Dark chocolate, a good addition for athletes

If you are an athlete, forget the bitter taste of dark chocolate and start eating it for the various health benefits it will give you.

Dark chocolate is a rich source of magnesium, which helps reduce muscle cramps, and when consumed in a post-workout meal will aid in recovery as it calms and relaxes the muscles in the body.   -  AP (Representational image)

“ Oh delicious chocolate, why so tempting when I can’t eat you?”

“I wish I could eat chocolate, but I am on a diet!”

Do you find yourself in these tough situations? Blame the chocolate and move on? Don’t worry I’ve got your back! The next time you eat chocolate you will be reminding yourself of all the reasons why it is good for you.

Why did chocolate get the “bad reputation”?

In the early days, chocolate was consumed as a melted drink and sold as a pitch-black block, but a Swiss confectioner found a way to make solid chocolate bars with milk and that’s how we got milk chocolate! And there, my dear readers, is where the problem started. The milk chocolate was a cheaper alternative to the rich luxurious dark chocolate made from excellent cocoa beans.

The milk used to prepare the chocolate, added the extra fat, sugar and calories to the otherwise healthy dark chocolate. This added to the “bad reputation” of the chocolate with people gaining weight, getting acne, or having gut and heart problems.

Now you may counter by saying that milk chocolate is so tasty, it just hugs your mouth when it melts, but if you want to enjoy the health benefits of chocolate you have to adapt to the original way of eating chocolate i.e., dark chocolate made from cocoa beans without the milk.

As I always say, athletes do not have taste buds! They should eat scientifically and as per their bio-individuality. Even though chocolate has a lot of emotional attachment to it and is seen as a comfort food, if you are an athlete, forget the bitter taste of dark chocolate and start eating it for the various health benefits it will give you.

Dark chocolate to the rescue

Dark chocolate is not the most commonly used chocolate as the higher concentration of antioxidants gives it the distinct bitter taste. However, its caloric density is still lower than the white chocolate. The active component “polyphenols” in cocoa beans gives dark chocolate most of its health benefits. It has anti-aging benefits and helps regulate blood pressure. It is also rich in magnesium which is good for post exercise recovery and anti-inflammation.

Three agencies of polyphenols identified in cocoa beans are as follows: catechins (37%), anthocyanidins (four%), and proanthocyanidins (58%); those flavonoids are the most plentiful phytonutrients in cocoa beans.

Eating dark chocolate as a daily snack could help boost athletic performance, here’s how:

1. Dark chocolates have ample polyphenols which triggers the Nitric Oxide synthase cycle, which, if simply put, leads to vasodilation and as a result increases the supply of oxygen and blood flow to the working muscle. For an athlete this leads to improved endurance, less fatigue and enhanced aerobic capacity.

2. Dark chocolate is also a rich source of magnesium, which helps reduce muscle cramps, and when consumed in a post-workout meal will aid in recovery as it calms and relaxes the muscles in the body.

3. Dark chocolate also enhances mitochondrial biosynthesis, meaning it increases the number of mitochondria in the body. Mitochondria are the powerhouses of energy, and the more mitochondria present in your body the better it is to develop endurance, as it leads to a greater glucose uptake by muscle. The Flavanols in cocoa beans promote mitochondrial biogenesis in skeletal muscle.

4. Epicatechins and other catechin in dark chocolate reduces inflammation. Therefore, dark chocolate after a workout may help with muscle recovery. The catechins in dark chocolate may also give your brain a boost, and that may indirectly help your performance by motivating you.

What scientific evidence has to say about dark chocolate

A scientific study result showed that athletes who consumed dark chocolate for three months showed a 17% increase in VO2 max, compared to placebo. The dark chocolate groups also experienced a rise in HDL and a drop in blood triglycerides.

A study conducted by Rishikesh Patel in novice cyclists found that dark chocolate gives comparative advantages to beetroot juice, as it contains a type of flavanol called epicatechin, that likewise beetroot increases the nitric oxide creation in the body. The study results showed that cyclists who consumed 40g of dark chocolate as compared to 40g of white chocolate, utilised less oxygen while cycling at a moderate intensity and could cover more distance in two minutes.

To conclude, this indicates that an athlete can consume up to 20g or 2 squares of dark chocolate everyday to get the desired benefits from dark chocolate.

Word of caution

Around 70% or more cocoa solids are suggested and 85% is superior as it has more cocoa and less sugar. It is only good for you, if you don’t consume it with milk or milk items as they will decrease the retention of the solid flavanols! Dark chocolate may also contain less fat and sugar, but it is important to check the label. The cocoa content of commercial dark chocolates can vary from 30% (candy darkish) to 70%, 75%, or even above 80% for extremely dark bars. However, the bitterness caused by polyphenols makes unprocessed cocoa beans rather unpalatable. So manufacturers may process it, and decrease the polyphenol content by 10 times, so always check for the label.

The excellent dark chocolate usually has chocolate liquor or cocoa listed as the first component. There can be numerous types of cocoa listed, which includes cocoa powder, cocoa nibs and cocoa butter. All of these are proper additions to darkish chocolate. Sometimes different elements like sugars, emulsifiers are brought to darkish chocolate to enhance its look, flavour and shelf lifestyles. Some of these substances are harmless, even as others can have a terrible impact on the overall quality of the chocolate.

Checklist to choose the right dark chocolate

  • High in cocoa: 70% or higher cocoa percentage.
  • Cocoa comes first: Cocoa or a form of cocoa is the first ingredient.
  • No unnecessary ingredients: Avoid dark chocolate that contains trans fat, milk, artificial flavourings, high amounts of sugar and other unnecessary ingredients.
  • No alkali processing: Alkali processing is also known as Dutching. Avoid chocolate processed this way.
  • Fair-trade and organic: This type of dark chocolate is more likely to be high-quality, ethically sourced and pesticide-free.

Remember that too much chocolate can be bad, so control the portions, eat in moderation and boost your athletic performance. Lastly, dark chocolate isn’t for everybody, for some it may actually cause migraines, acid reflux and heartburns. If you see any of these symptoms post chocolate consumption consult your Sports Nutritionist for an alternative.

Here are two recipes which you can make to incorporate dark chocolate in your diet, if you don’t like to eat plain dark chocolate bar squares.

Everybody from Virat Kohli to Yuvraj Singh likes dark chocolate. To all the retired athletes in the twilight years, it’s the dark chocolate that has a lot of anti-aging effects. Replace your evening peg with a mug of dark chocolate in almond milk.

1. Chocolate chia seed pudding

Ingredients:

Cocoa powder (unsweetened) organic is best, almond milk, chia seeds, honey, dark chocolate (>70%) for grating.

Instructions:

  • In a medium-sized mixing container, whisk together all of the ingredients until the cocoa powder is thoroughly blended.
  • Refrigerate your chia pudding for at least 2 hours after covering it. For the best taste, refrigerate the mix overnight. It will be thicker and tastier as it sits longer.
  • Top it up with grated dark chocolate, berries, nuts or seeds, and enjoy as a post workout snack or as a dessert.

2. Hot chocolate

Ingredients:

Milk (1 cup), dark chocolate (melted — 1 cup), unsweetened cocoa powder (2-3 tbsp), sugar (10 grams or you can use a tablespoon of honey), cinnamon (a pinch), turmeric (a pinch — helps in anti-inflammation).

Instructions:

  • In a vessel, bring milk to a boil, then add dark chocolate. Stir everything together thoroughly.
  • Add cinnamon, sugar, and cocoa powder in a mixing bowl.
  • Mix well to properly blend, then pour into a cup while still hot.
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