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Digital Running Club » Articles, Recipes » Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia! The Original Endurance Food

Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia! The Original Endurance Food

Packaged ChiaAs a runner, I am always looking for ways to power up my runs and recover from strenuous workouts. But, with all of the bars, gels and other products and supplements out there touting this or that, I have to say I am always skeptical at best! So, when a friend and fellow runner gave me a bag of chia seeds, they literally stayed in my pantry for months before I tried them. Well, banished to the pantry no more!

After learning more about the health benefits and endurance-enhancing qualities of chia seeds and trying them out myself, I have to say I am sold! I have seen major improvements in my own running performance by adding them to my diet and they are something I intend to make a permanent addition to my training diet.

So, what are chia seeds?

When many people hear the word chia, they immediately think about the “chia pet” commercials that run incessantly on television! Chia, though, is so much more than just a decorative plant. It is a powerhouse of nutrients and literally the original endurance and running food!

Chia seeds are an ancient seed-like herb belonging to the mint family that were cultivated since Aztec times and are grown in the fertile soil of the Amazon basin in Peru. For centuries, the chia seed has been a staple food for Native Americans who knew the potent endurance power of this seed.

The ancient Aztecs were known to subsist on chia for days during their hunting and battle expeditions! And, the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, who are super-athletes and ultra-marathoners popularized by Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run, have been known to fuel themselves with chia during their days of running!

What is so special about chia, and why should I add chia seeds to my diet?

Chia seeds are the perfect food to have both pre-workout to power up, as well as post-workout to refuel and replenish! Not only are chia seeds a complete source of protein consisting of all 8 amino acids but they are also high in omega 3’s (more accessible than flax seeds,) iron necessary for energy, antioxidants to repair free radical damage after workouts, high in calcium to aid in bone strength and health, fiber for digestive health, and last but certainly not least, the electrolytes magnesium and potassium to replenish lost supplies after a strenuous, sweaty workout! Sure, there are many products out there that boast of a high protein and electrolyte content, but many of them are very high in sugar and may give you the momentary boost that you need but eventually you pay down the line. With all of this ancient knowledge, does it really make sense to power up with packaged “sugar and processed food in a bar?”

What do they taste like and how do I add them to my diet?

Chia seeds are small and round, have a similar texture to poppy seeds, and are mild and slightly nutty in flavor. Chia can be:

  • made into a pudding
  • added to smoothies
  • sprinkled on top of yogurt or cereal
  • used ground as a substitute for flour when baking
  • added to water to drink like a homemade sports drink

For an athlete, the most effective way to add chia to your diet is by soaking them and taking them in either through a drink such as water or a smoothie or pudding. When soaked, chia has a gel-like consistency of oatmeal. This gel-like substance formed by the fiber makes the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar slower. And, because you are converting your carbs slower, you won’t experience sugar crashes and your body will gradually absorb nutrients resulting in more endurance. Additionally, the water in chia will help provide continuing hydration and electrolytes.

Although I have tried many “superfoods” such as maca, goji berries, and pea protein in my training, the one food that I have noticed substantial improvements in endurance with is chia! Below are a couple of my favorite chia recipes that I encourage you to try – and more chia recipes are coming to Digital Running later soon!

Chia Electrolyte Sports Drink

ΒΌ cup chia seeds
Juice from one lemon
Agave nectar or raw honey
16 oz water
In a blender blend, add approximately 16 oz. of water, the juice of one lemon and a very healthy squeeze of agave nectar or raw honey and blend. On a particularly hot day, you can also add ice cubes to the mixture. Place the chia seeds in a sports bottle then add the lemonade mixture and shake. That’s it! This sports drink is packed with electrolytes and will keep you going during and after a workout.

Chia Power Pudding

1-2 cups Chia seeds
1-2 cups vanilla almond milk (or coconut milk)
1/4 cup shredded coconut
Option: Maca or hemp seeds
Mix the Chia seeds and most of shredded coconut in a bowl. Pour the almond milk over the mixture and let it sit and absorb the milk. It will turn into a delicious pudding! Top with just a touch of the shredded coconut and savor. This is a delicious snack or post workout mixture.

Written by

Katherine Pennington is a diet and lifestyle coach, writer, and founder of Be in Balance, which helps women and men lose weight, reduce stress and achieve more balance in their lives. Katherine is also an avid runner and marathoner and also advises athletes on how to fuel for maximum performance and health.

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6 Responses to "Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia! The Original Endurance Food"

  1. Becky says:

    Hi thanks for the great recipes. My boyfiend is semi professional athlete and is always looking for energy boosting snacks before he trains. I think he would love the pudding! Just a few questions…
    1. how long should I soak the mixture before it can be eaten?
    2. How long before a workout should it be eaten?
    3. Can it be made in advance?
    Any other tips you have would be great.

    Thank you!

    • Dear Becky,
      The is no strict time that you have to soak the chia seeds for but you will notice that the longer they soak the more gelatinous they get! So, to answer your questions, you can just soak the chia seeds in the almond (or other) milk as you are stirring in the milk. There is no strict time. You will notice that it will thicken up quickly so just keep adding more milk. If you want to make it ahead of time then just make sure you make it much more milky and liquidy than you want it because it will thicken up in the fridge. As for when to eat it, follow the guidelines for when to eat anything really and make sure you eat 1 hour prior to working out. If your body is working on digesting then it will be robbing energy it would have used for the workout! So, my suggestion would be to have it 1 hour prior or afterwards to get protein and electrolytes in.

      Katheine Pennington

  2. […] really going to experiment with adding more chia seeds to my diet since many runners claim they increase energy, hydration, and recovery. So why not a raw chia mint chocolate energy […]

  3. That sounds DELICIOUS!!! Please send me the recipe!

  4. Dorothy says:

    I am starting 2 eat china seeds as part of.a healthy diet Because supplements always make me sick. I am hoping they will help my hair get healthy since turning 40 my hair has been awful..thinning and brittle..tried 2 take everything and it always make me sick…..the chia seeds sound amazing I been eating them all week I luv them. But does anyone know what the recommended daily amount should be for a women around 120 lbs. Pl let me know. Tk u….

    • There is no hard and fast rule as to how many you should eat. The more you eat, the more healthy Omega 3’s and other nutrients you will get. Think of them like spinach or other nutrient-packed foods not like a supplement.

      In terms of your brittle hair and nails, the first thing I would look into is whether you are anemic. If you are not, then I would check to make sure you are getting adequate iron in your diet. I am a vegan and get plenty so it is easier than you think but sometimes if you don’t write it down you can be lacking. (See my previous article on protein posted on this website to caculate but generally you should be getting between 25g-45g a day. FINALLY, and most importantly, are you getting enough healhty fats in your diet. Often I see clients trying to lose weight and get healthy take out olive oil, nuts and avocados because they think they will make them gain weight. Add these back if you are not getting enough.

      Hope this is helpful!

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