Chocolate and Sports: All You Need to Know

November 18, 2022

Chocolate has been considered an ideal food for its many properties since ancient times. But it is really the cocoa content that is the protagonist, do not be misled because chocolate is a food composed of cocoa, cocoa butter, sugar, milk, and other ingredients.

If you're a regular cocoa-loving athlete, you'll be interested to discover its health benefits and how it helps improve your athletic performance. We will also advise you on the best ways to consume it and show you a delicious, healthy, and original recipe to include cocoa in your diet.

The history of chocolate

Cocoa beans are produced by trees called Theobroma Cacao, whose name means "food of the gods". This concept of hedonistic food is due to the multiple addictive and pleasurable effects that have been observed after its consumption since ancient times.

On the other hand, it was also considered the food of the Mayan and Aztec warriors, as they realized that it gave them strength and concentration. Cocoa was consumed ground and flavored, for example, with vanilla, creating a thick and hot drink. It was also a valuable seed used as money for bartering goods.

The cocoa tree is evergreen and needs a tropical climate with high temperatures and abundant rainfall. It is harvested two or three times a year, and 300 to 600 seeds are needed to obtain one kilo of cocoa.

It originated in Central America, but in the 16th century, it was introduced in Europe by Spanish sailors, which spread its consumption to the rest of the world and favored the beginning of its cultivation on the African continent, which is currently the leader with 77% of world production, while South American countries produce 17%.

Types of chocolate

As we have said, chocolate is a mixture of several ingredients, being the amount of cocoa the most important from a nutritional point of view. Let us briefly look at the most common varieties:

  • Dark chocolate. It is made from a cocoa paste of at least 70%, cocoa butter and a small amount of sugar. As cocoa is its main ingredient, it has a bitter taste.

  • Milk chocolate. This is the most widely consumed in the world and is produced by adding whole or skimmed milk to the cocoa paste, together with sugars. The cocoa paste content should not be less than 25%.

  • White chocolate. This is not chocolate, as it does not contain cocoa mass, which is the basic ingredient; it is made only with cocoa butter, sugar, and milk. The cocoa butter content is at least 20%.

Cocoa properties

The time has come to unveil its incredible health attributes. Whether in powder or bars, pure cocoa provides more than 50 different nutrients. Let's take a look at the most important ones:


The most essential in this nutrient group are the flavonoids and here are their main benefits:

  • Antioxidant effects (neutralize free radicals) and anti-inflammatory (at all cellular levels, including mitochondria: energy units par excellence), preventing aging and strengthening the immune system.

  • They protect the endothelium (inner wall of blood vessels), inducing an intrinsic production of nitric oxide (NO), thus improving cardiovascular function, regulating blood pressure and the lack of flexibility of the arteries, such as avoiding a collapse of the coronary arteries (arteries of the heart) reducing the risk of a heart attack. They also improve venous tone, improving varicose veins problems.

  • They inhibit platelet aggregation, preventing thrombus formation.

  • They favor the production of serotonin, improving depressive states and generating a feeling of well-being. This is because they reduce the hepatic metabolism of tryptophan, the amino acid precursor of serotonin.

  • They prevent and improve autoimmune diseases, exerting a DNA repair function.

  • They regulate blood sugar: vital for continuous muscular and cerebral performance.

  • Maintain a balanced intestinal flora: balancing the microbiota.

Stimulating alkaloids

Highlighting caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline. These substances:

  • Favor the dilation of peripheral blood vessels.

  • They act as mild diuretics.

  • They are muscle relaxants on smooth muscle: at the level of the respiratory system, improving asthma or cough attacks, or decreasing gallbladder spasms.

  • They stimulate contraction at the level of striated muscle (skeletal and cardiac).


We will highlight the following:

  • Tryptophan. It is an essential amino acid, a precursor of serotonin, as already mentioned above.

  • Arginine. It is an essential amino acid, which is part of collagen, a protein fundamental for holding together and repairing tissues (bones, cartilage, tendons, skin, ligaments, organs, etc.) It helps to improve the body's defenses, increase muscle mass and relax blood vessels to lower blood pressure.

  • Tyrosine. It is a non-essential amino acid, so we do not need to acquire it through diet because our bodies can create it. It is a precursor of dopamine and noradrenaline, keeping us alert, focused, more energetic, and with a sense of well-being. It is also involved in the synthesis of thyroid hormones.

Biogenic amines

These are nitrogenous compounds formed by the metabolism of certain amino acids.

  • Tyramine: helps regulate blood pressure.

  • Anandamide and phenylethylamine: mimic the effects of cannabinoids, promoting a sense of well-being, joy, euphoria, and pleasure. 

Fatty acids

Around 40% are monounsaturated fatty acids (such as oleic, the same as in olive oil) and polyunsaturated, (such as Omega-3 and Omega-6, which are also present in walnuts and flax seeds), having antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and regulating cholesterol levels.

About 60% are saturated, known to be harmful to health, such as palmitic acid and, above all, stearic acid. But do not panic, because the latter, when present at the same time, have a neutral effect on plasma cholesterol levels, and stearic acid is transformed into oleic acid in the liver.

Insoluble fiber

Insoluble fiber cannot be broken down or absorbed by the small intestine, exerting a satiating effect and helping to regulate intestinal transit. At the same time, it is a good prebiotic (food for intestinal bacteria).


Phosphorus, calcium, potassium, and magnesium, are essential for:

  • Good optimization of energy at the mitochondrial level.

  • Strengthening bone mass

  • Regulating muscle contraction

  • Intervene in multiple cellular and immunological reactions.


Although in small quantities, it contains A, B9 (folic acid), D, E, and K, among others, involved in multiple cellular functions such as muscle contraction, bone maintenance, or the repair of various tissues, as well as helping to maintain a good intestinal flora.

Trace elements

Such as iron, necessary for good oxygen transport to tissues and synthesis of various hormones, or zinc, involved in cell growth. Both are essential for good muscle function and tissue hypertrophy. Not less important is Selenium, which helps to have a robust immune system, exerting, at the same time, an antioxidant effect.

How to consume cocoa?

The consumption of cocoa in the world is very variable depending on the culture, being the most common in the form of chocolate. For example, the Swiss eat more than 9 kilos every year, the Belgians gobble about 7 kilos, and the Americans, approximately 5 kilos per year. 

So, what is the ideal way to indulge in good cocoa? You will probably have chocolate bars, sugary cocoa powder, or other processed products. Well, most of these industrial products have nothing to do with a good pure and raw cocoa that keeps a large number of its nutrients, since its processing destroys them almost entirely.

Therefore, the best option is to choose cocoa as pure as possible, but the main issue of consuming it in this way is its bitter taste. 

However, the purer the product is the better because if you add other ingredients, such as milk (including soy milk), the absorption and action of flavonoids will be neutralized. 

A good idea would be to add a healthy sweetener according to your preferences, for example mixing raw cocoa powder with honey, stevia, or brown sugar. Another option would be to progressively get used to eating chocolates with higher and higher percentages of cocoa.

Recommended daily amounts of cocoa

Let's see what 100 gr of pure cocoa provides us concerning the recommended daily allowance (RDA):

  • Calories: 228 kcal

  • Proteins: 19,60 gr (38%)

  • Fat: 13.70 gr (20%)

  • Calcium: 160 mg (13%)

  • Phosphorus: 700 mg ( 73%)

  • Potassium: 1,524 mg ( 32%)

  • Magnesium: 499 mg (125%)

  • Fiber: 37 gr (148%)Iron: 13,86 mg (77%)

  • Zinc: 6,81 mg (45%)

  • Copper: 3.78 mg (189%)

  • Manganese: 3.83 mg (192%)

  • Selenium: 14.3 micrograms ( 20%)

Interesting, isn't it? Well, we will also tell you that by consuming at least two teaspoons a day of raw cocoa (about 4 gr) or 2 ounces of dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa content (about 20 gr), you will benefit from this fabulous nutritional cocktail.


Despite all the virtues that this food gives us, we can not give free rein to its consumption, especially in large quantities, as it could cause some side effects:

  • Migraines are induced by tyramine, histamine, and phenylethylamine.

  • Gastroesophageal reflux due to fat, caffeine, and theobromine.

  • Intrinsic vitamin B3 deficiency: very important in metabolic processes. Therefore, notorious cocoa consumers should ingest a good intake of foods with this vitamin, such as oatmeal, mushrooms, meat, fish, or peanuts.

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms: sometimes diarrhea or constipation, depending on the number of biogenic amines and fiber or polyphenols respectively. Therefore, people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome should moderate their consumption.

  • Theobromine is attributed to the bitter taste of cocoa and is the molecule that makes chocolate toxic to pets (dogs, horses, and cats), as they metabolize it very slowly, accumulating and affecting the heart and kidneys. So, better keep this delicacy away from your pets.

On the other hand, its consumption is not recommended for people with

  • Liver failure and gallbladder pathologies, due to the presence of alkaloids, aggravates its functioning.

  • Poorly controlled cardiac arrhythmias or hyperthyroidism, due to the stimulant effect.

  • Very high uric acid, since the fats that it contains prevents a good elimination of the same one, being able to provoke attacks of gout.

  • Renal insufficiency is due to the risk of accumulation of certain minerals, such as potassium or phosphorus, which may trigger heart, bone, and muscle problems.

  • Treatment with antidepressants such as MAOIs, since they degrade the metabolism of tyramine, which can accumulate to toxic levels.

  • Problems of uncontrolled allergy and histamine intolerance.

Final Word

After this tasty lesson, cocoa is a good ally in sports, improving performance and protecting tissues from oxidative stress, while providing spectacular cardiovascular and cerebral benefits. 

Most of its properties last in the body for about 6 to 10 hours, so the choice to take a little bit of this nutritious jewel (in the healthiest way possible) is welcomed both before and after training, as long as you do not become addicted and, taking into account that everything in excess takes its toll. Always go for cocoa, not chocolate!

Healthy cocoa recipe for athletes (and everybody else)

If you like to cook and you are looking for other options to consume cocoa apart from the usual habits, such as two squares of dark chocolate of at least 80% accompanied by a handful of unsalted nuts or dried fruit, here is a delicious and easy recipe:

Homemade cocoa cream


  • 1 ripe avocado

  • 3-4 dates

  • 3 tablespoons of pure cocoa

  • 12 toasted and peeled hazelnuts


  1. You peel the avocado, pit it and cut it into small pieces.
  2. Pit the dates.
  3. Put everything in a blender or food processor, together with the cocoa and the hazelnuts.
  4. Grind until you get a homogeneous paste, you can add a little water if it is too thick.

You can store it in the refrigerator and consume it in up to 3 days.

This will give you all the nutrients of raw cocoa, with a sweet and natural touch from the dates, adding proteins and healthy fats from the hazelnuts and avocado.

Bon apétit!