When it comes to breaking off a piece of chocolate, you might have that feeling of guilt that it will put a dampener on your training and runner’s lifestyle, but don’t fret, because it actually relieves the stress put on your body after the hard miles. Just remember, it’s all about moderation… – BY ESMÉ MARÉ, REGISTERED DIETICIAN
Running helps to build strong bones, strengthen muscles, improve cardiovascular fitness, burn energy and help maintain a healthy weight, but it can also place stress on your body. Some runners therefore turn to certain foods to help reduce the stress placed on their body and to help improve performance and recovery, and thus both dark chocolate and chocolate milk have become very popular amongst runners.
Come to the Dark Side
Chocolate contains potent antioxidants called flavanols, which may reduce exercise-induced oxidative stress. Studies have shown that consuming moderate amounts of chocolate can boost heart health, while lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. Other research suggests that these flavanols can ease inflammation and lower the risk of potential blood clots. However, not just any chocolate will do!
The darker the chocolate, the higher the antioxidant content and more heart-healthy benefits. Dark chocolate has a lower glycaemic index, which means that eating dark chocolate won’t make your blood sugar levels peak. Choose a dark chocolate 70% or higher, which will help keep your blood sugar levels stable. Just remember to take note of the calories, as chocolate is high in fat, contains sugar, and it’s very easy to over-indulge.
Chocolate milk may help give you more power and help you run longer if you drink it before your workout. It can also improve recovery if you take it after your workout. The chocolate milk helps replace fluids and electrolytes lost during exercise and contains calcium and vitamin D, which will help in strengthening bones. Chocolate milk also contains the perfect ratio of carbohydrates to protein to improve recovery after exercise. The carbohydrates will replenish the depleted glycogen stores and the protein will help rebuild muscle.
It is worth mentioning that the benefits from chocolate milk are from the milk and not from the chocolate. The chocolate only adds to the flavour of the milk and the amount of cocoa in the flavouring does not contain sufficient amounts of antioxidants to be of benefit to the athlete. Therefore, any flavour of milk can be used.
Even though chocolate can help your running performance, you still need to consume it in moderation as part of a healthy balanced diet, because chocolate and chocolate milk are high in sugar, fat and energy, and excess consumption can still lead to weight-gain. To put this in perspective consider that four Lindt 70% dark chocolate squares equal one slice of bread and two heaped tablespoons of peanut butter, or 250 calories. To burn that many calories, you would need to do one of the following sets of exercise:
• 69 minutes of walking
• 29 minutes of jogging
• 21 minutes of swimming
• 38 minutes of cycling