The Myostatin Inhibiting & Myogenic Effects of Epicatechin: Cacao & Tea Contain Well-Known But Overlooked Anabolic

Does a flavanol in "real chocolate" help you shed the fat and build the muscle?
If you are like me, you are probably already using cacao to build muscle. Whether the effects of the occasional dark chocolate bar are so profound that you'd notice if you'd skip them, is however questionable. Irrespective of the latest results from Gabriela Gutierrez-Salmean and her colleagues from the University of California, VA San Diego Health Care Systems and the Escuela Superior de Medicina del Instituto Polit├ęcnico Nacional at the Seccion de Posgrado in Mexico City present in a soon-to-be-published paper in the The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry (Gutierrez-Salmean. 2013), by the way.

"Epi" as in "Epistane" (*) was yesterday...

... "epi" as in chocolate epicatechin is the future (*Epistane was the brand name of a "pro-steroid"). This could be the take home message of future follow up studies in human beings, if the results Gutierrez-Salmean et al. observed in isolated rodent and human muscle cells translate to the real world.
Chocolate milk is an outstanding muscle builder, but as you will remember from previous SuppVersity Articles and Facebook News, chocolate milk owes its muscle building prowess to the combination of milk protein and sugar which make it an excellent recovery fuel (Saunders. 2011; Spaccarotella. 2011; Pritchett. 2012) that can easily compete with commercial recovery drinks (Lunn. 2012)
Other than the benficial effects of chocolate milk, which are brought about not by chocolate but by the amino acids and (milk-)sugars in the sweet brew, the myostatin inhibiting effects of chocolate appear to depend exclusively on the flavanol (-)-epicatechin which has been shown in previous studies to
  • produce a +50% increase in exercise capacity in mice (Nogueira. 2011), and
  • improve skeletal muscle structure / mitochondrial capacity in older patients with heart failure and type 2 diabetes (Taub. 2012)
Unfortunately, the total amount of this flavenol in chocolate is not only relatively low, it does also vary according to the type and origin of your cacao (assuming that whatever chocolate product you may be using, does even have real cacao in it).
Figure 1: Relative change in myostatin, Myf5, MyoD and Myogenin levels after incubation of cells from skeletal muscle of young vs. old rodents with (-)-epicatechin (Gutierrez-Salmean)
It is thus by no means guaranteed that you will experience any, not even a non-significant reduction in myostatin, when you increase your chocolate consumption; and let's be honest (!) - the weight you gained on your last "chocolate cycle" was not all muscle, was it?

Additional Read: "The Myostatin <> Clenbuterol Connetion" | read more
As far as the myostatin suppression goes you may even argue that it's a good thing that the myostatin-inhibiting effects of a 90% cacao chocolate bar are negligible. Whe? Well, we all know what happens when you suppress myostatin too much, right? Right! Your muscles will balloon up until they eventually seize working and you will - just like the poor myostatin negative mice, no longer be able to support your own weight.

Ok, so it could in fact be a good thing that the "next anabolic revolution", let's call it Chocobolicwon't make you look like the Belgian Blue bull in the image on the right...

Rigth, that's really a good thing. What's not so good, though is that it would also lack the exciting effects on MyoD, Myogenin (sorry for the typo in Figure 1) and Myf5 and with them the ability for the recruitement of satellite cells and the genesis of new myonuclei (learn more) - exactly those processes that will avoid the loss of skeletal muscle function.

Contrary to the futile "baloon"-like gains in response to an increase in protein synthesis, these "gains" are meant to stay. In fact, the presence of additionally myonuclei could be the explanation about the miraculous rapid muscle (re-)gain in "roid using mice" you've read about just yesterday in the SuppVersity Facebook News... but I am getting off topic, here - if you want to learn more about the said study and never miss news like this again go to and like the SuppVersity Facebook page.

Remember the anti-androgenic effects of green tea catechins I wrote about in September 2011? Well guess what EPI, or here EC, is one of the exceptions to the rule that has been shown to increase testeosterone by up to +24% (EC) | learn more
So what's the verdict then? If it were not for dosing and delivery issues, the study at hand would be pretty exciting. It does after all provide evidence that most of us have been consuming tiny amounts of an effective and above all potentially side effect-free myostatin inhibitor for years.

There is still a long way to go from rodent and human myocytes in the petri dish to the average supplement costumer and I am not sure whether or not epicatechin will ever make it across the finish line - irrespective of the promising results Noguiera et al. and Taub et al. already observed in rodent skeletal and human heart muscle in response to the provision of 2x 1.0 mg/kg of pure (-)-epicatechin (2x HED 6.5mg; Nogueira. 2011) or dark chocolate and a beverage containing 100 mg of Epi per day for 3 months (Taub. 2012).
  • Gutierrez-Salmean G, Ciaraldi TP, Nogueira L, Barboza J, Taub PR, Hogan M, Henry RR, Meaney E, Villarreal F, Ceballos G, Ramirez-Sanchez I. Effects of (-)-epicatechin on molecular modulators of skeletal muscle growth and differentiation. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. Oct. 2013 [accepted manuscript].
  • Lunn WR, Pasiakos SM, Colletto MR, Karfonta KE, Carbone JW, Anderson JM, Rodriguez NR. Chocolate milk and endurance exercise recovery: protein balance, glycogen, and performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012 Apr;44(4):682-91. 
  • Nogueira L, Ramirez-Sanchez I, Perkins GA, Murphy A, Taub PR, Ceballos G, Villarreal FJ, Hogan MC, Malek MH. (-)-Epicatechin enhances fatigue resistance and oxidative capacity in mouse muscle. J Physiol. 2011 Sep 15;589(Pt 18):4615-31.
  • Pritchett K, Pritchett R. Chocolate milk: a post-exercise recovery beverage for endurance sports. Med Sport Sci. 2012;59:127-34.
  • Saunders MJ. Glycogen replenishment with chocolate milk consumption. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2011 Nov-Dec;10(6):390.
  • Spaccarotella KJ, Andzel WD. The effects of low fat chocolate milk on postexercise recovery in collegiate athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Dec;25(12):3456-60. 
  • Taub PR, Ramirez-Sanchez I, Ciaraldi TP, Perkins G, Murphy AN, Naviaux R, Hogan M, Maisel AS, Henry RR, Ceballos G, Villarreal F. Alterations in skeletal muscle indicators of mitochondrial structure and biogenesis in patients with type 2 diabetes and heart failure: effects of epicatechin rich cocoa. Clin Transl Sci. 2012 Feb;5(1):43-7.
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