Cocoa: a cure-all for the athlete

Las golosinas en alimentación no siempre son buenas, pero el cacao sí lo es: incorporarlo a tu dieta diaria puede contribuir sustancialmente a mejorar tu salud y tu rendimiento deportivo.

It's good news for cocoa lovers: guilt-free enjoyment is looking increasingly likely. The most recent results of a number of studies on this food confirm its benefits, above all with regard to sport; indeed, cocoa can help prevent cardiovascular disease by lowering blood pressure and LDL cholesterol, as well as boosting the mitochondria responsible for cellular respiration, generating a greater source of energy in response to physical exertion.

Cocoa: a precious ally for sporty types

Cocoa is a powder extracted from the seeds of the cacao tree, also known as the Theobroma cacao, or “food of the gods”.  The high levels of flavanols and magnesium in cocoa have a positive effect on the oxygenation of tissues, muscles and the brain, and improve the metabolism of sugars, which are immediately turned into energy.

It also improves blood circulation and flow, which improves sporting performance and muscle recovery. The continuous recirculation of blood and the increased supply of oxygen to the muscles also result in a lower perception of the effort exerted, and an increase in cognitive and visual capacity. Thanks to its special properties, cocoa can also improve the elasticity of the arterial walls, increasing their diameter even at rest; for this reason, it should always be a staple in any athlete's gym bag!

However, the benefits of cocoa are not just for sporty types – on the contrary. This substance also boasts antioxidant properties and helps to counter the cellular ageing process that occurs due to free radical activity; it also has a positive impact on mood. Tryptophan, the amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin – the so-called “good mood hormone” – helps to regulate sleep rhythms, significantly reducing the risk of depression and stress.

Cocoa and chocolate, similar but different

Cocoa is not the same thing as chocolate: cocoa is the powder obtained by roasting and grinding the seeds of the plant after these have been dried, before any other ingredients are added; chocolate, on the other hand, is produced by mixing cocoa powder with sugar, flavorings, cocoa butter and other optional ingredients, such as milk or hazelnuts.

Accordingly, to reap the full benefits of cocoa, the ideal approach is to consume it pure, in powder form, or diluted in a glass of milk: as a matter of fact, pure cocoa preserves its nutritional and antioxidant properties, while these gradually diminish as the percentage of cocoa present in chocolate decreases. For example, the manufacturing processes used in producing chocolate reduce the presence of flavanols – natural substances which help to repair cell damage – to around a fifth of the levels seen in pure cocoa. Accordingly, there are higher concentrations of flavanols in bitter chocolate (>75% cocoa) than in milk chocolate, and white chocolate contains none at all.

Dark chocolate, therefore, can be integrated into your day-to-day diet – though not to excess: although it is a source of flavanols, it is also high in sugar and fat, and thus has a high calorie content.  A good snack for an athlete? 20/30 grams of chocolate (with at least 60% cocoa) and some dried fruit.

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