Hooray! Another reason to eat chocolate. Researchers in Mexico have been studying the muscle building properties of chocolate. Specifically, they have been looking at how a substance called epicatechin, present in cacao, curtails the loss of muscle mass. Epicatechin belongs to a family of useful plant chemicals called the catechins, which are strong antioxidants. Along with cacao, which is one of the richest sources, they are found in tea and a number of fruits and vegetables.
Muscle loss begins in healthy adults around the age of 25, and we lose about 0.5-1% of our muscle mass every year. This is associated with hormones called myostatin and B-galactosidase in both mice and humans, and levels of these increase with aging. In the first ever human trial looking at epicatechin and muscle, researchers gave elderly subjects daily doses of epicatechin and tested hand grip strength. After seven days, not only had the results of the hand grip strength test improved, but the amounts of myostatin and B-galactosidase had decreased, while levels of anabolic markers follistatin, MyoD and myogenin increased, indicating the body was putting down new muscle.
Cacao is shaping up as a new wonder food. It is currently used as a weight loss aid, and is present in some of the most popular fat burners like Hydroxycut and Lipo-6. Obviously bodybuilders have more at stake muscle-wise than the average person, so anything that can maintain those hard won gains is worth knowing about. It will be interesting to see what effect epicatechin has on younger athletes.
Eating chocolate and bodybuilding may seem like polar opposites, especially if you're wanting to cut or achieve better muscle definition. The key is to pick high quality chocolate with a high cocoa mass content, or in other words; the darker the better. 70% chocolate is perhaps the minimal you should be going and if you find it too bitter; try having it with naturally sweet products such as fruits or even cheese and crackers for the more adventurous.
Gutierrez-Salmean G, Ciaraldi TP, Nogueira L, Barboza J, Taub PR, Hogan MC, HenryRR, Meaney E, Villarreal F, Ceballos G, Ramirez-Sanchez I. Effects of (-)-epicatechin on molecular modulators of skeletal muscle growth and differentiation. J Nutr Biochem. 2014 Jan;25(1):91-4.