How Chocolate Can Enhance Your Exercise Routine

Monday, 08 Aug 2011 11:02 AM

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Chocolate lovers have been rejoicing since moderate amounts of dark chocolate were proven to lower risk for high blood pressure and heart disease. Now, a new study suggests that a sweet tooth can also enhance your exercise performance, reports the New York Times.

Scientists at the University of California, San Diego gave middle-aged, sedentary male mice a purified, liquid form of cacao’s nutritional ingredient epicatechin. The mice were then placed on treadmills for a short period of time each day as part of a light exercise routine.

A separate group of control mice was given equal amounts of water and daily exercise.

After two weeks, both groups of mice completed a treadmill test where each mouse ran to exhaustion.

Consistently, the control mice that drank only water over the two-week testing period were the first to reach exhaustion during the final treadmill test. Those mice receiving the purified epicatechin dose were able to cover 50 percent more distance than the control mice.

Muscle biopsies of the animals’ back legs helped to explain the dominance of the mice receiving the cacao ingredient. The muscles of these mice contained new capillaries and biochemical markers that showed increased production of mitochondria, the structure in cells that produces cellular energy. The increased production of mitochondria created a healthier and more fatigue-resistant muscle.

“It seems likely that muscle cells contain specific receptors for epicatechin,” said Dr. Francisco Villarreal, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego and one of the authors of the study.

But, Villarreal stresses that should dark chocolate have an identical effect on human exercise performance, the effect would be maximized by mere microdoses of cacao. “More is not better,” he said. “More could lessen or even undo.”

“Extrapolating from his group’s mouse data,” he said, five grams of dark chocolate daily, or just a sixth of an ounce — about half of one square of a typical chocolate bar — is probably a reasonable human dose if your aim is to intensify the effects of a workout.”

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