outperformed the control group mice that did exercise.
"It seems likely that muscle cells contain specific receptors for epicatechin," says Dr. Francisco Villareal, professor of medicine at UC/SD. The flavanol appears to bind to cell receptors and "induces an integrated response that includes structural and metabolic changes in … muscles, resulting in greater endurance capacity," the study states.
Whether similar effects would occur in humans is speculative at this point. Furthermore, more epicatechin is not necessarily better. On the contrary, high levels could alter the body's response, overloading the muscle receptors.
Villarreal recommends that athletes eat half of one square of a typical dark chocolate bar (milk chocolate is highly processed and destroys epicatechin) and try to determine whether it intensifies their workouts. Let us know by posting on our Facebook page or tweeting us at @STACKMedia.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock