Can Chia Seeds Help You Run Longer and Faster?
Chia seeds are one of the newest movements in the heath food market. You can find them in everything from energy bars and beverages to crackers and soups. Many of the health conscious, endurance nutrition companies such as, Vega Sport, Bonk Breakers, and Now Energy Bars are adding Chia seeds to their products.
As such, it’s not surprising that you have questions about the hype behind these little seeds and if they something you should be including in your daily nutrition routine to improve your running? In this article, we’ll provide you with the history, latest research, and nutritional benefits of chia seeds – as well as few delicious recipes to whet your appetite.
What’s the story behind Chia Seeds?
Chia seeds are derived from the desert plant Salvia hispanica. Historical documents suggest that chia seeds have been a significant part of the diets of the natives of Central America and Mexico since 2,600 B.C. These seeds were often referred to as “the running food”. It is rumored that the warriors of the native people in these regions would mix Chia seeds and water to maintain energy levels and stay hydrated during conquests.
According to history, the Tarahumara people, located in the northwestern part of Mexico, are renowned for their long distance running abilities. Tarahumara means “those who run fast”. With their settlements dispersed across the land, they developed a tradition of running 200 miles over the course of a couple days to get from one settlement to the next. It is also said that before running they would drink a mix called iskiate. Iskaite is simply water mixed with chia seeds. This combination was thought to give them stamina and hydration for their long journey of running from settlement to settlement.
What is the current research?
While the history regarding the use of chia seeds is interesting to read, the promise of amazing results comes from word of mouth. So, what does today’s research on the benefits of chia seeds say?
Endurance based research
One study, published by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, found that a combination of 50% calories from chia seeds and 50% calories from Gatorade works just as well as 100% calories from Gatorade in training sessions greater than 90 minutes. The most interesting thing about this discovery is the half chia seeds, half gatorade mix had the exact same results, but offered a larger nutritional boost thanks to additional Omega 3 fatty acid consumption and 50% less sugar than the full Gatorade solution, thus cutting down on calories and boosting nutritional intake.
General health research
A study performed at the University of Toronto involving individuals with type 2 diabetes found that after 12 weeks of patients consuming 37 grams of chia seeds daily, the patients experienced a decrease in their blood pressure, inflammation, and blood sugar regulation.
There is a significant amount of research that supports the consumption of Chia seeds for improved general health. The endurance-training field is still young, but at this point,, consumption of chia seeds is pointing in a positive direction when it comes to performance enhancement.
Nutrients chia seeds offer
One tablespoon of Chia seeds, or about 12 grams, contains 2.1 grams of ALA, 4 grams of fiber, 2 grams of protein and 58 calories.
ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is a plant base for of omega-3 fatty acids. The daily recommendation of ALA is 1.6 grams for men and 1.1 grams for women. ALA is an antioxidant that is essential to energy production in the body. As a runner, keeping your energy levels high is absolutely necessary, and getting your nutrition from a food source that your body knows how to break down naturally is preferable.
Consuming a single tablespoon of chia seeds a day will help your body utilize the food you consume more efficiently.
Now, it is important to note that high levels of ALA are not dangerous. When you are putting as much stress on your body as runners do, the higher levels of ALA will only help reduce inflammation.
How to eat chia seeds
Chia seeds are virtually flavorless. They can be added to just about anything. Try tossing them in yogurt or cottage cheese, a vegetable salad or put some in your smoothies. Most of the time you won’t even notice them. To help expand your use of chia seeds, here are a few recipes to try.
Drink Like the Tarahumara people
-10 oz of water
-1 Tbsp dry chia seeds
-a few teaspoons lemon or lime juice
-honey to taste (optional)
Stir the chia seeds into the water; let them sit for about five minutes. Stir again, and let sit for as long as you like. The more it sits, the more gel-like the seeds and water become. Add citrus juice and sweetener to taste
-10 oz of your favorite iced tea
-1 tablespoon chia seeds
-Sweeten to taste
Stir chia seeds into tea for about 10 minutes, and enjoy.
Chia Ice Pops (this is great for hot summer runs)
-1 c frozen strawberries
-1 c frozen mango chunks
-.5 c orange juice
-1/3 c chia seeds
-1/4 c water
Processes all ingredients in a high powered blender and liquefy. Pour into ice-cube or popsicle molds, and freeze.
Chia seeds offer runners a healthy fuel for stamina and endurance, as well as anti inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Give these recipes that include chia seeds a try before your next run and see if they take your farther. Post your experience with chia seeds or share your own recipes in the comments section below!
“Chia – Basic Facts.” Chia – Basic Facts. Web. 30 May 2012..”Chia Seed May Help Prevent Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease.” Free Press Release Distribution Service. Web. 30 May 2012.
Gardener, Robin. “New Study Explores Health Benefits of Chia Seeds.” Independent Tribune. 2010. Web. 30 May 2012..
Illian, Travis. “Omega 3 Chia Seed Loading as a Means of Carbohydrate Loading :.”Journal of Strength & Conditioning. Omega 3 Chia Seed Loading as a Means of Carbohydrate Loading :. Web. 30 May 2012.