Interview: Carole Armitage

80Noir Ultra

Carole ArmitageCarole Armitage is the face behind the new 80Noir Ultra Chocolate, a chocolate range designed to support your health and wellbeing. It is perfect for runners pre-, post- and during workouts, which certainly grabbed our interest. 

It’s been a long journey for Carole to get to this point, with decades of research and experience poured into her range. Her hard work as paid off, as she has recently been awarded two stars by Great Taste, the world’s most coveted food and drinks awards.  Of more than 12,500 products that were submitted this year for consideration, only 1,326 were awarded a two-star rating!

Our roving reporter Amy Robson was lucky enough to catch up with Carole and find out more about her inspiration behind the range of chocolates and her top tips for runners.

Thank you for agreeing to this interview! I’m sure loads of people will love hearing about the fact that chocolate is now a sports-fuelling strategy, but how did you first come across this idea?

When I was little I suffered, and still suffer, with low blood sugar levels, mainly in stressful situations and from exhaustion. On top of that I played badminton competitively in my teens/early twenties and chocolate was my go-to saviour.

I found it an elixir to my mood, my energy levels and it made me perform better. At the time I took what was available, however I was never really enamoured with the overly sweet and unnatural ingredients they add to it. It seemed only fitting that to have a truly great hot chocolate [I needed to] create my own blend, designed to improve mental wellbeing and performance, as it has done that for me all my life and continues to do so.

There are many benefits to chocolate, but it’s fair to say that not all chocolate is created equal. What makes your chocolate products stand out?

Agreed, it’s a sliding scale of greatness, from white chocolate to dark. The biggest difference with 80Noir Ultra is the flavour, how it packs a punch and doesn’t leave you wanting more.

I wanted to create a chocolate that doesn’t have the same bitterness you find with a dark chocolate. It has a smoother richer creamier feel, so it bridges the gap for milk and dark chocolate lovers,. As such, it makes a beautiful bar and exquisite chocolate drink.

A by-product of this is it contains slightly more monosaturated fats, dietary fibre and protein than a regular dark chocolate, so it works more efficiently with our bodies and allows us to utilise the energy provided in a powerful way for our wellbeing and performance.

As it has a higher concentration of protein, when you add it to milk, it provides our bodies with the perfect carb-to-protein ratio, which is essential to aid muscle recovery. The other aspect of my chocolate is that each product is made in the perfect recommended quantity, which allows us to have this daily and be able to enhance our day-to-day living without any negative impact.

Comfort seems to be a main element of your company and fuelling strategy during races. Do you see this as an under-utilised element of endurance sports? Why is it so vital?

Absolutely, nothing is more important than being comfortable with what you put in your body and fuelling in the best way for your body. Life can throw so many curve balls out of our control.

As such, we need to ensure that we are able to cope with it in the most relaxed and positive way possible. 80Noir Ultra is geared around helping improve our wellbeing and fitness by enjoying life’s greatest and oldest treasures.

So many people love chocolate, but there’s still so much guilt around eating it. How have you approached breaking this stigma?

In truth, with positivity.

I firmly believe in dark chocolate as an elixir to soothe, settle and calm our wellbeing, as well as promote a positive effect to our performance.

How? Because I have been a guinea pig for over 30 years and can attest to its greatness, as well as trialling and having it tested by a variety of people, including PTs, sport players, ultrarunners, athletes, workaholics, working mums, yogis, etc.

The positive feedback is very inspiring and allows me to speak with confidence and share my findings. The nation has been fed decades of negative feedback on chocolate, so it’s a long and slow process to ask people to change their perception or be open to it. But as I have seen, it’s all about re-learning. If we can change our minds about so many other things, we can certainly be open to understanding the benefits of dark chocolate and the possibilities.

You mention the ‘Functional Medicine Model’ as a key inspiration for your range. Could you elaborate upon what that is and why it means so much to you as an athlete?

Functional Medicine is the process my nutritionist uses and one I have adopted thanks to Emily.

It addresses the underlying causes of disease, using a systems-oriented approach and engaging both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership. I have adopted this by addressing the causes by which we need assistance within our wellbeing and fitness. By initially working with people to ensure I have met people’s needs with the right toppings, sizes, etc, that promote a positive effect to our mental wellbeing and performance, without diminishing the taste of the products.

Flavour is one of the most important factors within the range, followed closely with function. I wanted to create a range that provided a variety of positive functions. Drinks that provide a low-calorie boost (chocolate shot = 70 calories) and designed to boost and improve cognitive thinking; three separate bars that have been specifically designed to aid in pre-exercise (Apple Pie is there to help settle race nerves, ease queasiness and settle the stomach, while providing a fruity lift to get you out the door); an endurance and wellbeing lifter (the daily Booster Bar), which is great for prolonged activity without dipping your sugar levels, whether that’s exercise or day job stresses. I also sell a post-recovery bar (Funky Monkey), which is packed with potassium, magnesium and essential nutrients to aid muscle recovery and give you a nutty crunch. The energy drink or hot chocolate mix is the go-to drink for anybody who wants to feel fabulous and calmer in an instant. The range is small but mighty, and has been lovingly created to address the cause rather than the symptom.

Starting a sports chocolate company couldn’t have been easy! What were some of the key challenges for you?

The biggest challenge was, and still is, challenging the norm about what people automatically believe (which, more often than not, is not based on fact but mostly advertising) and having to explain chocolate and sport/wellbeing can go hand in hand to help each other. To show that, with the right quality and quantity, it can serve as a boost and a way to help lower stress levels and be part of our day-to-day living with positive effects.

On the flip side, what has been the most rewarding part?

Watching someone change their mind right in front of you, especially white chocolate lovers and dark chocolate haters!

With my toppings on the bars, they add variety as well as providing essential nutrients of minerals, vitamins, etc, to aid in our fitness and wellbeing. When someone tries it and stops in their tracks at how delicious it is, it sends shivers of excitement through me.

You’re an accomplished athlete yourself, tackling many a run. What advice would you give for those just getting in to running (especially for endurance)?

Ohh so much!

  • Take your time, celebrate everything you do; something is always something.
  • There is no rush to start ticking off races, so do what works for you, without adding additional stress to your life.
  • I have been plagued with injuries and I’ve had to learn the art of mental strength and patience. Don’t run before you can walk and don’t be so hard on yourself.
  • I have stopped putting expectations on myself and just run for the love of running. I love a challenge so sometimes the harder it is, the more I thrive but I have (and am) learning that I have to take it slower.
  • Self-care and fuelling are vitally important to me, so I take my time and ensure that I have what I need to keep me fuelled at my best – mainly a 80Noir Ultra bar or hot chocolate drink at the ready. I am never without it.
  • If it’s endurance running you’re interested in, [the community is] the maddest, loveliest and most helpful/supportive people out there. They have made my journey so much fun. Plus, watch out for the ‘Chase the Chocolate’ event we are looking to put on in London, hopefully this November.

Recovery is vital for a long running life. How have you found your chocolate products for recovery? What has the recovery feedback been like?

For me, I am a chocolate drinker, so I always have a post-recovery hot/cold chocolate milk made with 80Noir Ultra.

If it’s exercise up to 60 mins, then I only make it 125ml, and if over 70+ mins, then I will have 250ml, as there is no need for more. I have found it promotes the recovery process without any heaviness on my stomach.

The Funky Monkey bar, which is designed for post-exercise recovery, has had great feedback from so many athletes and sports enthusiasts. They feel more energised and [say that] it provides a nutty banana crunch to end a great workout. I have also found many people love to add it to their porridge for added ‘oomph’ after their morning exercise. It’s such a versatile range and of the many reasons why I love it.

Find out more about 80Noir Ultra and Carole Armitage here: