File under Excellent: Absolutely no need to pass on rich, healthy dark chocolate desserts if you’re prepping for a big race or competition--they might actually help your stamina. Dark chocolate has antioxidant benefits (which may offer life-saving disease prevention) and can have energy-boosting properties that might power your muscles to persevere. Learn more about cocoa’s powers for endurance athletes and clean ways to indulge.
Dark chocolate may increase nitric oxide in the body.
Eating dark chocolate might help athletes have energy to exercise for longer periods of time, recent research published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Medicine found. The flavonoids in dark chocolate are believed to increase the body’s nitric oxide production, which studies have shown can reduce the amount of oxygen needed to complete your workouts. Therefore, you might have the tolerance to keep pushing yourself longer through that race or training session. The study was a small one, and there is still more research that needs to be done on dark chocolate and athletic performance, explains Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN.
It may increase blood flow to your muscles.
Increased blood flow to the muscles, especially during intense exercise, allows them to get more oxygen, and therefore more energy to stay in motion. More recent research states that dark chocolate can help prevent oxidative stress and muscle damage in athletes.
RELATED: 4 Healthy and Easy Paleo Desserts
Dark chocolate contains cancer and heart-disease-fighting antioxidants.
Eating foods containing flavonoids (like dark berries, citrus fruits, and even red wine and yes, dark chocolate) may lower your risk of certain cancers, studies have shown. The antioxidants in dark chocolate also have been proven to promote good heart health and lower blood pressure, important for endurance athletes.
You can also combine dark chocolate with other flavonoid-rich foods to double the benefits, dietitians suggest. “A great dessert can include melted dark chocolate-covered strawberries or sliced green apples with one serving of dark chocolate--about one to two ounces,” Goodrich says.
How to Make Healthy Dark Chocolate Desserts
1. Healthy Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
from Kristina LaRue, RD, CSSD of Love and Zest
These chocolate muffins will satisfy your sweet tooth, but are a much cleaner choice than a coffee shop or store-bought muffin, thanks to coconut flour, and natural sweetening from the banana and dark cocoa powder. Plus, they pack protein from the peanut butter, making this muffin perfect post-workout.
2. Chocolate Avocado Truffles
from health coach Brittany Mullins of Eating Bird Food
Instead of reaching for the candy jar, whip up these simple truffles with healthy fats from their key ingredient, avocado. In fact, these dark chocolate treats only involve four ingredients: mashed avocado, dark chocolate chips, cocoa powder, and sea salt, but look and taste way more decadent.
3. Healthy Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake Bars
from Edwina Clark, MS, RD, APD, CSSD
The secret ingredient in these fudgy brownie-cake bars is not what you’d expect: chickpeas. They pair with the peanut butter to fill these squares with protein. They’re sweetened with maple syrup and have no flour, making them not only cleaner than regular brownies, but gluten-free too.
4. Vegan Dark Chocolate Antioxidant Pudding
from Leah Swanson, RDN of Got Nourishment?
Love a cup of pudding but choose to eat vegan? Here’s your go-to dessert. The main, protein-filled ingredient is silken tofu, which accounts for the perfect pudding texture. You can add extra antioxidants by topping the treat with cacao nibs and goji berries, which also add crunch to the rich treat.