Muscle Menu: Pre-Workout Dark Chocolate

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I’ll be perfectly honest: I love chocolate. And when I want to have a cheat treat, I often grab a Cadbury Fruit & Nut Bar.

But that’s milk chocolate, and it’s not the healthiest thing you can eat. Dark chocolate, on the other hand, is a true super food. (I’m talking about dark chocolate that’s about 70% cocoa or more.) The health benefits of dark chocolate are well documented: reduced risk of both cancer and heart disease among them.

But dark chocolate is also a performance-enhancer that warrants inclusion in your pre-workout supplement regimen. First off, it can boost nitric oxide (NO) levels. More than that, a recent study from Aberystwyth University (Wales) finds another reason to add dark chocolate to your pre-workout shake: better muscle recovery and growth!

The researchers had men consume either 100 grams (about 3.5 oz.) of 70% cocoa dark chocolate or a control bar before pedaling on a stationary cycle for 2.5 hours at a moderate pace. They measured the subjects’ blood glucose and insulin levels, as well as markers of oxidative stress. They reported in an issue of the European Journal of Nutrition that when the subjects consumed the dark chocolate before the workout they were able to better maintain their blood glucose levels, had higher insulin levels and experienced less oxidative stress.

Jim’s Take-Home Point:

These results suggest that adding about 3 ounces of dark chocolate or 1/4 cup of cocoa powder that’s at least 70% cocoa (or cacao) to your pre-workout meal or shake can provide a number of benefits for muscle growth, strength and endurance. The ability to better maintain blood glucose levels means that you’ll have more energy to keep you training intensity up.

When to have your dark chocolate around workouts is simple: Whenever you take your other pre-workout supplements (Pre JYM and Pro JYM before training).

For taste reasons, you probably don’t want to throw chocolate or cocoa powder in with your Pre JYM, which is fruit/citrus flavored. But dark chocolate/cocoa tastes great with any flavor of Pro JYM (Chocolate Cookie Crunch, Cookie & Cream, S’mores or Vanilla). Of course, if your dark chocolate source is 3 ounces in bar form, it’s probably easiest to just eat it separately from your shake instead of trying to crumble it up and add it to your shake. A 1/4 cup of cocoa powder, however, will be best thrown into your shaker cup with Pro JYM.

REFERENCE:

Davison, G., et al. The effect of acute pre-exercise dark chocolate consumption on plasma antioxidant status, oxidative stress and immunoendocrine responses to prolonged exercise. European Journal of Nutrition, in press, 2011.