Mix Chocolate and Caffeine to Help You Focus

Why drink regular coffee when you can add a dash of cocoa for some pretty hot benefits?. Aleksandrova Karina/Shutterstock

Sure, you could drink a plain old cup of coffee or a warm cup of cocoa in the morning. Or you could make things much more interesting — and improve your concentration — by adding a healthy dose of chocolate to your morning caffeine fix.

Researchers recently explored the powers of cocoa and caffeine, studying the effects various beverages had on "attention, motivation to perform cognitive work and feelings of anxiety, energy and fatigue."

For the double-blind study, volunteers drank brewed cocoa, cocoa with caffeine, caffeine without cocoa, and a placebo (flavored and colored brewed water) with neither caffeine nor cocoa. Before they imbibed and then three times after drinking, participants took a series of tests to evaluate mood, attention and their motivation to perform cognitive tasks. Volunteers repeated the tests with each drink at least 48 hours apart at about the same time of day.

“It was a really fun study,” study author Ali Boolani, Clarkson University assistant professor of physical therapy and physician assistant studies, said in a statement. “Cocoa increases cerebral blood flow, which increases cognition and attention. Caffeine alone can increase anxiety. This particular project found that cocoa lessens caffeine's anxiety-producing effects — a good reason to drink mocha lattes!”

Working for warm drinks

As part of their tasks, participants watched as letters flashed across a screen and had to respond when an “X” appeared after an “A.” They also had to do mathematical equations (subtraction) and had to watch a screen and point out when odd numbers appeared in a row.

Those who drank cocoa had quicker response rates than those who drank flavored water. Those participants who drank cocoa plus caffeine had even higher accuracy rates than those who drank straight cocoa. The results were published in the journal BMC Nutrition.

After the study, which was sponsored by the Hershey Company, the research team from Clarkson and the University of Georgia, concluded:

Brewed cocoa can acutely reduce errors associated with attention in the absence of changes in either perceived motivation to perform cognitive tasks or feelings of energy and fatigue. Supplemental caffeine in brewed cocoa can enhance aspects of attention while brewed cocoa can attenuate the anxiety-provoking effects found from drinking caffeine alone.

“The results of the tests are definitely promising and show that cocoa and caffeine are good choices for students and anyone else who needs to improve sustained attention,” says Boolani.