Here’s how to get the most out of your favourite treat.
Want a treat that treats you back—and can help you make the most out of your workout? Look no further than dark chocolate. Yep, really: Science is in your corner on this one.
Chocolate has two properties that make it good for your workout—carbs and antioxidants, says Natalie Rizzo, R.D., author of The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide For Every Runner.
Any type of chocolate—white, milk, or dark—has a good amount of carbs, due to its sugar content. But you don’t need to go overboard with the added sugar. So the darker the chocolate is, the better choice it’ll be, since it contains fewer grams of sugar. (About half of a dark chocolate bar with 85 percent cocoa has about 15 grams of carbs and 230 calories, Rizzo says.) Plus, darker chocolate has more antioxidants than milk chocolate, too.
But it’s not just about hitting the vending machine for a king-size bar before your run and hoping for the best. Read on to find out how chocolate can boost your workout—and how you can fuel up the right way.
Increase Your Aerobic Capacity
Research found that consuming dark chocolate can help improve your VO2 max, or how efficiently you can use oxygen. When sedentary people consumed 20 grams of dark chocolate daily for three months, they experienced a 17 percent increase in their VO2 max.
One possible reason? The researchers believe that epicatechin, a flavonol in cacao, can help the mitochondria—or the powerhouse of your cells—function more efficiently.
Chocolate’s antioxidants, known as flavonoids, help reduce inflammation. While dark chocolate has more than milk chocolate, both contain the compounds, explains Rizzo.
“Since running causes acute inflammation in the muscles and joints, eating chocolate before or after a workout may help reduce the inflammation and the slight pain associated with it,” Rizzo says.
Plus, two recent studies show that flavonoids are beneficial in boosting brain and cardio health.
Get Your Mind Right
There’s a reason eating chocolate makes you feel amazing: Cacao contains the mood-regulating hormone serotonin. The darker the chocolate, the more you get, according to research from Spain.
A recent study, published in Depression and Anxiety, found that people who ate dark chocolate over the course of two days were 70 percent less likely to report any depressive symptoms than those who didn’t eat any chocolate.
Plus, it can help you get stoked for your workouts, says Ryan Johnson, a strength and conditioning coach and owner of fitness company HOMAGE, who has trained clients like Scarlett Johansson, Ryan Gosling, and Sebastian Stan. He uses dark chocolate to put clients in a vacation mindset and get them ready to crush their workouts.
“Giving yourself a little treat of dark chocolate before your workout starts to create positive feedback loop,” he says. “At some point, you can’t tell if excitement is comes from the chocolate or the workout, which can help form a habit-based solution to fitness.”
Caffeine found in dark chocolate may allow you to run longer. A study published in Sports Medicine found that ingesting caffeine enhances both strength and endurance. Plus, consuming caffeine with carbs—a combo you see in chocolate—can help boost your muscle recovery after a hard workout.
Just make sure you are chomping it down in a rush, says Eric Johnson, strength and conditioning coach and owner of fitness company HOMAGE. Practicing mindfulness and taking time to enjoy the chocolate will help you get set to tackle your workout ahead.
How to Fuel With Chocolate
Chocolate can be a great source of fuel if you do it right—here are some tips to keep in mind.
Since chocolate is higher in fat than other carb sources, keep the portion small (think a quarter of a bar). Fat takes longer to break down than carbs for use as fuel, compared to a simple sugar or piece of fruit. If you’re eating chocolate preworkout, try to do so about two hours before your sweat session.
If you are using it for recovery, stick to 30 to 60 grams, which can help replace glycogen stores after a workout, Rizzo says. Pair it with some protein, like a glass of milk or some nut butter. The protein-carb combo is essential for muscle recovery.
Chocolate can also be a trigger for those who suffer from acid reflux, so if you start noticing symptoms like heartburn or indigestion during a workout, you may want to avoid it as preworkout fuel.