Chia Seeds for Athletic Endurance

A few months ago, I decided to add Muay Thai and MMA training to my schedule in order to prepare for my first MMA fight. I see jiu-jitsu as the foundation of my game so I didn’t want to neglect that area of my training for something new. Unfortunately, due to my full-time job, I am not able to split my marital arts training into different times of the day and so during an ideal week, my training schedule would look like so: 

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday

10am: Strength

5pm: MMA (MF) or Muay Thai (TTh)

6pm: BJJ


Individual training (I have a home gym where I practice drills and techniques that are specific to my game)


On a typical week night, I was training for three consecutive hours and since MMA and Muay Thai sparring is so intense, I had a very hard time finding energy for BJJ. Rolling in BJJ is taxing enough for people who are the same size or larger than their partner but I have a huge size disadvantage; at 105lbs, I am usually at least forty to fifty pounds less than my teammates. Not only do I have to have energy to try and impose my game, I have to try and be enough of a challenge to my partner to help him improve his game.

One night after a rough Muay Thai class, I went to Collision Sports, the gear and supplement store at my gym, Titans MMA, to ask if there was something I could take that would allow me to recover and endure the remaining two hours of BJJ class. The owner, MMA Fighter Ricky Goodall, suggested Aminocore and gave me a sample. He also suggested that I get some dextrose at the Bulk Barn to help with recovery. Aminocore with dextrose was so effective that from that point forward, I didn’t train without either. Until now.

Recently, I’ve been focusing on recovering from two injuries in a row; I’ve had meniscus and MCL issues followed immediately by a wrist injury. I was referred by my family doctor to Dr. Christopher Johnston at the Arthritis and Injury Care Center here in Halifax, Nova Scotia for specialized treatment. As Dr. Johnston and I were waiting to book a CT scan for my scaphoid, the conversation came around to the Vibram FiveFingers I was wearing and he mentioned that he had read a book about barefoot running and the running shoe industry called Born to Run by Christopher MacDougall. I had been looking for a new book to read so I decided to check it out.

Not only did Born to Run convince me to never buy another pair of conventional running shoes, it also introduced me to iskiate, “the Tarahumara’s Stone Age energy brew”. The Tarahumara is a tribe of super-athletes who live in the Copper Canyons of northwestern Mexico. MacDougall says, “If you had to pick just one desert-island food, you couldn’t do much better than chia, at least if you were interested in building muscle, lowering cholesterol, and reducing your risk of heart disease; after a few months on the chia diet, you could probably swim home.” My teammate, Nick Martin, had been telling me about the recovery benefits of eating chia seeds for months but since it didn’t come in a tub that cost me $75, I didn’t take it seriously.

But according to Andrew Weil, M.D, chia seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, fibre, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, copper, iron, molybdenum, niacin and zinc. As many of you know, intense activity can deplete the body of magnesium and zinc which affects our sleep patterns; ZMA is a well-known sleep aid which helps athletes to fall asleep after a hard day of training. Theoretically, iskiate would allow you to perform your best at the gym and then drift off to dreams of victory when you got home.

Chia is also a complete protein and has all of the nine essential amino acids: tryptophan, threonine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine+cysteine, phenylaline+tyrosine, valine and histidine. One serving 28g serving of chia seeds only has 10% of the 3 BCAAs (L-leucine, L-valine and L-isoleucine) in one 9g serving of Aminocore has but it will be interesting to see how they compare in training due to the other nutritional components of chia.

MacDougall explains that iskiate is “brewed up by dissolving chia seeds in water with a little sugar and a squirt of lime. In terms of nutritional content, a tablespoon of chia is like a smoothie made from salmon, spinach, and human growth hormone.” When a chia seed is soaked in water, its outer surface absorbs the water and transforms into a gel-like substance; drinking it has been described as being similar to drinking bubble tea. The slow-digesting carbohydrate component is believed to increase endurance in marathons and other long periods of athletic activity.

Learning about the Tarahumara’s athletic lifestyle reminded me to be skeptical of company’s claims about what we really need to become better athletes. I’d already switched to Vibram FiveFingers because I listened to my body and realized that cushioned footwear was negatively affecting my training.  Now I’m experimenting with chia seeds with the expectation of replacing my BCAA supplement, my omega-3 pills and my sleep aid. It will be interesting to see how it all turns out.

Let the Great Chia Seed Experiment of 2012 BEGIN!

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