Why Chia is your secret weapon for endurance events & everyday life

Guest opinion piece by George McNeur - ultra-marathon runner, Krayzie Kapers co-race Director, gardener, storyteller, and occasional poet.

Why Chia is your secret weapon for endurance events & everyday life

It's not just about Carbs and Protein

When it comes to exercise, people tend to talk about carbs first and protein after to rebuild muscle. That may be partly true but when you exercise over a prolonged period, this is just the basics. What you really need is balanced nutrients to refuel and rebuild. This includes carbs, proteins and fats but an endurance athlete also needs minerals, vitamins, essential amino acids and of course, water.

Let’s take running for example (but any endurance sport will be similar). Usually when you’re new to running you will discover ‘hitting the wall’. This usually happens around 2 ½ hours or 30kms in. At this point your body has used up all your fuel, particularly the fuel in your stomach (glycogen). It begins to tear down the body’s fat and muscle to produce more glycogen to keep going.

At this point you might have an electrolyte drink or energy gel. Or you might snack on high carb foods that are easily converted to glycogen.

This will be fine for a while, but what you might not realise is that you’ve been sweeting out a load of essential minerals that keep your vital body functions operating. Your legs then begin to get weak so your body diverts blood flow from your stomach to support the continual demand for moving your legs. Now your fuel is focussed on one area rather than fuelling you. You stop eating, you throw up, and/or collapse on the ground all white and clammy… It’s not pretty.

Fueling your Body Right

Getting the right nutrition to maximise your fuel is critical if you want to avoid situations like this. I am a firm believer that there is no point putting in ‘empty calories’ as you’ll essentially waste stomach processing energy of little return when you could be taking in nutrients to support the varied needs of the body.

I’ve been watching documentaries of races in America and it always baffles me when I see endurance athletes eating noodles, chips etc. I would’ve thought the world would have cottoned-on to eating nutritionally dense foods that include carbs, fats, proteins, mineral and micro-nutrients all in one. Like hemp seed. Like chia seed. Chia in particular!

George after last year's Revenant Race. He'd just come in after 35hrs and the first thing he wanted to start the recovery - a Chia drink!

The Power of Chia

Chia is well known as an endurance food that nourishes your cells and tissues by prolonging hydration, slowly releasing nutrients, regulating glandular activity of the adrenals and thyroid, and providing electrolyte balance. In fact, the Aztec and Mayan cultures relied on chia seeds for energy as part of their daily diet. And the modern day Tarahumara people of Mexico of ‘Born to Run’ fame still rely on chia seeds to do what they do.

Chia seeds provide the body with protein, minerals, vitamins and trace nutrients. They are about 16% protein and include all essential amino acids needed by the body for proper muscle growth, tissue repair and many other bodily functions.

Filled with omega-3, magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron, they’re also packed full of fibre. But it’s what happens when you soak them in water which is where the magic lies – they develop a gel coating which also makes them super-hydrating. The gelling properties of chia help to slow the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar, providing a long burning fuel source i.e., no spike/crash here, just a steady release.

The nutrient list goes a long way in addressing not only the needs of an endurance athlete but your everyday nutrition needs. It's not a silver bullet providing everything in one, but boy, if you could select just one thing, you couldn't get much better than a Chia drink! And it's totally natural so your body tolerates it much better than something artificial – especially when it's working hard.

I rely on Chia drinks when I'm adventuring to keep me going, and I notice that when it's hot, the Chia keeps me hydrated longer than the other athletes. Running or not, I start everyday with Chia to maintain my daily nutrition. Chia is certainly deserving of the label “superfood” and you don't just need to be an endurance athlete to benefit from it.

Each year Chia Sisters proudly supports Krayzie Kapers - a unique trail running event on the Banks Pennisula that George organises. Entries for the November 2022 event are now open.

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