If you are a fitness enthusiast or athlete, you know that getting an indulgence for the occasional break is great – especially if it is one you really like. Dark chocolate is among the most popular indulgences, and its numerous benefits are likely old news to you at this moment.
The numerous health benefits that dark chocolate offers are well known in the health community. Many runners, therefore, continue to embrace it eagerly – in some cases, a little too eagerly. It is not difficult to understand why this is the case: it tastes good and is a great treat to take occasionally.
With that said, what exactly are its benefits if you are a runner? Are its benefits applicable to promoting better performance in running? Is running and dark chocolate a perfect match?
The research supports dark chocolate indulgences, even for athletes. It is among the treats that are classified as ‘superfoods’, and its benefits are primarily due to the antioxidants you find in cocoa beans. Therefore, the darker the chocolate, the better it is for your running goals.
What is the best chocolate type that delivers the most benefits?
The first thing to clarify is the chocolate that specifically offers the most benefits to your health and fitness goals. If you are a major fan of milk or caramel chocolate, then there is some bad news for you here – the benefits do not apply in this case.
Many of the health benefits that are present in dark chocolate are due to the antioxidants that cocoa beans have, and processing removes them entirely – so darker chocolate is healthier. However, if the taste of a 90% or 85% dark chocolate bar is a bit of an acquired taste for you, it is still a good idea to get a bar with at least 70% cocoa content.
What other factors are important in choosing the best chocolate bars?
The other question is – what else should you look for in that chocolate bar? It is important to pay close attention to the list of ingredients before making a decision. As a general rule: the shorter the ingredient list is, the better the product.
You need to also ensure these elements are present:
- The cocoa liquor or cocoa (cocoa can come in a variety of forms) must be the first ingredient of the bar and must be at a very high percentage (minimum of 70%. Anything less is non-beneficial).
- Addition of other ingredients like milk fat (note that the bar must not contain other milk products) and soy lecithin (this is an emulsifying agent) does not necessarily make the dark chocolate better, and they are not essentials. However, many commercial brands will use them anyway, so feel free to use your own judgment on this.
- It is best to always choose bars that do not contain much sugar. While sugar helps to lessen the bitter taste of dark chocolate, you must always ensure that the sugar is among the last ingredients on the ingredient list. If this is not possible, select brands that use natural sweeteners instead, such as coconut nectar or stevia, rather than refined sugar.
- Any flavoring agents like oils, extracts, and spices will provide a distinct taste to the chocolate bar. While it is fine to consume flavored bars, it is best to go for organic rather than artificial flavors.
The advantages of dark chocolate for runners
It increases your VO2 Max
The consumption of dark chocolate can assist greatly in boosting your VO2 Max, which is a measure of how efficiently your body uses oxygen. The benefit also applies to sedentary people, as research has shown that daily consumption of 20g of dark chocolate for 3 months increases the VO2 Max by 17%.
The reason behind this is the content of epicatechin, which is a flavanol in cocoa beans. This assists the mitochondria in your cells to function more efficiently and utilize oxygen supplies better.
Helps to settle your mind
If you are in a bad mood, dark chocolate is among those treats that will help pick up your mood. This is due to the chocolate containing serotonin, which is a hormone that helps to balance mood – and the darker the chocolate is, the more serotonin you get.
A runner’s lifestyle is full of tough training sessions anyway, and it is important to incorporate some strategies to keep your mood in check. Eating a part of a dark chocolate bar before or after a run can improve your mindset, as well as boosting your energy. This will also improve your overall endurance and stamina levels.
It reduces inflammation
Dark chocolate contains high levels of antioxidants, which are also referred to as flavonoids. These help to reduce any inflammation in the joints and muscles, which is good news for fitness enthusiasts as it helps reduce muscle soreness and inflammation. The benefit applies regardless of whether you consume the chocolate before or after a workout session.
In addition to this, flavonoids are also highly efficient at maintaining cardiovascular health and boosting your brain, helping you stay more alert while running.
Dark chocolate contains caffeine, which can assist you in long-distance running. Moreover, caffeine helps in promoting endurance and strength, and also in muscle recovery after a running session or competition.
Antioxidants are compounds that protect the body from damage and inflammation through neutralizing free radicals, and they include phytochemical plant compounds, minerals, and vitamins. Dark chocolate particularly contains high antioxidant levels, through two groups: polyphenols, and flavonoids. In fact, the content of these two antioxidant groups is greater than what you get from tea and wine.
Types of chocolate
Profile and nutrient benefits
It has the highest percentage of cocoa butter and cocoa solids. Healthiest chocolate type, and comes in unsweetened, bittersweet, semi-sweet, and sweet varieties.Best for athletes due to anti-inflammatory properties.
70% cocoa (minimum)
Contains sugar, milk powder, and small amounts of cocoa butter and cocoa solids.Contains more protein and calcium due to the milk content.
45 to 50%
Mostly contains sugar and milk, with a very small quantity of cocoa butter. Unlike the other two, it does not contain cocoa solids.Least benefits, as it has negligible cocoa content. It is mostly used for desserts.
If you are a runner or general fitness enthusiast and want to apply the benefits of dark chocolate to your life, then you need to make a point of sticking to raw cocoa powder for maximum benefits. You can make it more interesting by adding it in your oatmeal or smoothie or eat some dark chocolate bars that have as high a percentage of cocoa as possible (at least 70%), and eat it at least 1 to 2 hours before your run or training session.