A couple of weeks ago here on the SquashSkills blog we looked at the ‘benefits of beetroot’, and how it has the potential to boost physical performance – perfect for squash players looking for an extra edge on court. Another food that has recently been suggested to also have similar performance benefits, is dark chocolate.
Chocolate is obviously not generally considered the healthiest of snacks due mainly to the high sugar and fat content. The cocoa in chocolate has actually been linked with several health benefits however, with dark chocolate considered the best source due to its higher cocoa content (and generally lower sugar and fat levels).
Cocoa is a good source of iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc, as well as the antioxidants catechins and procyanidins. Higher cocoa content foodstuffs have also been linked with a beneficial effect on several markers of cardiovascular health.
The evidence for these health benefits from chocolate specifically is not conclusive however, and for most people, chocolate is still best only eaten very much in moderation due to the aforementioned sugar and fat content. The proposed mechanisms of effect are interesting however and certainly warrant further study.
But what about the proposed performance benefits for sportspeople from eating dark chocolate as a snack?
It had been theorised that dark chocolate may have similar beneficial effects as beetroot, due to the substance epicatechin – a type of flavanol found in the cacao bean which increases nitric oxide production in the body, the same mechanism by which beetroot supplies its performance-boosting effects.
A recent study at London’s Kingston University took a look at this in practice, with a group of cyclists tested both before and after a two week period of consuming a daily 40g snack of dark chocolate.
The researchers found that after the two-week intervention, the cyclists were able to cycle at a constant pace more efficiently, while also covering more distance in a flat out two-minute time trial.
These outcomes will be of obvious interest to squash players, where the economy of effort and the ability to keep working at a higher intensity for longer durations are key physical performance markers.
It’s important to note that this was only a small study and further research is ongoing, but it’s certainly an interesting finding. Backed up by the plausibility of the method of effect, these promising results will be music to the ears of those squash players with a sweet tooth, who are tired of drinking daily bottles of a rather unappetising beetroot juice!
B.Sc.(Hons), CSCS, NSCA-CPT, Dip. FTST
SquashSkills Fitness & Conditioning Director
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