It’s good news all round for chocolate-loving athletes! Recent studies show that epicatechin, a type of flavenol found in the cacao bean, increases nitric oxide production in the body. This dilates blood vessels and reduces oxygen consumption, thereby helping you to exercise for longer.
But which chocolate to choose?
Can you tell your cacao from your cocoa?
Cacao is the purest form of chocolate you can buy. It’s the generic term for any product which comes from cacao beans; cacao nibs, cacao butter, cacao mass or paste and cacao powder.
Raw cacao powder is from cold-pressed, unroasted cocoa beans, which keeps the living enzymes in the cocoa and removes the fat, the cacao butter. It can taste quite bitter.
For a nutritious and warming post winter workout drink, try something like Hassalacher’s 100% cacao drinking chocolate, melted into hot milk and sweetened with honey. We love it at Go Faster Food. Packed with an excellent carbohydrate:protein ratio to help muscles recover and repair, and to replenish glycogen stores, it’s a treat which works a treat on helping your body recover after exercise.
Cocoa powder is raw cacao that’s heated to a high temperature. This unfortunately reduces the nutritional value of the chocolate, but if you choose a variety without added sugars, milk or oil (cocoa rather than drinking chocolate, for instance) it’s the next best thing to raw cacao.
Dark Chocolate – 100% chocolate bars have with no added sugar, milk solids or emulsifiers. As these are added, the % of cacao solids is reduced, which is why you’ll find 70%, 85%, 90% on your chocolate bar wrapper.
Milk chocolate – the percentage of cocoa solids in milk chocolate is usually about 30-40%, but can have as little as 10%, as it is diluted with milk solids, sugar and cream; this is why it tastes less bitter, smoother and creamier than dark chocolate.
White chocolate – this doesn’t really count as ‘chocolate’ as such, as it contains no cocoa solids and is made with cocoa butter, sugar, milk solids or powder, and usually vanilla.
Of course, milk and white chocolate have the lowest nutritional benefit of all your chocolate choices!
* Scientists at London’s Kingston University asked amateur cyclists to eat a 40g bar of dark chocolate each day for two weeks and then measured their performance. Compared with their baseline scores, dark chocolate consumption increased the distance they were able to travel in a two minute sprint by 17 per cent.