Definition: "An ergogenic aid is any substance or phenomenon that enhances performance "
How cacao helps heart and blood vessels function better
More endurance athletes than you'd think use phenol-rich cacao as an effective performance enhancer. A Japanese animal study, published recently in PLoS One, shows how cacao works. The flavan-3-ols in cacao boost the activity of nitrogen monoxide or NO in the blood vessels, and as a result improve the blood's ability to transport oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. The ergogenic effect of cacao probably reaches its maximum 1-2 hours after intake.
The Japanese gave the rats 10 mg cacao-derived flavan-3-ols per kg or ordinary water with no active ingredients. The most important flavonoid compounds in the extract were (+)-catechin and (-)-epicatechin. The human equivalent of this dose is about 100-150 mg.
Red blood cells
The cacao phenols activated the enzyme that separates NO from L-arginine, the researchers observed 60 minutes after administration. At that point the concentration of nitrate and nitrite had increased: a sign of increased NO synthesis.
The researchers believe that in this way the phenols imitate the effect of physical exertion. If the heart pumps blood through the arteries intensively for a short period, the blood vessel walls react by producing more NO.