Saturday, November 24, 2012

Running Fuel - Secrets of the Tarahumara: Chia Seeds and Pinole

Thanks to this awful weather, flooding and consequential weekend home alone, I have decided to indulge by writing about the second love in my life, running (second only to food of course). During my "Chia Seeds" blog I mentioned the Tarahumara tribe briefly and the book "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall. I thought I would share with you some "secrets" of the Tarahumara tribe and their amazing running ability.

Who are the Tarahumara?

The Tarahumara (a.k.a. Raramuri - "running people") are an elusive, reclusive tribe that inhabit Mexico's Copper Canyons. They are probably the greatest long distance runners on the planet. They have an ability to run 50 to 100 miles at a time with ease, speed and for pleasure and they do this well into old age. Legend has it that Francisco Almada, a Tarahumara champion, once ran 435 miles and others in the tribe have been known to run 300 miles at a go. Dr Dale Groom stated in the American Heart Journal, "Probably not since the days of the ancient Spartans has a people achieved such a high state of physical conditioning".

Not only are they incredible runners but it is not uncommon for them to live to over a hundred years without the disease and illnesses of our modern existence.

What makes them the greatest runners?

This is the all-important question, if only we knew the answer. We can, however, surmise based on information by the likes of Christopher McDougall author of the book "Born to Run", Caballo Blanco a running legend who lived among the tribe and Scott Jurek current running legend (and my hero) who joined them for the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon. Two reasons of particular interest have been suggested:

Firstly, they do not "baby" their feet in expensive trainers. They run basically bare-foot in an extremely simple "sandal" with no cushioning and no support.

Secondly, diet, the staples of which (according to McDougall and others) are pinole and chia seeds.

Barefoot Running

"One surprising advantage the Tarahumara seem to have is their lack of technology. They essentially run barefoot and experience very little injury. Over the years running shoes have become more cushioned and more high-tech. Rather than improving our runs, these developments seem to have worsened them. The latest running shoe is causing the average runner more harm than good. The foot is desgined to run. Simplicity is key." Bill Rodgers, San Francisco Chronicle.

The best runners in the world, (the Tarahumara, Kenyans, Ethiopians) run barefoot, fact. Personally, I bought my first pair of Vibram FiveFingers about four months ago and have not put a pair of running trainers anywhere near my feet since. I am lucky to have never had a running related injury but had noticed that my knees were starting to ache especially going up and down inclines or stairs. Since running "barefoot" the aching has ceased, I have not had one injury, blister or pain. My running technique has changed and improved with very little heel strike, resulting in a lighter, easier, more natural style.

"The best runner leaves no tracks" (Tao Te Ching).

Diet & Nutrition

The Tarahumara diet is based on readily available foods. The staples of which are said to be "pinto beans, squash, chili peppers, wild greens, pinole and lots of chia".

Iskiate a.k.a. Chia Fresca

This refreshing "sports drink" popular with the Tarahumura is made with water, chia seeds, sugar and lime. As described in my "Chia Seeds" blog, these little seeds are nutritional gems packed full of omega fatty acids, protein, iron, calcium amongst other nutrients. Once dissolved in water they form a gel, making them incredibly easy to drink. The water provides essential hydration and sugar for energy.


A recipe for pinole has proved quite elusive. As I understand it, pinole is essentially ground corn (cornmeal) with sugar, spices and water. It can be consumed in different forms e.g. as a porridge, a drink or as a biscuit/cake. Corn (maize) is a cereal grain of which the Americas are the biggest producer. Corn is central to Mexican food and even a fungus of maize (huitlacoche) is considered a delicacy. Corn provides energy in the form of carbohydrates, it is low in fat and readily available to the Tarahumara.

And they like beer! Not your average lager though, their special brew "tesguino" is very lightly fermented, low in alcohol and high in nutrients. It is reported to be a corn beer that includes wild geranium which is said to be, "anti-everything; anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-bacterial and an anti-oxidant."

Recipes for Chia Fresca and Pinole to follow.

"When you run on the earth and with the earth, you can run forever." (Raramuri Proverb).

1 comment:

Khuram said...

Hey! I just noticed another message in another blog that seemed like this. How have you learnt all this stuff?
That’s one cool post.
Heirloom seeds

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