Cocoa does not appear to reduce exercise-related digestive upset

Impressive athleticism has been on display at the Winter Olympics, but being at the top of your game doesn’t necessarily protect against exercise-induced digestive upset. Surprisingly, some people add cocoa to their diet to reduce these symptoms. Now, ACS researchers Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry report that long-term daily cocoa consumption does not appear to improve exercise-related digestive problems in male athletes and induces only minimal changes in their gut microbiomes.

Doing vigorous or intense exercise can cause digestive upset in some people. Symptoms may include nausea, heartburn, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. In the worst cases, the symptoms are so severe that athletes stop what they are doing and drop out of competitions. Previous studies have suggested that long-term cocoa consumption may alleviate these issues due to the flavorful substance’s high level of flavonoids. These compounds can enhance antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity and have been shown to have prebiotic effects on beneficial gut microbes in animal studies. However, the chronic consumption of cocoa powder by humans to reduce exercise-related digestive problems has not been studied in a standardized way. So François Fenaille, Mar Larrosa and his colleagues wanted to develop a highly controlled but also realistic human trial to assess whether cocoa could help.

Using the gold standard format for human trials, researchers conducted a randomized, placebo-controlled study of 54 physically fit male athletes who followed a strict training routine for 10 weeks. During this time, the participants supplemented their usual diet with flavonoid-rich cocoa or a placebo starch powder mixed with semi-skimmed milk, which they drank daily for breakfast. At the start and end of the training period, the athletes underwent a high endurance running test. The participants’ gastrointestinal symptoms did not change in the two supplementation groups, indicating that cocoa did not improve exercise-induced digestive disturbances. Finally, the researchers found only slight effects on the composition of the gut microbiome and plasma and fecal metabolites. Although the athletes’ diets, which included a large amount of fruits and vegetables, may have masked a slight effect of cocoa, the researchers conclude that cocoa is not an effective exercise supplement for suppressing gastrointestinal problems. gut microbiome or alter the overall gut microbiome of endurance athletes. .

The authors acknowledge funding from the Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness (Spain); European Molecular Biology Organization; Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports (Spain); and the MetaboHUB infrastructure (France).

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