Chia Seeds: Super Food for Athletes #2

by Dietitian Ellen

Chia PetCha-cha-cha-chia!

Have you heard of chia seed? I know, you may be thinking, “I’ve heard of the Chia Pet, but chia seed? What is that?”

Well, chia seed IS the seed from the Chia Pet. But you can eat it, too! Weird, I know, but true.

Chia seed as a super food dates back to ancient Aztec warriors on their long expeditions. Now, it is a super food for athletes on their sometimes long “expeditions,” i.e., workouts and races.
Chia seeds: super food in the handChia seed is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids which are beneficial for heart health, anti-inflammatory purposes, and also possibly in helping to ease mood swings. (As athletes, I know none of us EVER experience mood swings. ;) <cough>)

Chia seed is also a great source of fiber. The seeds can absorb up to 10x their weight in water. If you were to pour a tablespoon into a glass of water and let it sit for some amount of time, the water would form into a gel. This property allows the seeds to provide an extended source of nutrients and help to stabilize your blood sugar, which is especially important during long workouts and races. Some athletes have even experimented with making their own “gels” with chia seeds.

In addition to the favorable omega-3 fatty acid and fiber properties of this athletes' super food, it is also a good source of protein, calcium, and iron, all of which are important for athletes. Protein helps to build lean muscle mass. Calcium is essential for strong bones and reduced fractures. Iron is necessary for the formation of hemoglobin, which is critical for the transport of oxygen from the lungs to cells in your body. Chia seed: like flax seed… on steroids (metaphorically speaking).

Bobs Red Mill Chia Seed

Chia is available in whole seed and milled chia flour forms. Some research has shown that the omega-3 benefits are stronger in the milled chia flour. Regardless, both options are exceptionally nutritious, and both forms are tasteless and will only add a different texture to your food. There is now Dole® milled chia available in to-go packets, which look similar to Crystal Light® packets.

Milled Chia Seed

Chia can be added to a variety of recipes. It is great when added to smoothies, juices, cereals, oatmeal, and yogurt. Sprinkle it on soups and salads. Add it to dips and spreads. Chia can also be easily added to baked goods, be added to peanut butter toast, or even take the place of sesame seeds when making homemade (healthier) sesame chicken. Just make sure you wait until you are about to enjoy your sesame chicken before you add your chia; otherwise, it will react with the soy sauce and form a gel. It will taste the same, but the appearance might turn some off. (Speaking from experience!)

When deciding how much chia seed to add to your food, I typically suggest 1 tablespoon, 2–3 times per day. For most of the athletes I work with, this ends up being at breakfast and dinner, unless you train full time and have the pleasure of eating at home for lunch or decide to carry the to-go packets mentioned above. I suggest placing your chia on the kitchen counter as a friendly reminder to incorporate this super food more often. You could even fill a recycled spice jar with chia and put it with your salt and pepper shakers.

Here are some of my favorite ways to incorporate chia seed.

Power Protein Bars: By far the tastiest “protein bar” you may ever experience. A mix of oatmeal, peanut butter, dark chocolate, chia seed, and other mouthwatering ingredients make this recipe a hit! Proceed with caution, these little guys are in no way calorie free. However, they are a great source of protein and fiber. I would suggest this as a breakfast bar or post workout recovery option. Many people have tried this recipe, and I have not had one person say they did not like it. Either my athletes are afraid to hurt my feelings, or these are the real deal.

Chia Seed Protein Bar

Green Smoothie: I love adding chia to smoothies, and I love sneaking in a few vegetables without having to prepare them. This recipe does both. (You can assume you will be hearing about this recipe again, when we talk about spinach in an upcoming article.) This is great as a breakfast on the go, or a recovery treat, as well. You can even make this recipe the night before and store it in the refrigerator to save time when making breakfast for the family.

Green Chia Smoothie

Breakfast in a Jar: This is another time saving recipe. Easy to prepare the night before a busy morning. (Aren’t all mornings busy?) This is a great combination of yogurt, oatmeal, mixed berries, and chia. It is easy to add chia to plain Greek yogurt or oatmeal, too! There are a lot of flavor combinations that would be great to experiment with.

Chia Breakfast in a Jar

Chia seed is easy to find in your local Hy-Vee HealthMarket or other health food stores. This super food is a great addition to any person’s daily diet. If you have further questions, feel free to leave a comment!

Ellen Ries, RD, LD

Read Dietitian Ellen’s introduction to this series: Super Foods for Athletes. Watch our blog every Friday for additional articles!

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Katherine is our Content Champion. She has done triathlons in the past, and now focuses on mountain biking and long-distance gravel riding. She still has a soft spot in her heart for weird multi-sport events like indoor triathlon and aquabike. She also teaches indoor cycling.

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  • Trish

    I just found this information. Please keep me on your list for nutritious, organic protein bars or recipes with Chia Seeds. Thank you.


  • Ellen

    Hi Trish, one of my favorite protein bar recipes is listed above (the power protein bars.) Here are a couple another great options:
    Thanks for reading!

  • http:// Elvira Mcgahen

    Chia seeds come from a flowering plant in the mint family that's native to Mexico and Guatemala, and history suggests it was a very important food crop for the Aztecs. It's remained in regular use in its native countries, but was largely unknown in North America until researcher Wayne Coates began studying chia as an alternative crop for farmers in northern Argentina about 29 years ago."`:'

    My own, personal webpage

  • Roger Arden

    Salut, savez-vous au sujet des produits qui peuvent nous aider à ce sujet?