You’ve probably heard before that drinking a post-workout glass of chocolate milk can boost sports performance and burn extra fat, mostly thanks to the beverage’s ideal combination of proteins, fats, and sugars. But new research says that chocolate itself could boost your workouts, too. But before you go gorge on a king size pack of peanut M&Ms, there’s a catch: Not all chocolate is created equal in terms of athletic benefits.
Researchers administered epicatechin—the primary antioxidant found in chocolate—to a group of lab mice, half of whom were also put on a light exercise regimen for 15 days. At the end of the 15 days, all of the subjects were given a treadmill test (along with a control group of mice who were given water instead of epicatechin). The control group performed the worst, as did the groups who hadn’t been put on any exercise program. But the mice who’d been given epicatechin and a light training program outperformed their peers by far: They covered 50% more distance than the control group.
Whether this translates into the same benefits for humans is unclear, but study author Dr. Francisco Villarreal says that he suspects “muscle cells contain specific receptors for epicatechin [which] induces an integrated response that includes structural and metabolic changes in skeletal and cardiac muscles resulting in greater endurance capacity.”
Dr. Villarreal also says that not all chocolate has the potential to boost workouts: Processing destroys epicatechin, he says, and only a small amount is needed. In fact; eating too much could even reverse the potential benefits. (About half a square of chocolate is enough, he says, if you’re just trying to boost your physical performance.)
So, while no one is saying that chocolate will turn you into an Olympic athlete, we’ll take the opportunity to eat a little chocolate and feel good about it. We found five treats loaded with minimally-processed chocolate that—even if it turns out the chocolate doesn’t make you faster—you won’t fee bad about eating: