Athletes, both professional and amateur, as well as weekend warriors and even average gym joes (and janes) are always looking for ways to boost performance, increase fatigue resistance, and make more gains.
Hell, the entire supplement industry is built on this very foundation -- optimizing and enhancing what you’re already doing to help you get that little bit extra that you otherwise may not attain.
Over the years a number of supplements have been touted as “muscle builders”, including the likes of creatine and betaine. Chances are, though, that if you’re a serious trainee you’re already supplementing with those.
This begs the question -- “is there any other supplement worth trying when looking to gain muscle and strength?”
The answer is a resounding YES, and that ingredient is epicatechin.
What is Epicatechin?
Epicatechin is a compound found in a distinct subgroup of flavonoids called flavonols that’s naturally occurring in a number of foods common to the diet, including grapes, green tea, and most notably, dark chocolate.
Research has noted a number of intriguing benefits with epicatechin, including[1,2,3,4,5]:
- Increased nitric oxide production
- Improved blood flow
- Increased muscle growth and strength
- Better endurance and stamina
- Greater fatigue resistance
- Improved glucose tolerance
All together this makes epicatechin an extremely alluring supplement, especially for those looking to improve performance, strength and hypertrophy.
But, how is epicatechin imparting these effects?
Research is still ongoing, but one of the theories put forth centers around the ability of (-)-epicatechin to inhibit myostatin.
Myostatin is a myokine (regulating protein molecule) that is released by muscle cells that inhibits (stunts) muscle growth.
Working counter to myostatin’s gains-stalling actions is another myokine called follistatin, which inhibits myostatin signalling, thereby supporting muscle growth (hypertrophy).
Now, as the years tick by, follistatin levels decline and naturally myostatin levels rise, which is one of the reasons it becomes more difficult to recover and grow new muscle as we age.
However, epicatechin has been shown to increase follistatin levels and decrease myostatin, promoting greater muscle growth and athletic performance.
In fact, a 2015 study where subjects consumed 50-200mg epicatechin per day, noted that after only five days of use, average follistatin levels increased ~2.5x compared to their levels on day one of supplementation.
The Bottom Line on Epicatechin
Epicatechin is a flavonol found in dark chocolate that supports muscle and strength gains via a number of different mechanisms, including:
- Increased nitric oxide production (which increases blood flow, and subsequently nutrient delivery to muscles)
- Improved athletic performance & reduced fatigue (which helps you lift more weights over the long term)
- Myostatin inhibition
If you’re already using the “proven commodities” like beta alanine, betaine, and creatine, epicatechin is a worthwhile option to add to your muscle and strength-gaining supplement stack.
- Schwarz NA, Theodore AP, Funderburg BR, Waldhelm A, McKinley-Barnard SK, Hudson GM. Acute (-)-Epicatechin Consumption: Effects on Local Vasodilation Following Resistance Exercise and High-Intensity Exercise Performance. Sports (Basel). 2020;8(2):22. Published 2020 Feb 15. doi:10.3390/sports8020022
- Grassi, D; Short-term administration of dark chocolate is followed by a significant increase in insulin sensitivity and a decrease in blood pressure in healthy persons.; Department of Internal Medicine and Public Health, University of L’Aquila; 2005
- Nogueira, L., Ramirez-Sanchez, I., Perkins, G. A., Murphy, A., Taub, P. R., Ceballos, G., Villarreal, F. J., Hogan, M. C. and Malek, M. H. (2011), (–)-Epicatechin enhances fatigue resistance and oxidative capacity in mouse muscle. The Journal of Physiology, 589: 4615–4631. doi:10.1113/jphysiol.2011.209924.
- Fraga CG, Litterio MC, Prince PD, Calabró V, Piotrkowski B, Galleano M. Cocoa flavanols: effects on vascular nitric oxide and blood pressure. Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition. 2011;48(1):63-67. doi:10.3164/jcbn.11-010FR.
- Barnett CF, Moreno-Ulloa A, Shiva S, et al. Pharmacokinetic, partial pharmacodynamic and initial safety analysis of (−)-Epicatechin in healthy volunteers. Food & function. 2015;6(3):824-833. doi:10.1039/c4fo00596a.
- Loke W.M., Hodgson J.M., Proudfoot J.M., McKinley A.J., Puddey I.B., Croft K.D. Pure dietary flavonoids quercetin and (−)-epicatechin augment nitric oxide products and reduce endothelin-1 acutely in healthy men. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2008;88:1018–1025. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/88.4.1018