Written by: Sedra Jundi & Julia Hanna, MSc., R.D , May 2020
Wondering what makes dark chocolate a good pre-workout option?
Well besides its heavenly taste, dark chocolate is loaded with compounds that have beneficial effects on our bodies.
These compounds include:
Cocoa beans contain epicatechin which boosts the production of nitric oxide gas. This gas targets our blood vessels, helping them expand, allowing more blood to be carried away from our heart to the rest of the organs in our bodies. Hence, dark chocolate not only enhances blood flow and boosts our performance, but can also lower blood pressure (1,2).
Dark chocolate is also a source of caffeine (25mg of caffeine in 70% cacao dark chocolate). The darker the chocolate the higher the caffeine content. Caffeine is a stimulant that improves our mental alertness and muscle contraction during a workout. That being said, dark chocolate may in turn improve our overall performance by increasing our endurance levels and delaying fatigue (3).
Cacao beans contain theobromine, a compound associated with numerous health benefits. Interestingly enough, this compound is chemically similar in structure to caffeine making it also a great stimulant; thus, giving you an additional mental and physical energy boost. To add on, Theobromine has also shown to lower blood pressure, enhance blood flow and improve blood cholesterol levels (4).
Dark chocolate is also a source of serotonin, the hormone that makes dopamine (a.k.a “the feel good” compound), best known for its mood enhancing properties. Dark chocolate may also increase our endorphin levels, a hormone that lowers stress and pain and induces the feeling of euphoria. So by munching on a few pieces of dark chocolate before a workout, your body will associate the happy feelings with the workout, in turn creating a more excited mindset towards exercising (4).
How much chocolate should you be eating ?
Research appears to agree that consuming around 2 squares (~57 grams) of dark chocolate 2 hours before a workout is sufficient to boost our athletic performance (5). In fact, cyclists who consumed dark chocolate were able to cover more grounds efficiently (i.e. less oxygen) over a short period of time when compared to the white chocolate group (6).
What are the healthiest chocolates to eat?
When it comes to choosing a dark chocolate, aim for the following:
- Go for a dark chocolate with a high percentage of cacao solids, at least 70% (6).
- Choose ones that contain minimal added sugars (i.e. no more than 5 grams) or ones naturally sweetened using stevia (6).
- Make sure the cacao powder used is not “ Dutch processed” or “processed with alkali,” as these processes can eliminate the epicatechin content (7).
A great example would be our delicious Bean Bark as it is made with 73% dark chocolate, and is packed with protein, iron, and fiber, making it the perfect pre-workout snack!
So next time you’re prepping yourself to workout, don’t forget to grab a few pieces of Bean Bark 2 hours before to get some of the amazing heart, performance and mood enhancing benefits while enjoying its decadent taste!
Hooper, L., Kay, C., Abdelhamid, A., Kroon, P. A., Cohn, J. S., Rimm, E. B., & Cassidy, A. (2012). Effects of chocolate, cocoa, and flavan-3-ols on cardiovascular health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 95(3), 740–751. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.023457
Magrone, T., Russo, M. A., & Jirillo, E. (2017). Cocoa and Dark Chocolate Polyphenols: From Biology to Clinical Applications. Frontiers in Immunology, 8. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2017.00677
Dietitians of Canada. (2016). Sports Nutrition. Retrieved May 23, 2020, from https://www.pennutrition.com/searchdispatch.aspx?fn=viewtr&trid=24489
Allgrove, J. E., & Davison, G. (2018). Chocolate/Cocoa Polyphenols and Oxidative Stress. Polyphenols: Mechanisms of Action in Human Health and Disease, 207–219. doi: 10.1016/b978-0-12-813006-3.00016-7
Allgrove, J., Farrell, E., Gleeson, M., Williamson, G., & Cooper, K. (2011). Regular Dark Chocolate Consumption’s Reduction of Oxidative Stress and Increase of Free-Fatty-Acid Mobilization in Response to Prolonged Cycling. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 21(2), 113–123. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.21.2.113
Davison, G., Callister, R., Williamson, G., Cooper, K. A., & Gleeson, M. (2011). The effect of acute pre-exercise dark chocolate consumption on plasma antioxidant status, oxidative stress and immunoendocrine responses to prolonged exercise. European Journal of Nutrition, 51(1), 69–79. doi: 10.1007/s00394-011-0193-4
Fryxell, D. (2020, April 29). Dark Chocolate Benefits for Brain Health. Retrieved May 25, 2020, from https://universityhealthnews.com/daily/memory/dark-chocolate-benefits-for-brain-health/