‘Fad foods’ that claim to give you amazing health benefits overnight are often overrated and disappointing. That’s not to say that they never work – coconut oil in particular is something I now use most mornings for a little energy boost and it truly seems to have a noticeable effect.
The problem though, is that people expect miraculous things from these ingredients forgetting that they’re just food. You can eat all the cod liver oil you like, you’re not going to turn into the guy from Limitless because of fatty acids.
So the best piece of advice I can give you when approaching any new food supplement, is to moderate your expectations and to be realistic. You can expect benefits yes but don’t be surprised if you don’t become Superman.
All that said, chia seeds might just be one of the more potent of these super foods. Let’s take a look at what chia seeds are and why they might be of interest – specifically if you’re a fan of long distance running and other athletic endurance pursuits.
What Are Chia Seeds?
Chia is a flowering plant belonging to the mint family. Technically it is known as ‘salvia hispanica’. The seeds though are what we’re particularly interested.
A serving of chia seeds (28 grams) contains 9 grams of fat, 5 milligrams of sodium, 4 grams of protein, 11 grams of fibre, and a lot of calcium, phosphorus and manganese. Like other edible seeds then, chia is a good source of numerous different nutrients and a great addition to your diet for that reason.
Some studies (one is reported here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/24/business/chia-seeds-gain-popularity-for-nutritional-benefits.html?_r=0) have demonstrated that chia seeds may help to increase blood levels of alpha-linolenic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid, omega 3 fatty acids which could strengthen the heart and improve brain health.
Really though, this is not what makes chia seeds so interesting…
Chia Seeds for Long Distance Running and Hydration
The Tarahumara are a Native American people from Northwestern Mexico who are well known for their ability to run extreme distances barefoot. Actually they can run up to 500 miles over two days, which is pretty absurd by all accounts.
The main explanation for this ability is that running barefoot gives them an advantage by allowing them to use proper running technique unhampered by big, clomping shoes. At the same time, attention has also been given to the Tarahumara diet which is high in chia seeds. Apparently chia seeds were also used as fuel by Aztec warriors. All very cool sounding stuff.
In one study it was found that athletes could effectively ‘carb load’ using chia seeds in order to require less sugar (Omega 3 chia seed loading as a means of carbohydrate loading).
The other interesting thing about chia seeds is that they are capable of absorbing large amounts of water. Chia contains both water and fat soluble fibre, a balance which allows it to hold 10-12 times its own weight in water creating a kind of gel.
This may then be useful for providing sustained hydration to athletes. So if you’re running a long distance race, snacking on some chia seeds soaked in water (or chasing them down with some bottles of water), may help to prevent you from getting the symptoms of dehydration that can prematurely put your running to an end.
Chia is also great for thickening gravies and cooking in general, so consider keeping some around!