I have a love/hate relationship with chia. It goes back many many years to my first encounter with chia in grade school. You children of the 80’s … you have had this encounter too.
However mine was unique. Chia, being so similar to Gia presented a very special opportunity for schoolyard taunters to yell G-G-G-Gia after me. This continued well into my teen years and sadly I still have people giggle and recite G-G-G-Gia when they hear my first name.
I hold a grudge. I dislike Chia Pets and that cheerful jingle that they sing.
But I digress.
My next encounter with chia was a few years back when the book Born to Run became wildly popular. In Born to Run, Christopher McDougall talks about superathletes, The Tarahumara. They are a Mexican tribe living in the remote Copper Canyons area who can run great distances in extreme conditions without fatigue or injury.
The secret to their athletic superpowers? Chia seeds. The Tarahumara consume an energy drink called “Chia Fresca” which is basically chia seeds, water and lemon or lime. Yes the same seeds as the ones that grow Chia Pets … I dont know what to say. Its weird, I agree. But stick with me.
Honestly as a runner and general nutrition buff my curiosity was peaked … Could chia really be the true Runner’s Superfood? Are small greet sprouts going to grow out of my Brooks?? Does this mean that I will forgive whomever wrote that darn jingle … Lets examine:
What is a chia seed?
Chia is an edible seed that comes from the desert plant Salvia hispanica, a member of the mint family that grows abundantly in southern Mexico. Chia is very rich in omega-3 fatty acids, even more so than flax seeds. Unlike flax, they do not have to be ground to make their nutrients available to the body. Chia is gluten-free.
- They contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids; in fact higher levels than flax seeds provide
- The seeds contain 20% protein, 34% oil, 25% dietary fibre and significant levels of antioxidants
- The oil from the seeds contains approximately 64% of omega-3 fatty acid
- 2 tablespoons (25g) provide 7g of dietary fibre including calcium, magnesium, zinc and copper
How is this relevant to runners?
When chia is mixed with water, a gel-like substance forms.
Ultra Running insights says that is is this gel that is key to chia’s performance.
- The gel creates a physical barrier between carbohydrates and the digestive enzymes that break them down. As a consequence, this process slows the conversion of carbs into sugar. That’s the reason why ultra athletes that regularly consume chia state that they don’t suffer from sugar crashes resulting in dizziness and decreasing performance. The slowing conversion creates endurance.
- The seeds help to retain moisture and regulate the body’s absorption of nutrients while maintaining the electrolyte balance which is an important issue in races
- The nutrient composition and easily digestible nature of the chia seed makes it a muscle and tissue builder/regenerator and an energizer proven to improve performance
What does chia taste like?
Chia has a nutlike flavor, its very mild really. They can be sprinkled on salads or yogurt. Honestly I find that they sometimes stick in my teeth if I eat them plain. They are better incorporated with some kind of liquid … My favorite way to use chia is in a Chocolate Chia Pudding
Chocolate Chia Pudding
2 Tbs Chia Seeds (I use Nutiva chia seeds from GNC)
1 cup almond milk/rice milk/coconut milk
1 tsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 packet stevia
Mix all ingredients together ensuring that you dont have lumps. Refigerate in an airtight container for 30 minutes.
What forms is a tapioca-like pudding that is pretty delicious and guilt free.
Some other great looking chia recipes are:
Pumpkin Pie Chia Parfait (there are a ton of other yum chia recipes on Angela’s site)
What is my verdict??
I like them, in small amounts. I find that anything more than a few teaspoons of chia makes my stomach feel funny. I do however feel a lift in energy from them and as for the Tarahumara Runner inside me … she has yet to come out but I expect that she will make her appearance any day now. Or maybe I will just turn into this:
I’ll keep you posted
What about all of you? Do you love them? Tell me all your chia secrets … and please, please dont sing that jingle the next time you see me