Dark Chocolate Improves Exercise Performance

Chocolate Does More than Dessert

Fitness-minded people are very aware of the good, bad and ugly when it comes to best foods for a healthy body. Chocolate, especially dark chocolate is no longer banned and encouraged as part of a healthy diet. 

We have relaxed our nutritional denial of dark chocolate and now give high praise for its antioxidant health benefits. Past studies have already shown people who consume dark chocolate regularly reduce their risk of heart disease, hypertension, and stroke. 

Researchers are now turning their attention to how dark chocolate can improve exercise performance. A recent study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JSSN) has shown dark chocolate “may be an effective ergogenic aid for short-duration moderate intensity exercise.” This is exciting news for chocolate lovers.

Let's take a look at the research and how dark chocolate works in the body to improve our workouts.   

The Research

A broken bar of dark chocolate
Dark chocolate contains biologically active compounds. StockFood / Getty Images

The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition released the first study to examine the effects of dark chocolate on VO2 max (maximum oxygen the body uses during a period of exercise) and gas exchange threshold (GET). GET is a breath by breath value amount achieved by measuring carbon dioxide and oxygen uptake during exercise testing. 

The purpose of the research was to examine how eating dark chocolate improves GET and lowers the amount of oxygen used during moderate intensity cycling. Testing also examined how dark chocolate enhanced athletic performance overall during a sprint time trial. 

Research participants were healthy twenty-something moderately trained males. They were instructed to follow a specific clinical criterion before exercise testing. The cyclists were randomly assigned to consume either dark or white chocolate for 14 days prior to testing. 

The exercise challenge consisted of 20-minutes of endurance cycling at 80% GET followed by an all-out timed sprint. Thorough clinical records were kept throughout the testing period. 

How Does Dark Chocolate Improve Performance

Dark chocolate is shown to enhance our workouts through compounds improving body functioning.  

Dark chocolate contains a chemical compound called epicatechin. Epicatechin communicates to cells in our body to release nitric oxide (NO) gas in our bloodstream. The increased amount of NO in our body dilates vessels and creates better blood flow for gas exchange. One of the beneficial gases improved is oxygen uptake to working muscles. 

According to research results, regular consumption of dark chocolate significantly improved gas exchange threshold (GET) and decreased VO2 max (maximum oxygen body uses during a period of exercise). This means the body can perform more efficiently during moderate exercise and also noted was better fat oxidation (burning)

The European Journal of Nutrition has also published research on dark chocolate and exercise performance. According to the study, dark chocolate consumption showed a positive effect on insulin and glucose levels and improved antioxidant values. This means sugar levels were better managed at normal levels and reduced inflammation reported in the body.

The Journal of the American College of Nutrition published additional findings to support increased epicatechin concentrations in healthy adults. Dark chocolate has received numerous scientific endorsements as as an effective ergogenic aid. It is especially helpful for short-duration moderate intensity exercise like weight training.

The positive findings have stimulated more studies to confirm the ergogenic and health benefits of dark chocolate.

It is recommended to consume 70% dark chocolate and at a serving size of 1.5 ounces for best results. 


Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, Dark chocolate supplementation reduces the oxygen cost of moderate intensity cycling, Rishikesh Kankesh Patel et al., 12/15/15

Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Flavonoid-rich dark chocolate improves endothelial function and increases plasma epicatechin concentrations in healthy adults, Engler MB et al., 6/04

Acta Physiology, Effects of dietary nitrate on oxygen cost during exercise, Abstract, F. J. Larsen et al., 7/17/07

International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, Regular dark chocolate consumption's reduction of oxidative stress and increase of free-fatty-acid mobilization in response to prolonged cycling, Allgrove J et al., 4/11

European Journal of Nutrition, The effect of acute pre-exercise dark chocolate consumption on plasma antioxidant status, oxidative stress and immunoendocrine responses to prolonged exercise, Davison G et al., 2/12