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Want To Boost Your Workout? Eat Chocolate

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Aired 8/8/11

UCSD research suggests eating dark chocolate can significantly boost your workout.

The history of chocolate goes back thousands of years.

There's evidence that shows the Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs worshiped cacao beans, which are used to make chocolate. They drank a beverage made from cacao that was thought to be medicinal and was often given to warriors to provide muscle strength.

Dr. Francisco Villarreal is a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego, and also considers himself a chocolate expert.

"There's historical anecdotes, going all the way back to Spanish Conquedro Hernan Cortez, where he noticed the Aztec warriors were able to endure huge amounts of physical stress just by eating cacao." Dr. Villarreal said.

Dr. Villarreal's research suggests there is truth to that belief. He studied the effects of chocolate on physical activity, the study was recently published in The Journal of Physiology.

He gave tiny amounts of epicatechin, a nutrient found in cocoa, to mice. He says eventually, the mice gained more muscle and grew to be stronger than the mice who didn't receive the compound.

Dr. Villarreal also noticed, there was an improvement in the heart's muscle function, as well as an increase in the number of mitochondria. Mitochondria are the cell's power generators.

"This, I think, underlines the benefits of epicatechin, on muscle function, " he continued.

Dr. Villarreal said what people need to take away from the research, is that, dark chocolate in small doses, can have a great impact on exercise.

"It's actually similar to what is said about red wine, where its recommended you drink 1 glass of red wine a day or fish eat one or two portions of fish a week, you get full benefits of eating fish, or in this case chocolate one very small piece a day, " Dr. Villarreal said.

He recommends and eating five grams of dark chocolate a day, that's about the size of two Hershey kisses. In his case, he points out, more is not better.

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