Beta-testing a Miracle Fuel for Runners

Years ago, I polled the members of the ultrarunning mailing list about their favorite race foods.

(See “Cheap Runner Trash.”)

The results were amusing, if not to say, nauseating.

The ultrarunners’ favorite foods ranged from Krispy Treats to X-Men fruit snacks.

One runner said he’d occasionally consume quarter-pound sticks of butter, eaten “plain.”

The moral is probably that runners’ bodies differ wildly. What fuels my motor would probably cause you to upchuck or fall on the trail in agony.

With that disclaimer, let me relate a really weird experience I had last week. It involves a running fuel formula that, by all reason, should have laid me low, but turned my legs into high-power running machines.

Chia is weird stuff - does it work best in combination with finely ground almonds?
Chia is weird stuff – does it work best in combination with finely ground almonds? (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

If you’ve read Born to Run, you’ll recall the discussion of chia, the tiny seeds consumed by the fabled Tarahumara runners of northern Mexico.

My initial experiments with chia were disappointing. Although it boosted my energy and endurance, it made me feel stimulated in a kind of soulless mechanical way that I didn’t like. Thus my pint jar of chia seeds sat on the shelf for 18 months. Chia has nearly unlimited shelf life, a great virtue for people who had to store food to get through periods of scarcity.

While researching an article about chia for Trail Runner magazine several years ago, I spoke with Wayne Coates, co-author of Chia: Rediscovering a Forgotten Crop of the Aztecs. It’s a very good, scholarly book that outlines the history of chia’s use by the Tarahumara and tribes of the American Southwest. Traders from Arizona would travel hundreds of miles fueled by chia to exchange goods with tribes in California. Coates explained to me chia’s amazing nutritional package – it’s got omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, antioxidants, minerals, protein, blah blah.

Lately, I tried tossing a teaspoon of chia in granola, and found that it gave me a nice, sustained energy for work on the day after a hard run.

Then came last week’s really weird run. Try not to barf as I describe the ingredients. It’s a variation on the recipe for iskiate, a popular chia drink of the Tarahumara.

1. Two handfuls of almond meal, fresh ground or in a bag from Trader Joe’s (surprisingly cheap at $4 per lb). P.S.: Fresh-ground almonds work better; I use a grinder cup that came with the blender. Best price for raw almonds is at Trader Joe: $5/lb.

2. A liberal squirt of organic agave nectar, perhaps 1-2 tbsp. I used the inexpensive Madhava brand, from Sprouts Market.

3. 1-2 tbsp of chia seed.

4. Mix with unsweetened vanilla Almond Breeze to the consistency of thin porridge.

5. Let sit at least 5 minutes. In moisture, chia seeds expand, resulting in a gel-like consistency.

6. After consuming, drink lots of water. My Guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, said that before doing hard physical labor it’s good to drink finely ground almonds in orange juice or plain water.

7. Don’t start your run too soon after consuming the chia glop potion. Nuts are a major digestive chore – it takes about 4 hours to fully digest the almonds. Wait at least 4 hours before running.

During last week’s amazing run, I started slowly, just jogging, with no clear idea of how much energy I would have.

After about 30 minutes, I sped up to get around a construction barrier before oncoming traffic would enter the lane. To my surprise, my legs responded with complete ease, powering me along effortlessly.

For the rest of the run, of 1 hour 5 minutes, I alternated fast bursts with easy recovery stretches. My legs felt wonderful – tireless, refreshed, and filled with energy.

At times like these, it’s a great mystery exactly why we feel energized. What did we do that’s different? Which mysterious ingredient accounted for the amazing effects of the chia-almond-lime porridge?

I don’t have a clue. But perhaps that’s the point. The rational mind is very limited, notwithstanding the claims of the lab boys.

I’ll surely continue my chia-glop experiments. Would love to hear about your positive results with chia.

P.S. I should add that I’m taking supplements for thyroid and adrenal insufficiencies. I’s write about those supplement separately. For now, I can report that they’ve boosted my energy, but not nearly to same extent as when I consume the chia glop.

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