Chia Seeds: Is the Popular Running Superfood Still a Big Deal?

Chia SeedsWhether 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