A recent symposium at the American College of Sports Medicine 58th Annual Meeting June 2, 2011 and other recent studies show that chocolate improves endurance training in mice and humans. Taking small amounts of a chocolate extract, called epicatechin, twice a day for two weeks shortened recovery from intense exercise and increased endurance in mice (Journal of Physiology, July 25, 2011). Drinking chocolate milk after all- out exercising helped athletes recover faster and cycle faster afterwards (Journal of Strength Conditioning Research, May 2011).
These studies do not encourage you to take chocolate just before competitions. They show that chocolate helps you to recover faster from hard exercise, and that you may benefit from taking small amounts of chocolate daily during hard training. All athletic training is done by taking a harder workout on one day, feeling sore on the next and taking easier workouts for as many days as it takes for the soreness to go away. If you can recover faster, you can do more intense training and be a better athlete.
Your body requires oxygen to convert food to energy to power your muscles during exercise. The limiting factor to how fast you can run or cycle, and how much force your muscles can generate, is the time it takes to move oxygen from your lungs into your muscles. The aim of all athletic training is to increase your body's ability to convert food to energy with the least amount of oxygen. Anything that increases oxygen supply or decreases oxygen needs will make you faster and stronger.
Your muscles convert food to energy primarily in your mitochondria, small chambers numbering from a few to thousands inside your muscles. Anything that grows new mitochondria or enlarges existing ones will make you faster and stronger. The cocoa bean contains chemicals called epicatechins that stimulate your muscles to grow and produce mitochondria. It takes only small amounts, taken regularly, to do this.
However, pure chocolate is very bitter, so manufacturers add huge amounts of sugar and saturated fats that should not be taken when you are not exercising. Eating refined sugar when you are not exercising causes a high rise in blood sugar that can damage every cell in your body and saturated fats from animals block insulin receptors to prevent insulin from clearing sugar from your bloodstream to raise blood sugar levels even higher.
• You can eat small amounts of sweetened chocolate when you are exercising.
• You should not eat sweetened chocolate when you are not exercising.
• You can eat chocolate every day that you exercise, particularly on your intense exercise days.
• You should take only small amounts as more is not more effective in hastening recovery. A reasonable daily amount would be about five grams of dark chocolate (1/6th of an ounce) per day.