I was tickled when my husband sent me this article from The Wall Street Journal. Chia seeds are fantastic for hydration and fuel. Even for “tough guys”.
Baltimore Running Back Ray Rice Puts His Faith in Chia Seeds, a Training Tool of the Ancient Aztecs
Ray Rice, the leading rusher for the Baltimore Ravens, prepared for the NFL season with a grueling fitness regimen of running and lifting weights.
Unlike some extreme athletes, Rice is loath to pump himself full of supplements or protein drinks to sustain his workouts. “I’m a fish and chicken guy,” he said. But there is one form of superfuel Rice has quietly begun mixing into his diet: spoonfuls of an obscure Bolivian-grown seed that, he believes, replenishes his energy and helps keep his digestive system humming.
These seeds, which are known as Salvia hispanica, or chia seeds, have a long history that dates back to the ancient Aztecs. Today, however, they’re better known as the main ingredient that gives Chia Pet models like Chia Pet Elvis, Chia Shrek and Chia Obama their thickets of lustrous green mossy hair.
Rice, who will meet the New England Patriots Sunday in the AFC Championship game, said he was skeptical at first when a friend, Jesse Itzler, an investor in a chia venture, turned him on to the idea. “When you think of seeds, you think of a bird,” says the 212-pound two-time Pro Bowl running back. “They looked like bird seeds.”
Rice said the reason he finally decided to try chia seeds was their colorful back story.
Chia was a staple of the diet of the Aztecs, who are thought to be some of the fiercest warriors of all time. According to the 2009 book “Born To Run,” they were a preferred food of the Tarahumara Indians, who are able to run hundreds of miles barefoot without resting or eating all that much. “There’s a history behind it,” Rice said.
A survey of Baltimore’s locker room after a practice this week turned up another chia devotee—star linebacker Ray Lewis. “I put them in my shake every morning,” he said.
Experts say chia seeds, which have almost no taste, can absorb 10 times their weight in water—which may help speed digestion. The seeds contain nutrients like Omega 3 fatty acids, anti-oxidants, protein, iron and electrolytes.
How to Be Like Ray Rice
Take a spoonful or two of chia seeds, plop them into a glass of water and stir. After about five minutes, the seeds will swell up to about 10 times their original size and take on a gelatinous consistency. If you gulp down the seeds, there’s almost no taste. If you chew on the seeds, they have a mild, nutty flavor. You can also blend them into a smoothie or sprinkle them on salad, breakfast cereal, or your bacon cheeseburger.
The brand of seeds Rice uses is called Health Warrior. The company was started by two partners at a New York hedge fund, Dan Gluck and Nick Morris, who had used the seeds themselves in endurance sports training and to lose weight. Health Warrior’s supplier, Pharmachem Laboratories, said orders have skyrocketed in the past year as health-food connoisseurs and amateur athletes have increased the demand for the seeds.
Skip Hammock and Dean Mosca, who work for Pharmachem, found out about the seeds at a conference in Baltimore in 2007 and began looking for places where they’re grown. They eventually agreed to purchase millions of pounds of the seeds from a cooperative of Bolivian farmers. By 2011, they had more than three million pounds of chia seeds in warehouses, mostly in New Jersey. A 16-ounce packet of Health Warrior Chia sells for $14.99 on some Web sites.
At first, the inventory wasn’t moving. Hammock and Mosca flew all over the country looking for buyers. It wasn’t until last year that demand began to pick up. Now they’ve sold their entire inventory and are planning to step up their harvest efforts in South America.
Michael Smith, an anthropology professor and expert in Aztec culture at Arizona State University, said chia was an important crop for ancient Aztecs. Each year, he said, Aztecs were required to pay taxes in the form of chia, among a handful of other crops. After the Spanish invaded, the traditional Aztec crops became less important.
Today’s interest is largely due to the increasing demand for “super foods” that are full of nutrients. Health advocates like television host Mehmet Oz have given chia seeds a significant push by describing their nutritional benefits.
Rice’s chia consumption reflects a trend: Athletes looking for natural alternatives to artificial supplements. A growing body of research has suggested the human body doesn’t easily absorb some vitamins and supplements that are popular with athletes, and that taking an abundance of these products is largely ineffective. Other studies suggest ordinary whole foods, like chia seeds, are the best way to get vitamins and nutrients.
Ravens players, when asked about Rice’s seed-eating, seemed a little surprised. “I was not aware that Ray Rice eats Chia Pets,” said linebacker Terrell Suggs. Tight end Dennis Pitta said “I don’t know the first thing about chia seeds.”
A couple of other players chuckled at the notion and pretended not to know who Ray Rice was. “Can I get his autograph?” one asked.
Rice said he hasn’t told his teammates because he felt that after a lengthy labor dispute—which led to the cancellation of offseason team workouts—there wasn’t time for anyone to try new things. “I couldn’t come in and say ‘guys, let’s try this, let’s try that,'” he said.
It will take more than a spoonful of seeds for the Ravens to beat the Patriots on Sunday and claim a trip to the Super Bowl. The Patriots have one of the league’s top offensive attacks and the Ravens have struggled on the road at times this season. If they win, however, chia farmers in South America can claim at least some influence on the outcome of this year’s Super Bowl.