As hard-training athletes, we're constantly seeking out anything that can accelerate muscle and strength gains, or promote fat loss. Well, it's time to rejoice. Your latest salvation may come in the form of chocolate.
The benefits derived from chocolate, dark chocolate in particular, are caused by the presence of a flavonol compound known as epicatechin. Epicatechin is a naturally occurring phytochemical present in dark chocolate and cacao.
Epicatechin may be able to boost muscle growth by inhibiting a protein found in muscles known as myostatin. Myostatin's primary function in the body is to inhibit muscle growth. Myostatin acts in direct opposition to another protein, follistatin, which functions to increase muscle growth. Epicatechin may be able to both inhibit myostatin and boost follistatin.
One study, conducted on rodents, determined that daily low-dose consumption of epicatechin increased serum testosterone levels via stimulation of the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland in turn stimulates release of GnRH (gonadotropin releasing hormone) and LH (luteinizing hormone). Luteinizing hormone then instructs the testes to increase T production.
While there's no guarantee that the effect will translate over to humans, it's interesting nonetheless, and future research will tell us more.
Researchers from the Netherlands found that epicatechin increases levels of the satiety hormone ghrelin, which can lower the appetite. This may explain the benefit of having a tiny bit of dark chocolate at night to prevent the munchies.
Epicatechin is also able to increase blood flow, making it easier to deliver nutrients integral for muscle growth, as well as testicular hormone synthesis. Increased levels of nitric oxide (the vasodilator responsible for improved blood flow) also favorably improved blood pressure levels, taking stress off the heart.
One study conducted on middle-aged people used an epicatechin dose of 1 milligram per kilogram of bodyweight, taken two times daily. The effects were promising but the duration was short.
Anecdotal reports have indicated that people using double this amount also see good results. If you choose to go with dark chocolate itself, 40-50 grams daily should suffice. Make sure it contains at least 70% cocoa which will be stronger in epicatechin.
While the research still has years to go before we can draw any substantial conclusions on its beneficial effects, cocoa still has many favorable nutritional benefits: high mineral content (especially magnesium), healthy saturated fats, and a positive impact on dopamine.
- Gutierrez-Salmean G et al. Effects of (-)-epicatechin on molecular modulators of skeletal muscle growth and differentiation J Nutr Biochem. 2014 Jan;25(1):91-4. PubMed.
- Yu PL et al. Effects of catechin, epicatechin and epigallocatechin gallate on testosterone production in rat leydig cells. J Cell Biochem. 2010 May 15;110(2):333-42. PubMed.
- Sudarma V et al. Effect of dark chocolate on nitric oxide serum levels and blood pressure in prehypertension subjects. Acta Med Indones
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