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Can chocolate help you cycle faster?

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A study undertaken at London’s Kingston University has found that dark chocolate could help give sports enthusiasts an extra edge in their fitness training.

In the study, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, the researchers iteam corraled a group of nine amateur cyclists. After completing an initial fitness test to establish a baseline for comparison, the participants were split into two groups.

The first group was asked to replace one of their normal daily snacks with 40g (about 4 squares) of flavonol-rich dark chocolate for two weeks, while the other participants served as the control, substituting 40g of white chocolate for one of their daily snacks.

The effects of the athletes’ daily chocolate consumption were then measured in a series of cycling exercise tests in the sports performance laboratory at the University’s Penrhyn Road campus. The cyclists’ heart rates and oxygen consumption levels were measured during moderate exercise and in time trials. After a seven-day interval, the groups then switched chocolate types and the two-week trial and subsequent exercise tests were repeated.

After eating dark chocolate, VO2 Max increased by 6 percent compared to base line values, and slightly more than increases from white chocolate consumption over the same period. While the study was highly limited, there’s evidence here to suggest cocoa consumption could contribute to gas exchange threshold and two-minute time trial performance.

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

“From a performance perspective, making an athlete more efficient can have major advantages in long duration steady-state exercise,” sport analysis lecturer James Brouner said. “With so many athletes consuming beetroot juice to achieve this gain but complaining of the palatability, dark chocolate could have a similar effect but with the additional benefit of tasting good too.

“When performing endurance-based activity, being as economical as possible in energy provision is key to enhancing your performance. From our results, the consumption of dark chocolate has altered the participants’ response to the activity and therefore could enhance their endurance performance.”

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