Since aerobic exercise is known to "acutely improve" cognitive functions — including executive and memory functions — researchers at Japan's Ritsumeikan University, the Japan Institute of Sports Sciences, and Tokyo Medical University sought to determine if high cocoa flavanol (HCF) intake would enhance these benefits.
They assessed the combined effects of HCF intake and moderate-intensity exercise on executive function and memory function during post-exercise recovery on 10 healthy young male participants.
The participants were given a beverage containing either a HCF (563mg of cocoa flavanol) or energy-matched low cocoa flavanol (LCF; 38mg of cocoa flavanol) 70 minutes prior to exercise.
Physical and mental engagement
They engaged in half an hour of moderate-intensity cycling exercise at 60% of peak oxygen uptake. Afterwards, they performed a colour-word Stroop task to evaluate their executive function, and a face-name matching task to evaluate their memory function at six time periods throughout the experimental session.
The researchers subsequently observed that the participants' executive function showed immediate improvement following exercise.
On the other hand, HCF intake combined with moderate-intensity exercise did not result in the improvement of memory function at any point in the experiment.
Acute effect shown, but not chronic effect
The researchers wrote: "The present study demonstrated that HCF consumption before moderate-intensity exercise could effectively enhance exercise-induced improvements in executive function, but not in memory function, as shown by the early improvement in executive function induced by HCF consumption compared with LCF consumption.
"Therefore, we suggest that the combination of HCF consumption and aerobic exercise may be beneficial for improving cognitive function."
They concluded that as far as they knew, this was "the first study to demonstrate the beneficial effect of the combination of nutritional and exercise interventions on cognitive function, especially executive function.
"However, the present study only demonstrated an acute positive effect on cognitive function. Further studies are needed to examine the chronic effect of the combination of HCF consumption and aerobic exercise on cognitive function."
"Flavanol-rich cocoa consumption enhances exercise-induced executive function improvements in humans"
Authors: Hayato Tsukamoto, et al.