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The Tarahumara runners of northern Mexico’s Copper Canyon country have long fueled their prodigious runs with a chia-seed based drink called iskiate and purveyors of ancient Ayurvedic medicine tout chia’s endurance and strength-promoting qualities. But is this tiny seed’s superfood reputation warranted or a merely a myth evolved from its ancient origins?
To test this superfood, a few friends and I guzzled iskiate before runs of up to two-and-a-half hours, and were impressed with the results.
We felt strong running at a high aerobic pace (a tick under 80-percent max heart rate), even in 90-degree heat. After about an hour, I noticed a mental and physical kick. Near the run’s end, when we’d normally be planning our post-run carb binge, we felt we could happily continue.
Professor Wayne Coates of the University of Arizona, co-author of Chia: Rediscovering a Forgotten Crop of the Aztecs and an ultrarunner with several trail 100-milers under his belt, suspects chia’s ability to boost endurance is due partly to it’s inflammation-reducing omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and antioxidants. “It’s similar to taking ibuprofen,” says Coates.
While chia isn’t a replacement for your usual fuels—it contains very little carbohydrate—the seeds are packed with fiber and an excellent source of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc and copper and offer a complete essential amino-acid package, making it an ideal post-workout recovery food.
Get the Chia Charge
Make your own iskiate by mixing 1 level tablespoon of chia seeds in 1 cup of water with a squeeze of lime and 1 tablespoon of organic rice syrup to sweeten. Drink it 60 to 90 minutes before a long run of three hours or more since the seeds take up to four hours to digest.
You can buy chia seeds at health-food stores such as Whole Foods (www.wholefoods.com) or as Chia Goodness, a raw breakfast cereal that combines chia with hemp seeds, buckwheat, sea salt and dried fruit and nuts (www.ruthshempfoods.com).
This article originally appeared in our June 2010 issue.