Chia Seed oil for Endurance athletes?


Some years ago we wrote that endurance athletes perform well on chia seed. This is not the case for chia seed oil, according to an article in Nutrients by the American sports scientist David Nieman. Nieman tested chia seed oil on long-distance runners but the results were disappointing. We, on the other hand, the ignorant and stubborn compilers of this free webzine, are not yet ready to give up on chia seed entirely.

Chia seeds are the tiny seeds of the Central American plant Salvia hispanica. The oil from this plant consists for more than 50 percent of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha linolenic acid [structural formula below], and this is a fatty acid that’s interesting for endurance athletes. In theory at least.


The human body burns alpha-linolenic acid twice as fast as other fatty acids such as palmitic acid, stearic acid and oleic acid. [Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2006 Sep;75(3):161-8.] The enzyme carnitine palmitoyl transferase-1, which helps convert fatty acids into energy in the mitochondria, can deal more easily with alpha-linolenic acid than other unsaturated fatty acids.

Human study: Cchia seed oil for endurance athletes
In addition, studies have shown that cyclists’ fat cells dump alpha-linolenic acid into the circulation system six times faster than they do other fatty acids. [PLoS One. 2014 Nov 19;9(11):e113725.] No wonder that the more intelligent endurance athletes have been excitedly trying out chia seed oil.

Nieman got 24 runners aged between 24 and 55 to run on various occasions at an intensity of 70 percent of their VO2max until the point of exhaustion. On one occasion the subjects drank water half an hour before getting on the treadmill; on the other occasion they drank water with chia seed oil mixed into it.

The athletes were given 7 kilocalories chia seed oil per kg bodyweight. Because the oil consisted of 55 percent alpha-linolenic acid, that meant that the subjects ingested an average of 31 g alpha-linolenic acid.

After ingesting the chia seed oil the subjects ran for 3 minutes longer than after drinking only water, and they covered 600 metres more than after drinking only water. The differences were not significant, however.


“Acute ingestion of alpha linolenic acid-rich chia seed oil cannot be recommended as an ergogenic aid during intensive, prolonged running”, wrote Nieman.

Nieman also looked at how long it took for the alpha-linolenic acid to show up in the blood after ingesting chia seeds and chia seed oil. That was after 2 hours and 30 minutes, according to the figure below.


Nieman put his runners on the treadmill half an hour after they’d ingested the chia. It may have been the case that the runners had finished – or almost finished – running by the time the alpha-linolenic acid entered their bloodstream. Would Nieman have obtained the same results if he’d got his subjects to wait a couple of hours before starting to run?

No positive influence of ingesting chia seed oil on human running performance.


Runners (n = 24) reported to the laboratory in an overnight fasted state at 8:00 am on two occasions separated by at least two weeks. After providing a blood sample at 8:00 am, subjects ingested 0.5 liters flavored water alone or 0.5 liters water with 7 kcal kg-1 chia seed oil (random order), provided another blood sample at 8:30 am, and then started running to exhaustion (~70% VO2max). Additional blood samples were collected immediately post- and 1-h post-exercise. Despite elevations in plasma alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) during the chia seed oil (337%) versus water trial (35%) (70.8 ± 8.6, 20.3 ± 1.8 ?g mL(-1), respectively, p < 0.001), run time to exhaustion did not differ between trials (1.86 ± 0.10, 1.91 ± 0.13 h, p = 0.577, respectively). No trial differences were found for respiratory exchange ratio (RER) (0.92 ± 0.01), oxygen consumption, ventilation, ratings of perceived exertion (RPE), and plasma glucose and blood lactate. Significant post-run increases were measured for total leukocyte counts, plasma cortisol, and plasma cytokines (Interleukin-6 (IL-6), Interleukin-8 (IL-8), Interleukin-10 (IL-10), and Tumor necrosis factors-? (TNF-?)), with no trial differences. Chia seed oil supplementation compared to water alone in overnight fasted runners before and during prolonged, intensive running caused an elevation in plasma ALA, but did not enhance run time to exhaustion, alter RER, or counter elevations in cortisol and inflammatory outcome measures. PMID: 25988762 PMCID: PMC4446772 DOI: 10.3390/nu7053666 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE] Source: