A study found that people could effectively exercise for longer after eating dark chocolate

Dark chocolate provides a similar boost to beetroot for athletes, according to a study by Rishikesh Kankesh Patel, a sports scientist at Kingston University.

Long heralded for its benefits on cardiovascular health, dark chocolate contains a substance called epicatechin – a type of flavanol found in the cacao bean – that increases nitric oxide production in the body in the same way as the popular root vegetable.

Patel recruited nine competitive cyclists to test whether chocolate might help to dilate blood vessels and reduce oxygen consumption, thereby providing a performance-enhancing benefit similar to that shown to be achieved through beet extract.

Volunteers were split into two groups – one asked to replace a single daily snack with  40g of a dark chocolate known to be rich in flavanols for two weeks, the other participants to substitute 40g of white chocolate for one of their daily snacks as a control.

Results, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, found that the chocolate eaters used less oxygen when cycling at a moderate pace and also covered more distance in a two-minute flat-out time trial.

“Both dark chocolate and beetroot juice are known to increase nitric oxide, which is the major mechanism we believe is behind these results,” Mr Patel said.

“We found that people could effectively exercise for longer after eating dark chocolate – something that’s not been established before in this way.”

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