By Dr. Sara McEvoy, PT, DPT
How many supplements can you list off the top of your head?
If you've listed things like whey protein, creatine, and branched chain amino acids, you're probably well-versed in iron, sweat, and super sets. But there may be one supplement missing from your list that could take your athletic performance to the next level and help you catch the gains:
In this comprehensive epicatechin review, you're going to learn about:
- What epicatechin is and how it works in the body
- The top epicatechin benefits as found in the research
- Who this compound is for and how to take it
- The top epicatechin sources in your diet
- Top 5 Epicatechin Supplements
What is Epicatechin—And What It's Not
Epicatechin (pronounced epi-CAT-eh-kin) is a kind of bioactive, antioxidant plant compound. If you've looked up epicatechin before, you probably came across some weird looking words and phrases. Don't let the fancy terms throw you off. It just turns out that epicatechin is a subgroup of a subgroup of a subgroup (you get the idea) of a group of plant chemicals. Understanding how these terms relate to each other is akin to taking apart a Russian doll. Here's what we mean:
- Polyphenols: used for centuries in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, polyphenols are a broad group of chemicals naturally occurring in plants
- Flavanoids: a group of phytonutrients from the polyphenol family, flavanoids help give fruits and veggies their appealing color
- Flavanols: a subgroup of flavanoids, flavanols (including epicatechin) are healthy botanical compounds and the most popular type of flavanoid
In other words, epicatechin is a type of flavanol, flavanols are a type of flavanoid, and flavanoids are a type of polyphenol. Get it? The main thing to remember is these are all plant-based natural chemicals that can offer a host of benefits for your body.
By the way, other types of flavanoids include flavones, flavonols, flavonones, isoflavones, and anthocyanidins/proanthocyanidins, all of which contain their own superstar compounds. For example, apigenin (a type of flavone) and procyanidin (a type of proanthocyanidin formed by the combination of catechin and epicatechin molecules) and may help fight against cancer thanks to their antitumor and anti-inflammatory properties.
Research on both animals and humans have found plenty of epicatechin benefits that are worth writing home about. These benefits include:
- Increased nitric oxide production. We're not talking about laughing gas from the dentist. Nitric oxide is a compound naturally produced in your body where it plays several key roles, not the least of which is vasodilation (opening of the blood vessels). Studies have shown that epicatechin stimulates nitric oxide production and thereby may improve circulation, vascularity, muscle recovery, and endurance.
- Increased angiogenesis. Angiogenesis is a fancy word for blood vessel growth. More blood vessel growth = enhanced circulation (aka better pump).
- Increased mitochondrial biogenesis. You remember mitochondria from grade school bio class, don't you? They're the "powerhouses of the cell." Epicatechin may increase mitochondrial growth and density in heart and skeletal muscle cells, giving these muscles more energy and power.
- Decrease myostatin production. Myostatin is a type of protein that blocks muscle growth. As a myostatin inhibitor, epicatechin can enhance muscle regeneration and growth—even in hard gainers.
- Increased follistatin production. According to a 2009 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Muscle & Nerve, follistatin is a known "muscle-builder" in the body because it has an antagonist effect on myostatin. Turns out epicatechin increases circulating levels of follistatin in the blood, further enhancing its muscle-boosting effect.
- Increased exercise performance—at least in rodents. While more studies need to be done on epicatechin's effect on human subjects, the compound is promising as a performance enhancer because of its impact on vasodilation and muscle protein synthesis. Plus, epicatechin has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and body composition, which we know exercise already does.
Epicatechin studies have also found that this compound (along with the rest of catechin class) may help reduce chronic fatigue syndrome, improve cholesterol, boost neurological health, and even help people living with muscle dystrophy. Plus, multiple studies have shown that consuming more flavanoids in general can do everything from promoting longevity to reducing the risk of heart disease and dementia.
Not too bad for a bunch of tiny plant pigments.
Epicatechin Foods: From the Fridge to Your Pantry
In the next section, you'll be introduced to the top epicatechin supplements available on the market. But you can also boost your intake of this powerhouse flavanol by consuming more of the following epicaetchin foods:
- Fruits, including grapes, blackberries, pears, apples, cherries, guava, and raspberries (washed and with the skin please!)
- Fava beans
- Sweet potatoes
- Dark chocolate (1.4 ounces of contains about 10 milligrams of epicatechin)
- Green tea (3.5 fluid ounces is packed with over 8 mg of epicatechin)
- Red wine
Epicatechin Dosage, Side Effects, and How to Optimize Your Intake (And Who Can Take it Safely)
It's amazing how beneficial this little compound is—and even more amazing since most people have never heard of it! The question is: what's the correct epicatechin dosage?
According to research, an ideal epicatechin dosage is around 1-2 mg per kilogram of bodyweight. We'll spare you the math—that's about 180 mg per day for a 200 lb person. But for optimal athletic and body composition benefits, many users report a sweet spot closer to 300-400 mg per day.
For maximum efficiency and cost-effectiveness, you may want to start around 180-200 mg per day and gradually increase your intake until you achieve the desired effects on your body composition, strength, recovery, and performance.
Who Can Take Epicatechin—And When Should It Be Taken?
There have been virtually no epicatechin side effects reported in the literature, so it's considered a safe supplement for any healthy adult, including women. Ladies, just make sure you choose an epicatechin supplement that's free of any testosterone boosters.
On its own, epicatechin isn't a stimulant, so technically it can be taken at any time of day (provided there aren't any other stimulants added into your chosen supplement). A lot of users prefer taking it pre-workout to maximize the enhanced vascularization and "pump" effects.
And remember—this epicatechin review isn't intended to be medical advice. If you're currently under the care of a physician, pregnant, nursing, or living with a health condition, chat with your doctor before adding this or any new supplement to your routine.
How to Boost Your Epicatechin Benefits
To avoid eating dark chocolate all day, many athletes and gym-goers prefer to add a high quality epicatechin supplement to their routine. If you go this route, consider enhancing your epicatechin intake by taking it with synergistic compounds such as laxogenin, also known as 5 alpha hydroxy laxogenin or 5a-hydroxy laxogenin.
What's the difference between laxogenin and epicatechin? Unlike epicatechin, laxogenin is a type of brassinosteroid, or plant hormone. As a natural anabolic compound, laxogenin stacks well with epicatechin to enhance muscle growth. Anafuse by Vital Alchemy is a great option for those interested, since it contains 1,200 mg of combined epicatechin, laxogenin, and alpha-hydroxy-isocaproic-acid (HICA), which is derived from the amino acid leucine and boosts protein synthesis while decreasing muscle catabolism (muscle breakdown).
A Comprehensive Epicatechin Review: The Top 5 Epicatechin Supplements
Considered the best epicatechin supplement out there, Epi 2.0 by Vital Alchemy is packed with an impressive 225 mg of epicatechin per serving. This all natural supplement is specially formulated to be highly bioavailable, so you absorb more of the epicatechin for optimal effects. Plus, users seem to notice a significant difference in their training and appearance.
Promising to boost absorption of epicatechin by as much as 200 to 600%, Ep1logue by Olympus Labs promises to help improve circulation to your muscles during your workouts for optimal vascularity, energy, and performance. Reviewers have noticed positive effects with a variety of training stimuli and rep ranges.
Follidrone by Black Lion Research uses epicatechin and other naturally occurring compounds to maximize follistatin production, inhibit myostatin, and ultimately maximize muscular gains. User reviews are generally positive, however some people are put off by its price and the fact that you may need to take a higher dose before noticing the full effects.
Epi-Plex by Competitive Edge Labs boasts 300 mg of epicatechin per serving to help you maximize muscle strength, growth, vascularization, and recovery. Users love that it works and discloses exactly how much of the antioxidant compound they're getting per serving.
Epi Cat by Blackstone Labs doesn't have quite as many reviews, but it contains both epicatechin and green tea leaf extract which can maximize energy and blood flow during your workout for better results.
Epicatechin is a natural plant compound from a powerful group of phytochemicals known as flavanols. Consuming foods rich in epicatechin as well as adding a high quality epicatechin supplement may help you boost circulation, improve your heart health, promote muscle growth, and even protect you against age-related muscle wasting and other health problems.
If you want to take advantage of this completely natural plant chemical, eat lots of flavanoid-rich foods including dark chocolate, green tea, fruits, and veggies. Plus, consider adding a high quality epicatechin supplement to your diet and exercise routine.
Lastly, experiment with the epicatechin dosage that seems to best suit your needs. You may require more or less depending on your goals, age, health status, gender, and activity level. Take your time, be patient, and pay attention—it's worth it, because the pay-off could be huge.
By Dr. Sara McEvoy, PT, DPT
Sara McEvoy, PT, DPT is a licensed and board-certified doctor of physical therapy. Sara prefers to work exclusively within the health and wellness field. Sara is a former gym co-owner and group fitness instructor.