Samantha Springer, M.S., CSCS
The title’s quote was published by the Global Healing Center as a clever introduction to the health benefits of the infamous chia seeds. Chia pets have been a popular novelty since the 1980s, but as science advances, health discoveries are gradually shifting the purpose of this herb away from garnishing a ceramic display. It is now being classified as a superfood that should be utilized by everyone; however, endurance athletes ought to especially consider what it has to offer.
High omega-3 fatty acid consumption is associated with a lower incidence of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. A single seed contains 3-10 times more unsaturated fat than any other grain and helps the body emulsify and absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. One study found that, when compared to a control, diets containing chia seeds significantly decreased saturated fat prevalence, the ratio of saturated to polyunsaturated fatty acid and that of omega-6 to omega-3 acid. Additionally, body weight decreased. Another investigation discovered lowered triglyceride and increased HDL levels in plasma serum. Another powerful claim is that the protein content of chia seeds is one of the highest of all grains, which enhances post-exercise recovery but this advantage is only the beginning for endurance athletes.
Chia (Salvia hispanica) is an indigenous plant to Central and South America. Evidence indicates that Aztec tribes popularly utilized chia plants in the early Mesoamerica time period when nomadic cultures were prevalent and physical endurance was critical to survival. The plant offers nutritional sustainability, which can be attributed to the high fiber content (>30% its weight). When wet, the water-soluble fiber secretes a gel that is meant to protect the seed against arid climates. This gel is theorized to coat the digestive tract, which yields a lengthier conversion of carbohydrates; therefore, chia seeds are a valuable slow burning fuel for endurance training. Another exceptional trait is the chia seed’s ability to hold 12 times its weight in water, therefore hydration and retention of electrolytes is maintained during exertion.
Currently, concern exists over the simple carbohydrates content of popular sports drinks. These sugars induce large fluctuations in blood glucose levels, which is undesirable for the endurance athlete who works optimally at constant levels. One crossover study sought to enhance endurance performance through chia seed loading instead of carbohydrate loading. When glycogen was stored with either 100% Gatorade or a chia drink (50% Gatorade and 50% chia seeds), both groups had no significant difference in their run times. Therefore, the addition of chia seeds provides the same glycogen supply as well as the aforementioned dietary benefits.
Overall, chia seeds have been found to sustain performance, while decreasing dietary intake of sugar and augmenting the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids. They maintain hydration, offer satiation and provide a post-recovery protein advantage. Chia seeds contain elevated levels of antioxidants and essential vitamins and minerals, which also maximize performance and recovery. Chia seeds can be consumed whole or ground. Some people have discovered out to utilize the gel in drinks and as substitutes for ingredients in baked goods. Again, the extreme qualities can be applied to the general population, but each property may assert itself individually to different subgroups. For example, the slow absorption rate and expansion of a hydrated seed may benefit those seeking weight loss through prolonged satiation. Diabetics may better manage their low carbohydrate diets with a chia drink and avoid large spikes in blood sugar. Chia seeds prove to have a versatile nature and should increase in popularity as they continue to be researched and applied to our dietary lifestyle.
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- Ayerza, Ricardo. "Oil Content and Fatty Acid Composition of Chia (Salvia Hispanica L.) from Five Northwestern Locations in Argentina - Springer." Springer Link. Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society, 01 Sept. 1995. Web. 06 July 2013. http://download.springer.com/static/pdf/528/art%253A10.1007%252FBF02660727.pdf?auth66=1403118061_0f5666bfccd58237e8ba79ef82075aab&ext=.pdf