The word "cacao" means "food of the gods." Looking closely at its nutritional content, it becomes clear why that name is well deserved, and why athletes might want to consider adding raw cacao to their diet. Here are just a few reasons why.
Cacao is loaded with antioxidants, which are molecules that inhibit oxidation, or damage to cells. Antioxidants can be helpful in preventing and repairing free radical damage. Because exercising increases the formation of free radicals, a diet high in antioxidants is important for athletes to protect and repair cells.
Cacao is also one of the best food sources of magnesium, which is important for heart health and for athletes. Magnesium is required for more than 300 enzymatic reactions, including the synthesis of fat, protein and nucleic acids, muscular contraction and relaxation, as well as cardiac and bone health. Magnesium improves blood flow and plays a key role in the metabolism of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), critical for aerobic and anaerobic functions.
Cacao is also rich in other important nutrients for athletes, including potassium, iron and more. Not surprisingly, a study published in the Journal of Physiology found that a flavanol in cacao may help boost exercise endurance.
A smoothie made with raw cacao is a great pre- or post-workout treat, so try this delicious Choco-Banana Smoothie:
- 1 cup of coconut water (or nondairy milk)
- 2 Tbsp. of raw cacao powder
- 2 Tbsp. of chia seeds (soak in liquid for 3-5 minutes)
- 1 small handful of baby spinach or a 1/2 scoop of greens powder
- A pinch of pink Himalayan salt (or air-dried sea salt) — adds minerals and brings out the sweetness — don’t skip it!!
- 1 scoop of vanilla plant-based protein powder
- 1/2 a frozen banana
- 2/3 cup of ice
- Optional: 1-2 teaspoons of almond butter
Put everything into blender except ice and frozen banana. Blend to combine well. Then add frozen banana and ice, blend well. Serve immediately.
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