Whether you’re a runner, you know a runner, or you casually flipped through a running magazine at your doctor’s office in the past few years, you’ve probably heard of chia seeds. These unique little seeds have been around for centuries, but were known in the U.S. primarily for their role in novelty gifts and chia pets until Chris McDougall’s 2009 Best-Selling book Born To Run praised them as one of the secret nutrition sources of some of the world’s best ultra distance runners. The American society’s interest was peaked, and suddenly chia seeds could easily be found at the local grocery and health food stores. For those out there who still don’t know what chia seeds are (or those of us who ate them happily while knowing little-to-nothing about them) let’s take a look at just what makes these seeds so special to runners.
Chia seeds come from a flowering plant in the mint family (although they don’t taste minty). The plant originated in Mexico and Guatamala and is believed that the Aztecs harvested them for nutritional purposes. Mexico and Guatamala are still large chia seed providers, as well as Australia. They’re small seeds found in brown, gray, black and white. They can be eaten raw or soaked in liquid for at least 10–15 minutes, making them into a gelatinous, tapioca-like substance, which can be eaten straight or mixed into a variety of foods. The chia seed’s nutritional value is similar to flax seeds and sesame seeds; it’s a high source of Omega‑3 fatty acids, fiber, protein, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and antioxidants.
There’s really no arguing the fact that chia seeds are extremely healthy, but what exactly about chia seeds got runners so stoked on them? Perhaps many runners, after reading Born To Run, felt that they too could run 100+ miles simply by ingesting nothing but water, chia seeds, and bean tortillas. Anyone who has actually tried chia seeds as a nutritional source before, during, or after running knows that these tiny seeds really can make a difference. By mixing chia seeds with water and then eating them before or during a run, the gel substance coats the stomach and works as a barrier between carbohydrates and your stomach’s digestive enzymes, which break down carbohydrates and covert them to sugars. By slowing that breakdown process, chia seeds provide runners with a longer period of time (aka, longer endurance) before they hit a sugar crash, causing them to slow down, feel weaker, and/or feel lightheaded.
Additionally, chia seeds can absorb up to 12x their own weight in water, making them a fantastic tool for hydration. They can help keep runners hydrated for longer while also helping maintain electrolyte levels.
Unlike so many “performance enhancing” foods and beverages on the market today, chia seeds offer a pretty complete package; they show fast results, have little taste (it’s more of a texture than anything), are no more expensive than the other running bars and gels out there plus they’re extremely versatile in how they can be carried, stored, and consumed. How many running products can claim all that?
Although the big bandwagon for chia seeds seems to have passed, or is well on it’s way to passing through general society, it seems safe to say that many runners – particularly those training for marathon distances and farther – have permanently adopted the quirky little seed into their regular training and racing menu. Only you can decide if chia seeds will work as a nutritional source for your training.
By: Audra Rundle