and welcome to this month’s Joyinmovement newsletter,
To Tarahumara or Not?
That’s the question in this
month’s Joyinmovement newsletter. And it’s a good question if you’re
looking to reach peak performance and perhaps run like the wind.
First though, let me ask you
another question; I’ll make it multiple choice.
Tarahumaran Indians are:
a. The tribe that Indiana Jones encountered on his way to
the Temple of Doom.
b. The Indy band that won last
year’s grammy award for best album.
c. The Indians
of northern Mexico who are world-class distance runners, have little to
no disease, and a diet worth modeling (maybe!?).
answered “C”, I’m guessing you probably read Born to Run by Chris
McDougall. Even if you haven’t read or heard about the Tarahumara
(pronounced Spanish-style by swallowing the “h”: Tara-oo-mara) Indians,
it’s interesting to look at native cultures and see whether there’s
anything we can learn or anything we can add to our already solid
Remember though, that it’s easy
to glamorize cultures like the Eskimos who eat a mostly meat, high fat
diet, the Hunzas in Pakistan who limit meat and fat and live a long
time, or the Tarahumara, who McDougall calls superathletes.
So let’s keep things in
perspective as we look at the story behind the story of the Tarahumara
way of eating.
Let’s see if there are any
principles we can learn from this tribe about the role that diet plays
in sports performance and if there are indeed any take-away points
worthy of consideration and perhaps emulation.
Who are the Tarahumara
Indians and What’s all the Fuss About?
leap tall buildings in a single bound, but many of their qualities make
the Tarahumarans sound super human, especially their incredible talent
for long distance running.
They live in the Sierra Madre
mountains of northern Mexico, an isolated and rugged location that
influences what they can grow (mainly corn, beans, and squash), and
their lifestyle. Yet they are among the world’s best long distance
runners. And as a society they are incredibly healthy, with extremely
low levels of disease.
Picture this, a culture with:
** No obesity
** No heart disease
** No high blood pressure
** Cancer rates barely detectable
So as you can see, the
Tarahumarans don’t experience many of the top 10 health risks facing
men, for instance: diabetes, vascular disease and colorectal cancer.
They almost seem immortal. I’m not a man, but these facts alone make me
want to go live among the Tarahumarans, but then I remember, no
glamorizing allowed, right?
What do we know about the
revealed that their diet:
1. Is primarily plant-based. Among the choices available
to them given where they live, they enjoy pinole, a corn soup, pinto
beans, chile peppers, squash, greens, as well as an energy-boosting
drink made of chia seeds.
2. Is whole food based
plenty of protein (about 10% of total calorie intake) though not from
sources you might think of. Almost 90% of that protein comes from
plants. They sometimes eat eggs or meat (rabbits and mice). The
Tarahumarans eat about 80% of their calories as complex carbohydrates,
and 10 percent fat–the GOOD fat types like linoleic acid and plant
4. Provides adequate nutrients
(above RDA recommendations in calcium for instance, and very high
amounts of Vitamin A, B6, iron, and zinc).
5. Is high in fiber (18-21
grams/daily, compared to the 2-5 grams/daily most North Americans
6. Is very low in refined sugar
(1% of total calories).
And that’s the
way their eating has evolved naturally–no supplements, no
nutritionists, just “surviving” in the environment they were born into.
Now that you know more about who
the Tarahumarans are and what they eat, we can look for more specific
correlations and ask more specific questions like:
Does the Tarahumaran Diet improve
athletic and running performance or is it just one factor in their
unbelievable athletic ability?
Studies point to “yes,” but there
are many other factors that contribute to running performance.
Consider these four:
1. Genetic make-up. Sometimes you might
just be born with “what it takes”.
2. The influence of culture on behavior.
Their culture of running long distances helps assimilate young
Tarahumarans into a running lifestyle. Even their games involve running
for long distances, so they run for work and run for play. How many of
us can say the same thing?
3. Technique. This can be a combination
of body posture, lean, and kick. In the case of the Tarahumarans, it
also has to do with their lack of relying on super supportive (and
expensive) running shoes.
4. Recovery. This may be where their
diet contributes the most. Running vast distances, often in grueling
heat, makes huge demands on a body—and their mostly alkaline based diet
helps them repair their cells quickly and efficiently.
What can we learn from the
We who eat
plant based whole foods, fruits, adequate amounts of protein and fat are
on the right track, even if we’re not all runners (pun intended)!
Consuming nutrient dense whole plant-based foods support biological
function, activity level, and regeneration. The Tarahumarans are living
proof of this too. Consider that:
1. As far as protein intake,
plant sources can be as powerful as meat sources.
grains are edible medicine.
3. Plant-based whole foods support an alkaline
environment in your body. Because our body’s ideal pH is slightly
alkaline, our diet should also be slightly alkaline.
Eating less is fine IF you eat
better. It’s ideal to get maximum nutrition from the lowest number of
It’s not rocket science!
Whether you’re an endurance
athlete or aspire to build muscular size, you want to raise your
strength-to-weight ratio. In other words, developing what muscle you
have to be strong and functional while not adding any unnecessary
That is what the Tarahumarans
have done, not out of design, but because of who they are and the
lifestyle choices they make.
Hard work builds muscle whether
you’re looking for efficiency in endurance sports or the visually
impressive and strong muscles of body builders or power lifters. The
fact that the Tarahumarans still rely on their bodies for transportation
and physical labor results in their being strong and efficient in their
sports performance. No steroids. Just corn and chia.
And what’s so special about corn
In the case of
corn it’s phenols. Corn, when compared with wheat, oats, and rice, came
out on top when analyzing the highest quantity of phenols.
Why should we
Phenols are plant
chemicals that thwart disease. They’re immune system boosters.
Corn gets an even bigger applause
because it’s a low-fat, whole-grain food. Eating low-fat, whole-grain
foods helps reduce your risk of diabetes and cancer. Keeping excess body
fat off reduces disease risk.
Maybe you don’t remember chia pets
that were popular in the 1980’s. They are traditional Mexican
animal-shaped clay figures covered with chia seeds which, when they
sprout, resemble an animal’s fur. Chia seeds are packed with Omega 3,
Omega 6, protein, calcium, iron, zinc, fiber and antioxidants.
That’s quite a powerhouse of
nutrients! Eating a tablespoon of these seeds is like drinking a
smoothie of salmon, spinach and human growth hormone. Personally, I’d
rather sit down to a meal of broiled salmon and sauteed spinach, but
we’re looking to see how the Tarahumaran diet intersects with our diet
and both corn and chia seeds intersect perfectly.
What’s the dietary link to
Tarahumaran diet also suggests that how we eat does help performance
indirectly in terms of recovery.
grains and legumes of the right variety and quantity contain all the
amino acids necessary to build muscle from scratch. The way you eat does
enhance performance. It also optimizes your health, lifestyle and
longevity. We want the way we eat to work for us, not against us.
Here are a few more places where
the Tarahumaran lifestyle and the JOYinmovement lifestyle intersect.
1. We use premium fuel so we can
perform at our peak whether at work or at play. Now granted the
Tarahumaran view of work and play is quite different from most of ours,
the take away point is the same.
2. We need building blocks so our
bodies can reconstruct new cells after exercise as well as fight
disease. We focus on these building block foods in designing the way we
3. Regular exercise and high
quality whole foods go together to create a sustainable long active
4. Whether you eat meat or are a
vegan, athletic endurance does not have to be compromised.
5. The Tarahumarans have
optimized their healthy lifestyle, partly through nutrition and partly
through activity (and genetics).
I would like to think that those
of you who read these monthly newsletters do your best to integrate
these 4 principles into your lifestyle.
Regardless of whether we live in a
remote Mexican village or in suburbia, or who we are or what culture we
live in, we all need the same nutrients: protein, fat, carbohydrates,
vitamins and minerals. Is the Tarahumaran diet an essential element to
their awesome endurance ability? Well, it certainly isn’t hurting.
So, when it comes to our original
question, “To Tarahumara or Not?”, I’d say we have already been
Tarahumara-ing and we didn’t even know it until now!!!!
I hope you enjoyed this month’s
topic. It’s an unusual one, but so many people ask me what I thought of
the book. Instead of focusing on the running aspect of the book I
thought focusing on the nutritional side would be more interesting!
Have a healthy and fun month,
****PS– many new March blog
posts for you at my blog www.activemenopauselifestyle.com/blog
Please take a look and let me know what you think.
–an interview with Lierre Keith,
author of The Vegetarian Myth
up-to-date findings about breast cancer
–using rice, pasta and bread for fat loss
–what’s raw water
–what’s appealing about eggs
****PS #2 If
you are not already on the mailing list for my Monday Morning letter,
get on it now! You’re missing great tips and health and fitness
information in short actionable bites that arrive fresh in your inbox
each and every Monday morning. Go to www.activemenopauselifestyle.com
and join up! You won’t be sorry!