What are the health benefits and risks of eating chocolate for runners? Is dark or light chocolate better? And what do we need to consider before we indulge? Read this blog post to find out more.
Chocolate is high in fat and sugar and can cause weight gain, but it also has health benefits and could even improve your running.
The health benefits of chocolate
Dark chocolate could help boost athletic performance
A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that chocolate could help give sports enthusiasts an extra edge in their fitness training.
The researchers at London’s Kingston University discovered that dark chocolate has similar benefits to beetroot juice, which has been shown to improve athletic performance because it is rich in nitrates.
The study’s lead researcher Rishikesh Kankesh Patel said: “Beetroot juice is rich in nitrates, which are converted to nitric oxide in the body. This dilates blood vessels and reduces oxygen consumption – allowing athletes to go further for longer.”
After eating dark chocolate, cyclists in the study used less oxygen than cyclists who had been eating a white chocolate supplement, when they were cycling at a moderate pace. They also covered more distance in a two-minute time trial. The study concluded that dark chocolate reduces the oxygen cost of moderate intensity cycling.
Chocolate may help reduce bad Cholesterol
According to a study published in The Journal of Nutrition regularly eating chocolate may, as part of a low-fat diet, help to reduce bad cholesterol and improve blood pressure.
The researchers were looking specifically at chocolate containing plant sterols (PS) and cocoa flavanols (CF) to see if they made a different to cholesterol levels.
They found that chocolate containing plant sterols and cocoa flavanols may help to support cardiovascular health through the lowering of cholesterol.
Chocolate may help reduce heart disease
A study published in the British Medical Journal evaluated the association of eating chocolate with the risk of developing cardiometabolic disorders such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Based on observational evidence they found that levels of chocolate consumption seem to lower the risk of developing heart disease by one-third. They concluded that further studies were necessary to confirm a potentially beneficial effect of chocolate consumption.
Reduced risk of stroke
A study published in the journal Heart examined the association between chocolate intake and the risk of future cardiovascular events such as heart disease and stroke.
The study tracked the long-term health of 25,000 men and women and found that people with a higher chocolate consumption may have a lower risk of future cardiovascular events.
Chocolate may improve cognitive function
While many studies have looked at the impact chocolate can have on the cardiovascular system, fewer studies have looked at its impact on cognitive function. However, according to a study published in the journal Appetite, eating chocolate at least once a week could improve cognitive function.
Should runners eat dark or light chocolate?
Dark chocolate tends to be healthier. It has more cocoa, which means higher levels of antioxidants and iron. And, as the studies above show, dark chocolate may help improve athletic performance. Milk chocolate may have a higher milk content which includes protein to help muscles recover after injury.
However, both may be high in sugars and other ingredients which vary from brand to brand, so it’s important to check food labels.
In my next blog post I test out some dark chocolate made by a runner for runners.
What are the risks of eating chocolate?
Chocolate can cause weight gain
Chocolate can be high in fat, sugar and calories so if you are trying to lose weight it’s not the best choice of food. The empty calories in a chocolate bar may cause you to put on the pounds.
Sugars can cause tooth decay
Anything with a high sugar content, including chocolate, can cause tooth decay.
Risk of headaches
Cocoa contains caffeine and other chemicals which can, if eaten in large amounts, trigger headaches, and may cause sleeplessness, nervousness, and a fast heartbeat.
It contains metals that may be toxic
Some chocolate contains high levels of toxins such as cadmium and lead, which are toxic to the body, particularly the kidneys, bones and other body tissues. A study published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis showed that both raw cocoa and processed chocolate had levels of cadmium and nickel that were unsafe.
The metals accumulate in the body, which could cause permanent damage. Some studies have suggested that chocolate may cause poor bone structure and osteoporosis, a weakening of the bones.
Things to consider before indulging
When it comes to chocolate the advice is conflicting. While some research suggests it can have a positive impact on health, it’s also been shown to have negative effects.
Follow the advice of ‘everything in moderation’ and check the food labels of your chocolate. It’s fine to indulge but it helps to know what you are consuming and the impact the ingredients could have on your health.
Look out for my next blog post where I test some dark chocolate made by a runner for runners. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it!