Chocolate has been getting some bad press for years as a high sugar containing comfort food.
However, some experienced bodybuilders swear by the pumps they get from melting a bar of dark chocolate into their pre-workout shakes. How can eating chocolate really help you build more muscle in the gym?
The Magic of Dark Chocolate and Epicatechin
Well, you know what “The Iron Guru”, Vince Gironda (Arnold Schwarzenegger’s trainer) himself said, 85 percent of your muscles are built in the kitchen and only 15 percent are built in the gym. What you eat can strongly affect the muscle building process. Eggs, cottage cheese, and other foods that are rich in protein are known to help with building mass. But, why should you be eating more chocolate?
First of all, you should not eat just any type of chocolate. If you want it to help you build lean and mean muscle, you have to choose non alkalized cocoa products, minimum 70% cacao. These products contain powerful antioxidants called cacao flavanols. These chemicals have strong anti-inflammatory effects and can reduce the symptoms and risk of many different diseases such as cardiovascular disease. To get the most out of these flavanols, go for non Dutch (non alkalized) cocoa products such as dark chocolate.
Cacao, the main ingredient of dark chocolate, can reduce the efficiency of fat digesting enzymes and carbohydrates. This means that eating cacao-rich foods such as chocolate promotes weight management. According to a study published in Nutrition magazine in 2005, the nutrients contained in cacao actually work at a genetic level. This means that these nutrients reduce the activity of hormones in the body that increase fat storage.
Also, the flavanols contained in dark chocolate do more than just improve your cardiovascular function and physical health. They also keep you lean and muscular.
The most powerful flavanol contained in dark chocolate is epicatechin.
The Muscle Building Power of Epicatechin
Epicatechin is known for its ability to boost muscle growth according to a study conducted by Gabriela Gutierrez Salmean and her team. The epicatechin contained in chocolate has the ability to inhibit a protein called myostatin.
Myostatin restricts muscle growth to prevent hypertrophy. This is bad news for body builders and athletes. Epicatechin decreases the myostatin production in the body and it increases the production of another protein called follistatin. This protein promotes muscle growth and helps minimize the effect of myostatin in the body. What’s even better is that powerful myostatin inhibitors are now readily available in the form of pure epicatechin supplements extracted from cacao beans.
Epicatechin and Blood Circulation
Epicatechin positively affects blood flow and it enhances the production of nitric oxide – a compound that naturally widens the blood vessels allowing blood to circulate freely around the body.
So, how does this affect your muscle growth? Well, good blood circulation promotes shuttling of more nutrients to your muscles. This helps build lean muscle and more importantly, it can boost your performance during training. It also promotes faster workout recovery and soreness so you have less downtime.
Epicatechin and Appetite
When you’re working every day for three to five times a week, you’ll most likely experience hungry pangs at night. Epicatechin boosts the production hunger suppressant chemical called ghrelin. So, if you are experiencing cravings lately, it’s a good idea to eat a bar or two of delicious dark chocolate.
Epicatechin and Testosterone Levels
As mentioned, epicatechin found in dark chocolate improves blood flow and this can also increase production of testosterone.
Epicatechin can stimulate the pituitary gland to produce hormones called LH (luteinizing hormone) and GnRH (Gonadotropin- releasing hormone). These hormones stimulate the Leydig cells to produce more testosterone. Also, if you’re worried that your testosterone levels need improvement, you should also try these testosterone boosting techniques.
How to Take Epicatechin
You can get a good daily dose of this wonder flavanol by eating 40 to 50 grams of dark chocolate daily. But, there are also a number of supplements that you can take containing pure epicatechin, these are generally more effective for muscle growth. It is recommended to take at least 150 mg of epicatechin per day to enjoy maximum benefits. However, if your primary goal is to increase blood flow (such as for sexual enhancement), it is better to consume dark chocolate daily since it also contains the stimulant Theobromine which has positive effects on cardiovascular performance.
If you do not like to eat dark chocolate, you can melt it and add it to your regular pre-workout protein shake. It mixes well with most tastes, especially vanilla. As a natural sweetener to add, we recommend stevia or erythritol.
Here is a good recipe for a cacao based pre-workout shake:
1-2 scoops Whey or casein protein powder
½ cup of hot water
1-2 tablespoons of unsweetened cacao powder or dark chocolate pieces
Blend until everything melted together with the hot water. Then add:
½ cup of almond milk
Blend for another minute or two. A delicious mildly sweet and super healthy pre-workout out anytime shake.
It may be shocking for some, but eating chocolate can help you build more muscle. Give chocolate a chance. Eating chocolate may not increase your muscle mass overnight, but it’s worth a shot since it is probably one of the most tasty performance enhancing substances out there.
However, remember that chocolate have a high calorie content and you still need to work out to build muscle and eat in excess to gain fat.
You can enjoy chocolate and still get fit, a rare treat among fitness nutrition.