Sunday, November 7, 2010

Born to Run Superfoods

After getting an extra hour of sleep last night, over 40,000 people woke up this morning, traveled over to the Staten Island side of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to engage in the 2010 New York City Marathon. It is an amazing thing to witness, as I spent many years as a spectator and volunteer. It changes the landscape of our City as our motor-vehicles make way for the most natural form of transport - moving legs and bodies - and spectators stop to watch a parade like no other - one of sheer mobility, sheer spirit and commitment.  If you personally know a runner or are, yourself, a runner in this event, then what you are a part of is even more grandiose - New York City streets slowed down and cleared for you. Your commitment to your body, your craft and your health has contributed to this enormous New York City event. That's a pretty amazing feeling even before the run begins.

This day could not come without thoughts of my summer book creeping back into my head. The book was Born to Run A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Chris McDougall. I am nowhere near my running shape... yet. I downloaded the audiobook version of this book when I decided I might be strong enough to start my walking/jogging on my own each morning. It was an amazing story and it kept me motivated. I, who had gotten so weak that I could not walk, with my husband, up the block without turning back due to dizziness, low blood pressure and exhaustion (it was really pathetic) starting walking and even jogging 2 to 3 miles a day by myself. It was just so much fun to listen to and so interesting that I wanted to keep going to hear more (my rule was = only listen when you are moving!).

The truly interesting parts of this book surrounded the secret tribe of Mexicans known as the Tarahumara that seemed to figure out the "secrets" to running. Not only how to do it correctly, but how to nourish their bodies in a simple way to support it. I should note that the running often discussed in this book wasn't your typical running, it was ultra-marathon running which I can best explain to those of you unfamiliar with the phrase as "off the beaten path" running, up a huge mountain running and, oftentimes, forget your measly 26 miles, let's do a 100 miles running! The "superfoods" the tribe always had with them, in place of the energy bars and gels of our modern day runners, that not only got them through the races, but got them through the races with relative ease were pinole and chia.

Let me start with a discussion of chia, because it was the one that confused me most. I wasn't sure I was hearing correctly when the narrator of the book started discussing "chia seeds" as one of the great secrets of these running men, because every time he said "Chia" all I thought of was "Cha-cha-chia!" the jingle for the chia pet commercials!

It ends up, I wasn't wrong. These crazy seeds that I once soaked and spread on the side of some pottery in the shape of an animal was, in fact, this super-food used by the tribe. Based on an article by Mark Stibich, Ph.D. on some of the health benefits of the chia seed include being excellent for hydration (this was one of the major benefits to the runners), they have a nice dose of antioxidants, omega-3s and also can reduce inflammation.

In terms of the pinole, I simply was hard-pressed to understand what this super-food was until I got to the Internet. All I was gathering from the book was that it has something to do with the corn of the region and it could be added to burritos. The benefit of pinole, as described in the book, is that it is a high source of protein and lightweight. While there still seemed to be a massive debate across the web concerning what type of corn should be used for pinole, how much it should be ground up and whether or not corn nuts could be a viable substitute - I finally fell upon a recipe that I should be able to try out that could make sense in the context of the book. The No Meat Athlete (who I think might turn into one of my go-to resources) has a post dedicated to the Tarahumara Pinole and Chia with recipes for the the two. In addition, the site has a number of follow up Chia recipes for the no meat athletes out there looking for all the boosts they can find.

This summer my primary goal was simply to get moving again, like a normal human being. I began fueling my body with better foods and learning about the specifics of my body's needs (no gluten or dairy), but  I did not endeavor to reach beyond that. As of late, I have begun to think again not just about foods, but of SUPER-foods, like the ones that Tarahumara were raised on. I am intrigued by this concept and I believe I ready to explore. I am going to begin with the chia, pinole and goji berries (I have heard about these WAY TOO MUCH to continue to ignore them). Once I have tried them, I will pass on my reflections about those experiences. In the meantime, it is back to healing, growing stronger and readying for my own someday NYC marathon... today I just registered for a 5K run. I better go get my chia NOW!

***Just found this most amazing link after posting that I must add on - It is pictures from the "Greatest Race the World Never Saw" discussed in McDougall's book. These are a must-see if you read the book and perhaps added intrigue for those of you who haven't!  
UPDATE (2/4/2011): Just found this TEDx Talk by Chris McDougall raising the question Are we born to run?


  1. is the chia a type of bean sprout?

  2. That's a really great question!

    Chia is a seed. On the old "Chia pet" it would sprout up, but in this edible form, at least from what I have seen so far, it is not eaten as a sprout (I wonder if it would have the same benefits, or other benefits...).

    You can either add the seeds to a recipe (even over a salad or something, the way you do with flax seed, but without the grinding factor), or you drink it when it is submerged in a liquid. Chia can be added to smoothies, or just plain water to be consumed. The Chia absorbs an incredible amount of liquid and, therefore, helps to keep you hydrated.

    I also read that getting organic white chia seed may be the closest we can get to the Tarahumara authentic chia seed.

  3. Chia seed, whether white or black is essentially the same in terms of composition. No need to buy organic, crop is never sprayed with pesticides so no chance of residues.

    Having worked with chia now for almost 20 years, I believe I can cite the above with considerable confidence.

    Try our seed. We have whole black, and white and milled. Difference is consumer preference.


  4. Dr. Coates - Thank you SO much for your post!! I just watched your presentation on Chia - it was great! You truly ARE "Mr. Chia" thanks for the advice!


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