One Major Effect of Taking Cocoa Supplements, New Study Says
Putting cocoa powder into your pre-workout smoothie may do more than satisfy your chocolate craving, according to a study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology. Researchers suggest it could help increase blood flow, which not only reduces the risk of blood clots but may also boost exercise performance.
That's because there's a bioactive compound in cocoa powder—and dark chocolate, but to a lesser extent—called cocoa flavanols which contribute to better oxygen uptake and blood flow into the muscles, according to lead researcher Simon Marwood, Ph.D., associate professor in sport science at Liverpool Hope University in the U.K.
Being able to improve oxygen uptake provides advantages like greater power and less fatigue during exercise, he says, as well as better recovery from high-intensity exercise and more efficient utilization of fats and carbohydrates.
The recent study involved 17 middle-aged participants who received either 400 milligrams of cocoa flavanols or a placebo for seven days. At the end of that week, they completed a series of moderate- and high-intensity exercise tests to assess how well their bodies utilized oxygen during exercise.
Those in the flavanols group showed a significantly faster increase in oxygen consumption, which meant they could tolerate exercise better—and tended to enjoy their workouts more as well, says Marwood. Although the sample size was small, he says the results are notable and could be the basis for further research.
"Previous studies have shown that when you slow the rate of oxygen consumption, it causes you to become tired sooner during exercise, which is limiting," he says. "This study is encouraging because it shows that a simple change like having some cocoa flavanols could provide a boost."
Also, previous research provides another reason to consider adding flavanols to your drink: better blood pressure under stress. A study in Nutrients found that participants who had a cocoa drink when feeling stressed had better blood vessel function than those who didn't.
Although there are flavanols in dark chocolate, Marwood says that these results don't mean you should load up on chocolate bars as a blood flow booster since chocolate does contain sugar and fat—by contrast, cocoa flavanol supplements, which are in powder form, don't usually have those ingredients.
For more, be sure to check out Dark Chocolate Is Keto, and These Are the 5 Best Brands to Know.