What Is Theobromine? What Does Theobromine Do?

Theobromine makes breathing during exercise easier

Let’s face it. Running and other cardiovascular exercise is hard.  Especially as you start a new routine or are coming back after an extended break.  

Your heart races, your legs burn, and fatigue sets in quickly.

However, I would guess the biggest complaint amongst those doing cardio or other endurance-based activities is sometimes it is just plain hard to breath.

You all know the feeling. The searing pain that arises when your lungs yearn for more oxygen.

While conditioning over time will alleviate some of the pains mentioned above, there is one supplement that may benefit beginners and veteran endurance athletes alike when it comes to breathing easier while also providing a multitude of other benefits.  

This supplement is theobromine.

In this article, we will discuss what theobromine is, the benefits of theobromine, how to use theobromine, the research on theobromine, and if theobromine is safe.

Theobromine Overview

  • Theobromine is a compound found in cacao plants.
  • Theobromine is a potent bronchodilator (opens up airways in the body).
  • Theobromine supplementation may provide cardiovascular and cognitive benefits via improved blood flow.
  • Theobromine should be dosed at 100-400mg and taken 30 minutes prior to endurance exercise.
  • As a whole theobromine is safe in humans but is poisonous to animals, which metabolize theobromine more slowly.

What Is Theobromine?

Theobromine is an alkaloid (an organic compound that contains nitrogen atoms)

What are natural sources of theobromine?

Theobromine is commonly found in cocoa, chocolate (especially dark chocolate), tea plants, yerba mate, and kola nuts. It is from these sources that theobromine is extracted from when found is supplemental form.

When ingested theobromine acts as a mild stimulant and is somewhat similar to caffeine; which can also be found in cacao.

The primary functions of theobromine in the body are:

  • Enhanced respiration
  • Improved circulation.

The first should be seen as highly beneficial to runners, cyclists, and other endurance athletes.

Theobromine Benefits

For the purposes of this article the main benefit of theobromine, especially for endurance athletes is it acts as a bronchodilator.

This means when ingested, theobromine helps “open up” airways to help you breathe easier and get more oxygen to working muscles. This also means theobromine can produce small, but significant, increases in VO2 Max.

Other benefits of theobromine include:
  • Block adenosine receptors.  This leads to less fatigue and pain felt during exercise.
  • Increases the activity of cAMP. This compound reduces inflammation, widens blood vessels, and increases stimulation.
  • Lower blood pressure due to the widening of blood vessels.
  • Improve cognitive function.
  • Increase blood flow.  This allows more oxygen to be delivered to working muscles.
  • Improve cholesterol by lowering LDL.
  • Help you sleep.

Theobromine For Endurance Performance

Now to the information you have all been waiting for.  How can theobromine enhance endurance performance?

As stated earlier theobromine acts as a bronchodilator when consumed.

  • In fact, theobromine has been used in asthmatic populations to help those individuals breath easier. As a bronchodilator, theobromine helps “open up” airways (i.e. lungs and other vessels).

This allows endurance athletes to take in more air with each breath which leads to greater oxygen delivery to working muscles. This also means theobromine can improve VO2 max and improve exercise economy; making hard exercise seem easier.

Theobromine also improves endurance performance by acting as a vasodilator (widens blood vessels).

  • Blood carries oxygen in red blood cells via hemoglobin and delivers it to exercising muscle. More blood due to the vasodilatory effects of theobromine leads to more oxygen that can be utilized.

The result? You exercise longer and stronger.



What Is The Proper Dose And Timing Of Theobromine?

In humans, research suggests that the efficacious dose of theobromine to enhance endurance performance is 100 - 400 mg taken 30-45 minutes before exercise

Research On Theobromine

Theobromine Improves 3km Time Trial Performance In Runners

A 2016 study conducted by Hu et al. discovered subjects who consumed theobromine before a 3k time trial were able to improve their performance by ~60 seconds compared to the placebo group.

Researchers speculated that an increase in VO2 max was responsible.

Theobromine Enhances VO2 Max In Well Trained Runners

Another 2016 study conducted by Mintesnot et. al discovered that well-trained runners (male and female) who consumed theobromine 30 minutes before a treadmill test, improved VO2 max by 2-3%.

While the result was small is was found to be significant (P 0.05).  The researchers also discovered that theobromine improved reaction time.

Theobromine Reduces Oxidative Stress And Increases Free Fatty Acid Mobilization In Trained Cyclists

Allgrove et al. (2011) found that cyclists who consumed theobromine 2 hours prior to an exhaustive 1.5-hour cycling test had F2-isoprostanes levels that were significantly lower at exhaustion and after 1 hour of recovery with theobromine. Oxidized LDLs were significantly lower with theobromine both before and after exercise and at exhaustion.

Theobromine was also associated with ~21% greater rises in free fatty acids during exercise.

Is Theobromine Safe/Theobromine Poisoning

As a whole theobromine poisoning is non-existent in humans with no research demonstrating any deaths.

At doses of 0.8 - 1.5 grams per day, equivalent to 50 - 100 grams of cocoa, side effects may include headaches, sweating, and trembling.

Limited effects on mode have been observed in individuals who consumed 250 mg per day.

Why Theobromine Is Bad For Dogs

While theobromine appears to be safe in human populations, it can be fatal for animals like dogs and cats.  This is due to theobromine being more slowly metabolized in these domestic pets.

Research has demonstrated that as little as 50 grams of milk chocolate is enough to kill a small dog with 400 grams being fatal to larger dogs.  

The main cause of death is heart failure due to chocolate/theobromine consumption.

How Much Theobromine Is In Dark Chocolate And Other Natural Sources

According to the nutrient database provided by the United States Department of Agriculture, the amount of theobromine per 100 grams of chocolate/cacao products is:

  • 2634mg in cocoa powder that is unsweetened.
  • 1297mg found in unsweetened baking chocolate.
  • 802mg found in dark chocolate that is 70% cocoa.
  • 40mg found in chocolate containing candy bars.

The Bottom Line On Theobromine

Without a doubt, theobromine has several ergogenic effects that can benefit endurance performance and overall health.

Of utmost importance to the cardiovascular crowd, theobromine can make breathing easier, improve VO2 max, and enhance blood flow to working muscles.

This is why we have included theobromine in our PerformElite X pre-workout!

References:

  • Martínez-Pinilla, E., Oñatibia-Astibia, A., & Franco, R. (2015). The relevance of theobromine for the beneficial effects of cocoa consumption. Frontiers in pharmacology, 6, 30.
  • Simons, F. E. R., Becker, A. B., Simons, K. J., & Gillespie, C. A. (1985). The bronchodilator effect and pharmacokinetics of theobromine in young patients with asthma. Journal of allergy and clinical immunology, 76(5), 703-707.
  • Senchina, D. S., Hallam, J. E., Thompson, N. M., Nguyen, N. A., Robinson, J. R., & Perera, M. A. (2012). Alkaloids and endurance athletes. Track and Cross Country Journal, 2, 2-18.
  • Kundrat, S. (2005). Herbs and athletes. Sports Science, 18(1), 96.
  • Hu, J. (2016). Ergogenic Effects of Intake of Salbutamol, Caffeine and Theobromine on Non-Asthmatic Subjects(Doctoral dissertation, Liverpool John Moores University).
  • Smit, H. J. (2011). Theobromine and the pharmacology of cocoa. In Methylxanthines (pp. 201-234). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.
  • Rani, D., Mintesnot Benti, B., & Enyew, D. (2016). Effect of Caffeinated Coffee Ingestion on the Cardio Respiratory Endurance Performance and Reaction Time of Athletes: The Case of Athletes in Nekemte Town, Oromia Region, Western Ethiopia (Doctoral dissertation, Haramaya University).
  • NICA-BADEA, D. E. L. I. A., & GROSU, E. F. (2014). XANTINIC COMPOUNDS INCENTIVISING THE ACTIVE PRINCIPLES OF ATHLETE PERFORMANCE: EFFECTS, OPPORTUNITIES AND RISKS. Applied Social Sciences: Psychology, Physical Education and Social Medicine, 133.
  • Fraga, C. G., Actis-Goretta, L., Ottaviani, J. I., Carrasquedo, F., Lotito, S. B., Lazarus, S., ... & Keen, C. L. (2005). Regular consumption of a flavanol-rich chocolate can improve oxidant stress in young soccer players. Journal of Immunology Research, 12(1), 11-17.
  • Allgrove, J., Farrell, E., Gleeson, M., Williamson, G., & Cooper, K. (2011). Regular dark chocolate consumption’s reduction of oxidative stress and increase of free-fatty-acid mobilization in response to prolonged cycling. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 21(2), 113-123.
  • Davison, G., Callister, R., Williamson, G., Cooper, K. A., & Gleeson, M. (2012). The effect of acute pre-exercise dark chocolate consumption on plasma antioxidant status, oxidative stress and immunoendocrine responses to prolonged exercise. European journal of nutrition, 51(1), 69-79.