The Magic of Chia Seeds

“Try this,” a Tarahumara woman once told an exhausted explorer who’d collapsed at the base of a mountain. She handed him a gourd full of murky liquid. He swallowed a few gulps, and was amazed to feel new energy pulsing in his veins. He got to his feet and scaled the peak like an overcaffeinated Sherpa. The Tarahumara, the explorer would later report, also guarded the recipe to a special energy food that leaves them trim, powerful and unstoppable: a few mouthfuls packed enough nutritional punch to let them run all day without rest.”

-Born to Run

As I read this passage, my mind drifted into a reverie set in a Mexican desert where exotic, other wordly super-athletes ran for days at a time in scorching heat in thin sandals. I was entranced with everything about Christopher McDougall’s best-selling book, but was particularly fascinated with the diets of the wondrous athletes he described. How could a human possibly run all day on a mouthful of anything? My brain searched through its database of nutritional knowledge, but came up empty with any such substance.

Chia seeds - the magical endurance fuel of the Tarahumara Indians.

I think it’s difficult to fully understand the importance of endurance nutrition until you’ve experienced The Bonk. I don’t mean just feeling tired at the end of a ride. I’m talking about being on the brink of passing out, puking and feeling like hell, then riding for another hour. I’ve been there – after a 10 mile run in 100 degree weather, I ended up in the emergency room with severe heat stroke. I went through two liters of IV fluid and still didn’t have to pee for several hours. That’s a level of dehydration only familiar to desert creatures like camels and cactuses.

Arnulfo Quimare and Scott Jurek

Tahamuran Arnulfo Quimare, in red, runs with ultra-running legend, Scott Jurek

So how can the Tarahumara run for 100 miles in the same heat that brought me to death’s doorstep?

The skeptic in me says there is no panacea or magic elixir that can conquer dehydration while prolonging endurance. But, a big part of the answer to the question above can be attributed to the power of chia seeds. The Tarahumara have been using them as food for centuries, and the Aztec Indians harnessed the seeds’ power before them. Here’s the science: chia seeds have a complete, very high quality protein, a moderate carbohydrate load, and are high in dietary fiber, as well as in Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, thus are extremely heart-healthy. Chia seeds have exceptional hydrophilic properties that absorb 9 to 14 times their weight in water and therefore prolong hydration.

Even though they are not a super-high source of carbohydrates, chia slows your body’s uptake of them, so any fuel you ingest will last longer. Chia is highly enriched with antioxidants, and provides more cellular protection than vitamin C and E.

Why it has taken so long for these seeds to come into mainstream consciousness, I have no idea, but I sure am glad it did. Wingfoot is a company based out of San Luis Obispo, CA that has developed a chia performance drink mix. I am convinced there is really something to this product. After drinking a glass right before a hard ride, I felt an extra pep in my pedal stroke. My legs felt springy and energized. My stomach felt calm and satiated.

Wingfoot Iskiate Chia Performance Drink  Case/24 Lemon

Wingfoot Iskiate Lemon flavor goes down smooth.

I was surprised by how smooth it went down considering it looks a little weird when mixed with water. The subtle orange flavor is my favorite, but they are all quite enjoyable and refreshing. I feel good about using an all natural product for energy that has been around for thousands of years rather than ingesting some potion that was invented in a lab with the intention making money off it. Nothing against sport drinks, I still rely on them to replace electrolytes and fuel my athletic pursuits. I just enjoy drinking something that is derived of the earth.

The best way to experience the power of chia is to try it for yourself. We have single servings available as well as cases of 24 servings. I’d also encourage you to do more research as I know there are more benefits than I described here. This is an opportunity to harness your inner Tarahumara, and possibly extend your endurance to a level you never thought possible.