Dark Chocolate: The Delicious Way to Improve Your Physique and Performance

The many health benefits of this wonderful product.


Raw cacao nibs
Raw cacao nibs. Photo by kevindooley.
Chocolate has come a long way. When Hernán Cortés discovered the Aztec civilization, King Montezuma welcomed him with a banquet. Part of the spread was a bitter drink that he described as only suitable for pigs.
Nonetheless, when they brought it back to Spain and mixed it with cane sugar or honey, it started the chocolate craze in Spain. By the 17th century, the drink became all the rage for the rich throughout Europe for its nutritious, medicinal, and aphrodisiac properties.

Now, chocolate is considered manna from heaven. Not only is it delicious; it is also being studied extensively to verify its assumed health. A few of the researched and confirmed benefits include muscle growth, stronger erections, and a happier mood.

What Makes Chocolate

Chocolate basically comes from the seeds of the cacao tree. The seeds are fermented, dried, cleaned, and roasted. Then, the shell is removed and the finished product is cacao nibs. This is then grounded to a cocoa mass, which is then heated to liquefy it into chocolate liquor. This can be further processed into cocoa solids and cocoa butter.

What we often see as chocolate in different treats is known as sweetened chocolate. This is a combination of cocoa solids, cocoa butter, sugar, and added vegetable oils. This is then mixed with milk powder or condensed milk to create milk chocolate.

On the other hand, for white chocolate, cocoa butter is mixed with sugar and milk. There is also dark chocolate, the kind of chocolate which has a high cocoa content and has significantly less milk and sugar compared to other forms of chocolate. While it is the government that sets standards on the cocoa concentration required for chocolates to be called dark chocolate, one thing is for sure - it offers way more health benefits than the other varieties.

The least processed chocolate is actually unsweetened chocolate or baker's chocolate, which is pure chocolate liquor. This is the best chocolate to consume for your snacks as it has no added sweeteners or taste enhancers and has the highest cacao content of at least 75 percent.

Dark Chocolate for Athletes

Chocolate or Cacao contains powerful flavanols, specifically catechins, epicatechins, and procyanidins. These flavanols can only be gained in high enough concentrations from cacao that is at least 70% in cacao content and non-alkalized, which otherwise significantly reduces the flavanol content. They can also be obtained from specific supplements and cacao extracts.

Cacao flavanols increases the production of nitric oxide, a vasodilator in your body. As a result, blood vessels become more flexible, which help reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases [1].

Since your blood vessels transport nutrients to and remove waste from different areas of your body, this makes the delivery of nutrients and removal of wastes from the different parts of your body more efficient. Which in the end results in faster muscle growth and recovery.

Furthermore, cacao flavanols are potent inhibitors of the protein myostatin, which restricts muscle growth and hypertrophy [2]. As a result, you get to benefit more from the muscle building foods you eat, as well as your workout sessions.

Moreover, a hundred grams of dark chocolate contain around 146 milligrams of magnesium. Magnesium is a micronutrient that helps lower your cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone and has been found to promote muscle loss. Other than that, magnesium helps you get better sleep, which in the end helps you recover from your training easier and promotes muscle growth and recovery.

Lastly, chocolate can even protect your precious muscle gains and promote low bodyfat levels by suppressing your appetite. It is so effective in suppressing one's appetite that by just smelling dark chocolate [3], the hunger hormone ghrelin is suppressed. This hormone is the one which tells your body that it is hungry and it's time to eat.


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Sex and Chocolates

Cortisol and Testosterone have been found to have a negative relationship. This means that, when you have a lot of cortisol circulating in your blood stream, your testosterone levels goes down. And when your testosterone goes down, you have higher chances of having erectile dysfunction and decreased sex drive. With enough magnesium provided from consuming chocolate, the stress hormone production of your body will decrease.

Aside from the mentioned benefits of cocoa flavanols, they also improve your body's sensitivity to insulin.

Improved blood circulation and insulin sensitivity both contribute to better blood flow to the penile arteries. This ultimately translates to an improved penile erection for you.

In the Mood for Chocolate

If you think chocolates can't get any better, you're in for another treat! Chocolate stimulates our body to produce endorphins, dopamine and serotonin.

These natural compounds produced by our body improve our mood and motivation.

Endorphins are the happy hormones; they are the hormones that give us the 'runner's high' - an exhilarating feeling often experienced after prolonged aerobic exercise. When we feel so good that we just can't stop smiling and laughing, our endorphin levels are runnyng high. With higher levels of endorphins, our body is more tolerant to pain and decreases the response to mental and physical stress.

On the other hand, serotonin decreases depressive symptoms in our mood. It has been shown that lower levels of serotonin in our body lead to a lowered mental mood state. And with the increased dopamine production, you feel a sense of pleasure from stimuli. This sensation can make chocolate a pleasurable reward to your body after working out. Overall, with the pain tolerance, mood improvement, stress reduction, and reward benefits, chocolate makes the perfect snack!

Choose the Right Chocolate

There are so many benefits to be had from the right kind of chocolate, that it might even seem too good to be true. However, all these benefits are backed by studies and research (links below). Chocolate is indeed as good as it's been said to be!

However, you should eat the right kind of chocolate if you're looking to get the benefits mentioned here. Note that the kind we usually find in stores is often laden with sugar and additives. Aside from being counter-productive to our muscle building and fat loss goals, these are also harmful to our bodies in the long term.

Not only that, the chocolates found on local supermarket store shelves are often processed to the point that there are little beneficial compounds and cocoa flavanols left.

Furthermore, eating chocolate with milk or other dairy products can inhibit the absorption of the flavanols and other beneficial compounds from it.

Therefore, we must really choose unsweetened or high cacao content chocolate as the snack of choice. It is not only good for your health but it is also good for muscle building, mood, and sex drive. The taste is just a much appreciated bonus.


References

1. Effects of cocoa flavanols on risk factors for cardiovascular disease. (Erdman JW Jr1, Carson L, Kwik-Uribe C, Evans EM, Allen RR)
2. Myostatin inhibitors as therapies for muscle wasting associated with cancer and other disorders (Rosamund C. Smith and Boris K. Lin)
3. Appetite suppression through smelling of dark chocolate correlates with changes in ghrelin in young women. (Massolt ET1, van Haard PM, Rehfeld JF, Posthuma EF, van der Veer E, Schweitzer DH)


Alex Eriksson

Alex Eriksson is the founder of Anabolic Health, a men's health blog dedicated to providing honest and research backed advice for optimal male hormonal health. Anabolic Health aspires to become a trusted resource where men can come and learn how to fix their hormonal problems naturally, without pharmaceuticals. Check out his guide on 50 Foods That Boost Testosterone and follow him on Twitter or Facebook.



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