Cocoa Flavonols supplEmEntation, physical performance anD vascular function: from insight to in-sight and back (FEED)
During intense Physical activity (PA), skeletal muscles become a major source of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Intense and prolonged exercise, as in high-level athletes, results in increased ROS mitochondrial formation, higher levels of inflammation, and oxidative damage, overwhelming the antioxidant defense ability. Antioxidant supplementation, such as cocoa flavanols (CF), is a potentially noninvasive strategy to scavenge additional ROS and reduce cardiovascular oxidative damage, preventing a decline in exercise performance and optimize post-exercise recovery. Aim of this proposal is to investigate the effects of CF dietary implementation as a mechanism to counteract ROS production during exercise by a comprehensive multifaceted approach, thru the evaluation of the acute and chronic effects of CF dietary implementation on physical performance and cardiovascular parameters in elite athletes, and putative molecular mechanisms of CF action in cellular models. The study population will be composed of elite soccer players randomly allocated to a 12week treatment sequence with normal diet including 40g/day of commercially available dark chocolate (>85% cocoa) or isocaloric diet. Before and after the CF implementation period, maximal aerobic capacity, recovery-stress questionnaire, ECG, real-time three-dimensional echocardiography, flow-mediated dilation and blood samples will be collected. Functional tests on ex-vivo platelets, leukocytes, pro-inflammatory cytokines, markers of oxidative status and circulating microRNAs, isolated from athletes' blood samples, will be carried on to identify cellular targets of CF acute and chronic cardiovascular effects. Since elite athletes are exposed to high levels of oxidative stress impairing their performance and optimal recovery, findings from this study will help athletes being more likely to adhere to their training program, especially during periods of strenuous high-volume loads, with impact on their health and performance.