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Fuel For the Long Run: Pinole to the Rescue

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Pre-packaged running snacks are convenient and easy—but they can be expensive and full of unwanted ingredients. That is why we are searching high and low for do-it-yourself trail meals and snacks that will save you money, give you more dietary flexibility and taste amazing. Tested by dirtbags, for dirtbags.

To participate, send your recipe and high-quality photos of prep and trail tasting to Subject line: Gourmet Dirtbag


By now, most ultra and trail runners have read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, which introduces the Tarahumara tribe of Copper Canyon in Mexico to the modern running world. The tribe is now famous for being some of the most talented long distance runners in the world. Their fuel? Pinole.

Pinole is a simple staple food that is easily digested and packs a huge amount of energy. It’s base ingredient is Masa Harina, which is essentially cornmeal treated with lime (this is how corn is traditionally prepared and consumed, which is what makes it so much easier to digest than typical cornmeal). This carbohydrate is an endurance athlete’s dream: easy on the gut, versatile in preparation and a slow burning fuel source that keeps you satiated without the sugar crash.

The other main ingredient is chia, a small seed that packs a huge punch for athletes. A superfood loaded with essential fats and plant protein, these seeds provide essential nutrition while also slowing the absorption of water, helping to keep your body hydrated throughout the duration of the run. Plus, they contain lots of antioxidants for quick recovery and repair after your run is over.

Combine these two ingredients with any array of supplements, sweeteners, juices, milks and spices and you have a one-and-done energy source at your fingertips—the possibilities are endless!

Here are two of Trail Runner’s favorite pinole recipes to fuel your next trail running endeavor.

Pinole Energy Cookies

Pop one of these snacks, adapted from One Ingredient Chef before a run, or pack them on the trail with you for steady endurance energy, stable blood sugar and faster recovery. Tinker with the ingredients to get what you want out of these tasty snacks. (Throw in some turmeric, ginger and black pepper for a head start on inflammation management, or add cacao if you are a chocolate addict.)


  • 1 cup masa harina
  • 1/4 cup chopped dates
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons brown rice OR agave syrup
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • dash cinnamon


  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Then, start toasting the cornmeal and chia seeds. Add both ingredients to a skillet and toast over medium-high heat for 5-8 minutes until it turns a golden color throughout (but don’t burn!). This step is essential, but can be tricky: If the heat is too low, the cornmeal won’t toast. If the heat is too high, it will burn. Keep a constant eye on it and stir regularly.
  2. Add all the ingredients to a food processor and pulse until there are no large chunks of dates remaining. If the mixture is too crumbly, add a little more water until you’re left with a thick paste.
  3. Form the mixture into rounds about 1/2 inch thick and 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Bake on a nonstick tray for 10-12 minutes until the outside forms a solid crust and begins to show small cracks. Remove from the oven and let cool. Cut in half for smaller portions. Top one with peanut butter or jam before a run, or stash them in a running pack pocket for easy access on the trails.
The author enjoys a pinole cookie on snowy spring trail run outside Carbondale, Colorado.

Pinole Drink

This one takes a bit more getting used to, but is a favorite for those who prefer to drink their calories on the trail.  

To make the drink-mix base all you need is:

  • 1 cup finely ground masa harina
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds

For the actual drink, the possibilities are limitless. However, here is a good starting point ingredient:

  • 1-2 tbsp honey

Mix the dry ingredients well, and store in an airtight container. When ready to use, simply add the mixture to your hand bottle to taste. If you are sweetening with honey, dissolve the honey in warm water before adding the dry mix—or, use any sweetener of your choice (maple syrup is another good option).

Note that the masa does not dissolve, so you will be drinking the grains—hence the “getting used to it” part. Add more or less depending on what consistency you prefer (though if you add too much you will likely struggle to suck the resulting goop out of your water bottle). Start with a tablespoon for a 20 oz bottle, and increase from there.

This is also where the fun begins. You can literally add anything you want to this mixture to tailor it to your needs. Honey, masa and chia provide an excellent base for nutrition, but every athlete has different needs. Here are some options to try out:

  • Replace ½ of the water with a nut milk of choice (almond, flax, cashew, even coconut) for added fats and proteins.
  • Add a few tablespoons of your favorite juice: lemon, lime and orange make for a good citrus variation in the springtime, while cranberry or apple can provide other benefits and added sugars.
  • Add powders or spices: Cinnamon is used in many many traditional iterations of pinole drink. Once again, turmeric and cacao are fun, but go for tastes you love! Or throw in mineral powders like omnimin or even salt (if you don’t mind the taste) to keep from bonking.
  • Blend with fruit or nut butters, if it will not be too warm and you want a thicker drink (almond butter and banana are nice options).