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You think of muscle-building and imagine a ripped gym enthusiast tearing into a slab of raw meat—often at the same time they’re deadlifting 600 lbs. Yeah - it’s an awkward picture.
Now imagine that same iron-pumper delicately flinging flaxseed into a blender. This scenario is counterintuitive. First of all -- flinging? Secondly, the individual flaxseed looks like something you would dismissively flick off the workout bench before reclining to – you know — hoist a heavy weight up and down.
But this dumb-looking little seed (excuse me) has got it going on—and is practically made for the gym.
Flaxseed’s Ancient Fandom
Is this Flaxseed Power™ a new discovery? Nope. Around the time humankind began domesticating the horse and chicken—about 6,000 years ago—we also began cultivating flaxseeds. Possibly because the tiny seed's benefits made the awful work of chasing wild horses and chickens tolerable.
Today the flax plant, grown wherever a temperate climate features a healthy change of season, is a food and fiber crop. Linen comes from flax, for instance, and more recently flax milk.
Why bother cultivating flax seeds? For one thing, it’s a freaking SEED. You know what that means? A living thing has packed all it has into this compact little dude and sent it out into the biosphere. A seed is an emissary, launched from the mother plant to find its place in the natural world and THRIVE.
Each of these little lifeboats contains the Plant Kingdom’s embryonic future, packed like a precious gem in life-giving nutrients. All this life energy is surrounded by a protective shell that acts as a no-nonsense bodyguard for the treasure within. Can we humans benefit from all this seed-power? You betcha.
Just the Flax, Please. Your Daily Grind
A flaxseed—about 4mm long and not much to look at, honestly— is a surprising little depth charge of metabolic magic. As nutritionally hefty as seeds are as a category, flaxseeds are particularly potent, their bioactive compounds—alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), lignans, and fiber—combining to pack a serious punch. These high-fiber, antioxidant, Omega-3 big shots are so tiny and tough-shelled they can laughingly joyride through your digestive tract and exit your nether end without sharing a single nutraceutical secret.
..Flax is cool for workouts because the energy-bearing calories are contained in a comparatively small volume of matter..
But grind them up into – what’s the word? Oh…a powder -- and it’s like releasing a genie from its bottle—without the booming laughter and three wishes, of course.
Ground flaxseeds are anti-inflammatory, fiber-rich, cholesterol-lowering, and an enemy of arteriosclerosis. The lignans in flaxseeds even feed and energize the microbiotic good guys in your gut. When your gut is happy, your whole system sighs with relief. The flaxseed is a big deal.
The Fibrous Flax Plant and Your Muscly Workout
But back to the weight room. Flaxseeds may be broadly healthful, but what’s that got to do with The Workout? For one thing, not only are flaxseeds nutrient-rich, they're energy-rich, too. One tablespoon (7 grams) of ground flaxseed holds 37 calories. “So?”
Whaddya mean “so?” 37 calories in a tablespoon?!
When you’re working out, you need caloric energy to keep your motor running during the exertions of iron pumping. Flax is cool for workouts because the energy-bearing calories are contained in a comparatively small volume of matter.
If you have to jam yourself with high-volume foods to get the workout carbs you need, you’re going to walk into the gym feeling like an overstuffed pillow; not everybody’s goal. Flaxseeds are lithe, lightweight bearers of energy. You can carb up without weighing yourself down.
And that tablespoon of flaxseed mentioned above? It contains about 10% of your recommended daily requirement of fiber. Because flax fiber in the belly (not to be confused with fire in the belly) gives you a wholesome (vs uncomfortable) feeling of fullness—or satiety, to use the proper term—it takes the edge off cravings and helps you drop weight, reducing the danger of your tormented blue jean rivets flying off and injuring passerby.
Flaxseed fiber keeps itself busy in your clockworks, playing into your gym routine in surprising ways. Flaxseed’s soluble fiber helps stabilize blood sugar, and keeps your fuel-burning (your digestion, that is) optimized so you can be sure that whatever you eat is being metabolized with prize-winning efficiency. Not that they give out prizes for metabolic mojo. [*sigh*] If only.
Macro Nutrients and Power-Fats
Flaxseeds, despite their underwhelming visual presentation, really are powerhouses. This is not an overstatement. Flaxseeds have all three macronutrients— protein, carbs, and fat. What’s "macro" about these nutrients? You need a lot of them to …um … live.
Macronutrients are a major part of human health. Proteins contain essential amino acids, calories fuel our engines, and essential fatty acids mediate your blood pressure, coat and protect your nervous system, regulate hormone production, and build your cellular membranes. Yeah, the alpha-linolenic acid, also known as Omega-3, is an essential fatty acid for a reason.
Essential? As we’ve learned with “essential amino acids”, “essential” is biology's way of saying “…nyah nyah nyah! You need this but your dumb body won’t make it!” This cruel taunt may be part of the natural order, but it still annoys. So yeah - we (essentially) have to find and eat these three macros, and flaxseeds are a particularly rich source of all three.
Flaxseed is one of the richer sources of this alpha-linolenic acid stuff (ALA to the tongue-tied), which is super-necessary for growth and physical development.
Research has shown that ALA calms inflammation, not only having a marked effect on inflammation-based disorders like heart disease and arthritis, but massively helping with post-workout recovery. Tiny flaxseeds are one of nature’s most ALA-rich edibles. Just don't drop a flaxseed on shag carpet and expect to find it. You've been warned.
We’ve talked about carbs and fats. How’s about flax protein? Suffice it to say that a one-hundred gram serving of flax will hand over about 30 grams of protein – about the same as a chicken breast. Sprinkling flax into your smoothie or yogurt is basically seasoning your food with protein. Or you could try tossing a chicken breast into your humming smoothie-blender. We recommend goggles in that case.
Flax Your Bicep (if you can imagine)
Flax is—yes—a mere seed. But seeds are controlled explosions of life-giving nutrition and energy, as we’ve seen. In the world of workout digestibles, flax wears a cape and tights -- a true Seed Super Hero.
Workout-wise, flax is high in fiber for hunger reduction and strengthening the microbiome, loaded with omega 3 to decrease inflammation in the post-workout recovery, and sufficiently energy-dense to help you hit your bulking-stage caloric targets without having to chew through a cow.
Whew! Flax is … well, it’s still just an embarrassed-looking lil’ seed; but it is loaded with iron-pumping promise. Spread the word.