Dark chocolate may inspire thoughts of luxury, overindulgence and decadence, but a recent study published in Hindawi’s open access journal Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity suggests that eating this desirable food every day could help reduce exercise-induced muscle injuries in athletes.
The researchers behind the study, titled “Dark Chocolate Intake Positively Modulates Redox Status and Markers of Muscular Damage in Elite Football Athletes: A Randomized Controlled Study,” found that markers of oxidative stress and muscle injury in the blood decreased when elite footballers ate dark chocolate daily for 30 days.
Given that muscle injuries are a significant factor in injury-related absence in football, nutritional supplements that can reduce their occurrence could provide benefits for player health, team performance and football club economics.
Muscle injuries a major problem in elite sport
Professional endurance athletes, such as football players, often undergo gruelling training programs and taxing match schedules to compete at the highest level. This intense exercise takes a toll on the body and can lead to exercise-induced muscle injury.
In fact, such muscle injuries cause more than 25% of all injury-related absence at high-level professional football clubs in Europe. This leads to a decline in team performance and economic issues for football clubs.
Food supplements may be the answer
So, why does intense exercise lead to muscle injury? The reasons are complex, but one of the factors is oxidative stress, where the body produces reactive oxygen molecules that can damage cells. The result for an athlete can be a muscle injury, impaired performance and potentially a long miserable spell warming the bench.
Addressing this issue is a focus for sports scientists. One promising approach involves using food supplements with antioxidant properties to reduce oxidative stress. This is where dark chocolate, a food more commonly associated with guilty pleasures than elite sport, comes in.
Dark chocolate contains natural compounds called polyphenols, which have anti-oxidant properties, and previous research has shown its potential as an antioxidant supplement. However, no-one had tested the potential of dark chocolate to reduce oxidative stress and muscle injury in elite athletes.
Putting chocolate through its paces
Professor Roberto Carnevale of the Sapienza University of Rome and colleagues set out to do just that. “We studied 24 elite football players assigned to either a daily dark chocolate supplement (>85% cocoa) or no treatment for 30 days during a training programme,” explains Carnevale. “We measured blood levels of antioxidant molecules, and markers of oxidative stress and muscle damage at the start of the study and after 30 days of chocolate intake.”
Strikingly, the results showed that dark chocolate has the potential to decrease levels of muscle injury in elite athletes. “After 30 days of dark chocolate intake, the footballers had increased levels of antioxidant molecules with an accompanying reduction in oxidative stress and muscle damage markers,” says Carnevale.
The results mean that natural antioxidants such as dark chocolate could be a simple, inexpensive – and delicious – way to reduce levels of exercise-related muscle injury. “This research could help qualified sports dieticians to recommend healthy nutrients with specific antioxidants to reduce the risk of muscle damage induced by oxidative stress,” explains Carnevale.
Elena Cavarretta, Mariangela Peruzzi, Riccardo Del Vescovo, et al., “Dark Chocolate Intake Positively Modulates Redox Status and Markers of Muscular Damage in Elite Football Athletes: A Randomized Controlled Study,” Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, vol. 2018, Article ID 4061901, 10 pages, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/4061901.
This blog post is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). The illustration is by Hindawi and is also CC-BY.