On most every ultrarunner’s bookshelf sits a Christopher McDougall tome called, “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.” I’m about nine months behind the rest of the world in having read the book. Regardless, no good nutrition website should miss the curious energy food described in the book.
Inlaid between exciting chapters about the Badwater Ultramarathon, anthropological theories of the human foot, and tales of the fearsome Mexican drug cartels, there are a few enticing descriptions of high energy wonder food of the Tarahumara tribe.
The Tarahumara tribespeople are a reclusive set of natives that have settled in the deadly Copper Canyon in Mexico. They are an amazing breed of humans that have made the most of the bipedal ability to run for long distances over extreme terrain and in extreme conditions.
While McDougall focuses primarily on the awkward attempts outsiders have made to get to know the Tarahumara, he mentions some dietary staples that are credited for the tribes athletic endurance. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that they aren’t PowerBars or Atkins Protein shakes.
As you might expect, the Tarahumara have developed a menu of food suitable for where they live and for their lifestyle. For energy and endurance they turn to Pinole and Iskiate.
Pinole is ground corn that is mixed with water to form a watery paste. According to McDougall, pinole is, “a low-fat, whole-grain food (that) can slash your risk of diabetes and a host of digestive-systems cancers.” He points out that the seeds for growing your own corn (which can then be ground into authentic pinole) can be purchased from Nativeseeds.org. Below is a photo from their online catalog.
Iskiate, or chia fresca, consists of chia seeds dissolved in water and seasoned with lime and a dash of sugar. Chia seeds form a gel with water thus suspending the particles and making it a little less awkward to drink. Visit this link from No-meat-athlete for an excellent Chia Fresca recipe.
If what Dr. Weil says about about the nutritional benefits of chia in his 2006 Chia for health post, I’ve been using flax seed incorrectly. Flax seeds must be ground in order for your body to take advantage of their nutritional benefits. I always used whole flax seed, but I may not even have to worry about that now. Turns out chia seeds can be used without being ground and your body will still digest the nutrients they have to offer.
Plus, chia is more nutritionally rich than flax. Ounce for ounce, chia seeds have nearly 3 times the omega 3 fatty acid content of flax. Check out Raw Reform for more nutritional info as well as a sack-load of chia seed recipes.