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Homemade energy gels for runners

During long training runs, many runners turn to pre-packaged sports drinks, bars, gels, and gummies to refuel. These processed, neon-colored “foods” are convenient and provide the right balance of carbs to protein, but they're also often filled with preservatives and artificial flavors.

Shouldn't we be giving our bodies natural fuel when we're asking so much of them?

Enter the mighty chia seed.

You probably remember chia seeds from the 1980's fad toy, Chia Pets, which gave the seeds a bad rep as nothing more than a paste you spread on a ceramic porcupine.

But chia seeds are much more. They're little powerhouses of nutrition — high in fiber, rich in Omega 3s, and they offer protein, calcium, and iron in just one tablespoon. They can also absorb up to 12 times their weight in water, creating a hydrating gel-like consistency when mixed with liquid. This makes them the perfect base for homemade energy gels and a dehydrated runner's dream.

A bag of chia seeds is $8 to $10 with about 35 servings per bag, coming out to about 26 cents per use. Add in the cost of your mix-ins and you're per serving price will still be cheaper than that of a prepackaged gel.

Below are two sample recipes. However, chia seeds have a rather benign flavor profile so your liquid choice will greatly drive the flavor of the gel. If you're looking for a little caffeine, add coffee instead of water. If you need some additional fat, swap in some coconut milk. If you like a brighter taste, add lemon juice and ginger root. Mix and match the flavors to suit your needs and tastes, naturally.

Orange chia seed energy gel (vegan, gluten-free)
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1/4 cup water
Juice of half an orange
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/10 teaspoon salt
Place chia seeds in a bowl. Cover with water and orange juice. Let mixture sit anywhere from an hour to overnight. Place in the fridge and lightly cover if making the night before.

Once chia seeds have gelled, add maple syrup and salt. Stir.

Place a small plastic bag in a cup, sides folded over the rim. Pour chia seed mixture into the plastic bag and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

When ready to use, tear a small hole in a corner of the plastic bag and drink.

Coffee chia seed energy gel (vegan, gluten-free)

1 tablespoon chia seeds
1/2 cup pre-made coffee
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/10 teaspoon salt
Place chia seeds in a bowl. Cover with coffee. Let mixture sit anywhere from an hour to overnight. Place in the refrigerator and lightly cover if making the night before.

Once chia seeds have gelled, add maple syrup and salt. Stir.

Place a small plastic bag in a cup, sides folded over the rim. Pour chia seed mixture into the plastic bag and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Photos and article by Walk Jog Run contributor Lisa Horvath. Lisa is a Boston-based certified yoga teacher, runner, and blogger. You can ask her a question in the comments below.

Interested in more healthy, all-natural recipes? Check out these energy balls and this all-natural energy drinks by The Kitchen Vixen.

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