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Chocolate: A Healthy Snack for Athletes?

Are you an athlete?


From professionals and elite-level competitors all the way down to high schoolers and YMCA leaguers, committed-to-health athletes are adding dark chocolate to their routines, and you should consider it too.


Here are a few potential benefits that come with adding a healthy dark chocolate to your diet.


Chocolate for Athletes


Athletes have often been told to stay away from chocolate - and with good intentions by those giving that advice (coaches and trainers). Traditional chocolate (in the US in particular) is loaded with processed sugar and preservatives and lacked any substantial amount of the real cacao ingredients that actually make chocolate healthy.


As an athlete, it’s important to maintain optimal health at all times, and we ought to (re)consider chocolate as one of the excellent 'athlete snacks' that it can be. Selecting what food we put into our bodies is one of the most direct ways we impact our health, and therefore, our overall athletic performance.



Picking the Proper Chocolate


First and foremost, it’s important to find a high-quality dark chocolate that is low in sugar, preservatives, and additives. Cacao, the primary ingredient in these sort of chocolate bars, is what contains the abundance of antioxidants, minerals, and nutrients that make chocolate a useful addition to an athlete’s diet. Therefore, it’s essential to find a chocolate bar made with properly grown and minimally processed cacao. The easiest to identify is the "Organic" designation. From a farming and sustainability standpoint, the organic title ensures that the chocolate will be of decent caliber. Worth noting: there are quality cacao farms/sources that practice organic farming (or better) that are not certified as such, but they are harder to identify. Beyond looking for the organic label, taking a look at the ingredients will give you plenty of differentiating information as well. When looking at a dark chocolate bar, here's what you do and don't want to see as an ingredient if you want the HEALTHIEST bar possible:


Top notch, healthy chocolate:

Cacao, cacao powder, cacao butter, honey or maple syrup -- look for raw and organic of these as well

Eh, could be better (usually for scalability/profit margins):

Chocolate liquor (essentially 'diluted cacao'), cane sugar, coconut sugar, soy lecithin

Avoid:

Sugar, natural and artificial sweeteners, additives, food coloring/dyes, preservatives or anything you can't pronounce.


Side note: Although not perfectly healthy all the time, by seeking sustainably sourced cacao, fair-trade or other, you'll certainly be ingesting something of higher quality than the cheap, sugary mainstream chocolates (cough, cough, Hershey's, cough) that we see every day.


Now, on to the good-for-you stuff.


Antioxidants for Recovery

Cacao is packed with antioxidants, particularly flavonoids and polyphenols. Like other antioxidants, these compounds bind to free radicals, thus decreasing harm to cells and increasing cellular repair. As a result, flavonoids help decrease inflammation and aid muscle tissues in rapid rebuilding. This means that dark chocolate can help your body recover more quickly from workouts, muscular fatigue/stress, or injuries.


Improved Circulation and Heart Health

Additionally, the Flavanols in cacao increase the nitric acid in your blood, which can increase circulation throughout the body. The Flavanols relax blood vessels and arteries, thus allowing for increased blood flow to the heart, lungs, and brain. This increased circulation can bring oxygen and nutrients to all parts of the body, increasing tissue health and performance in athletic competition.


Improved Lung Capacity

It is notable that cacao also contains anti-asthmatic and increased lung function compounds, Theobromine and Theophylline. These two compounds allow your airways to relax and lungs to expand, increasing the circulation of oxygen to the body. Combined with its anti-inflammatory properties, cacao helps boost lung function in response to the high demands of athletic competition.


Sustained Energy

Cacao contains a caffeine-like substance, a stimulant, theobromine. Combined with tryptophan, which is converted to serotonin (also found in cacao), cacao provides sustained energy and lifts mood, naturally, without a crash. Therefore, eating a couple ounces of chocolate before a workout can increase your energy and stamina!


More and more studies are pointing to the positive circulatory, anti-inflammatory, and energy-enhancing benefits of chocolate, making it a great pre-, post- or intra-workout snack. You could also pair chocolate with fruit and nuts for sustained energy, or with spices like ginger and cinnamon, which provide anti-inflammatory benefits, like our team does here at Much Love Chocolate. Stick to dark chocolate between 80-90%, with minimal sugar and processed ingredients, and enjoy a square or two every day for long-term improvements in performance and overall health.


 

Blog researched and written by Abbey Cmiel

January 17, 2020

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