Walk into any organic or health-food store, and you’ve probably got an image of who’s shopping there: crunchy granola types, Lexus libs who just wrapped up an hour or two of yoga, jogging or Pilates, your friendly neighborhood art professor.

Right?

Now here’s a knock to your preconceived notions: Add Mr. & Mrs. NFL Lineman to the checkout line.

Susanah and Ryan Baker. Photo by Kristen Pugh.

When Purdue grad and defensive end Ryan Baker began to see playing time with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, he was put on a 6,000-calories-per-day diet by his nutritionist at St. Vincent Sports Performance, where he trains in the offseason.

Six thousand calories—that’s between two and three times what the average human male needs to function; but a 6-foot, 5 inch, 300-plus pounder hoping to make the team roster at pigskin’s highest level needs a lot more gas in the tank than the average weekend touch-footballer—or football watcher, for that matter.

Ryan and his wife, Susanah, Bishop Chatard High School sweethearts who tied the knot in July of 2011, realized that the player had a problem — there are ways to swallow such a large number of calories that will clearly be rough on the cardiovascular system. Beyond that, Susanah felt that the more traditional the foods Ryan ate, the higher the doses of additives, antibiotics and hormones he’d be consuming.

Susanah began a mission to feed her husband not just healthfully, but organically as well. “You just can’t pump yourself full of junk,” says Susanah.

Goodbye to processed foods

Ryan’s not alone when it comes to eating healthy in the NFL, according to Susanah: “It obviously depends on what weight they need to be at, but for the most part, they all eat pretty similarly. Lots of lean proteins, white meat chicken, fish — good fats, and, yes, there ARE good fats out there—almonds, other kinds of nuts, avocados, lots of vitamins, fruits and vegetables.”

To ensure that all of those foods are delivered in a manner as chemically free as possible, Susanah began investigating ways to help Ryan hit that 6K per day as naturally as possible — and as a result, the Bakers have cut out processed foods entirely.

“People don’t understand how aware these guys are of their bodies,” says Susanah, “It’s their livelihood. They understand how much better their bodies perform with good food in them—and a lot of them are really into eating organically.”

The Bakers are part of a growing trend. According to the consumer analytics group TABS (The Analytical Business Solution), “Sales of organic beef increased by 48 percent last year [2011], followed by ice cream—which saw a 44 percent jump—then hair-care products at 28 percent, vegetables with 26 percent, milk at 25 percent, eggs with 21 percent and at 17 percent for chicken.”

To hit the huge caloric total he needs, Ryan eats six meals a day — 1,000 calories per meal, one meal every two-and-a-half hours. “So he is basically constantly eating. … Who wouldn’t want a job that required eating a ton of food, right?” Susanah laughs.

The Bakers quickly realized that narrowing Ryan’s menu to a constant conveyor belt of chicken breasts and almonds would get old pretty rapidly, so she began to investigate how to modify recipes.

Eating Organically. Photo by Kristen Pugh.

“You’d be amazed how much healthier a meal can become by simply changing the ingredients to organic ones.”

If Ryan’s got a hankering, for say, a pulled-pork sandwich, Susanah will swap the meats — she’ll sub organic chicken breast for ol’ Wilbur. “You can still eat the way you always have — it’s just slightly adapted.”

Feeling the effects—immediately

Despite a Stanford study that seemed to find that organic foods didn’t have any more vitamins or nutrients than conventional eats, Susanah and Ryan are convinced that the lack of hormones, pesticides and the rest of that synthetic soup foreign to organics is the key to health, and therefore, improved performance for the lineman.

When the Bakers made the shift, both felt the effects almost immediately. Susanah says, “Your muscles work better, your body works better—you have more energy, because you’re not getting all those additives that you’re getting in conventional food.”

One of the big problems with shifting to a nearly all-organic diet, however, is the cost. Ryan isn’t Dwight Freeney, the Colts player who is one of the highest paid defensive linemen in the NFL. In fact, Ryan is an on-again, off-again player in the league, so the Bakers need to be mindful of their budget [Editor’s note: at press time, Ryan had been released by the Dolphins; he says it’s possible to get a call at any point — from any team.]

Susanah leans on coupons and sales—she points out that companies that make organic foods use the same marketing tactics as traditional food producers.

Susanah also takes the long view when it comes to coast cutting: “When you’re not getting all these hormones and antibiotics, artificial ingredients and flavorings, your body is healthier. It sounds crazy, but we have less doctor visits; you don’t need as much medicine.… I haven’t taken Tylenol in—gosh, I don’t know how long.”

The diet is just the starting point of a continuum of health, according to Susanah: “You eat healthy food, you feel better, you want to work out regularly. It’s all a snowball effect.”

Making the switch to organic wasn’t easy, so Susanah realized quickly that the change was a process—she couldn’t simply throw away everything in the pantry. “It has to be gradual—otherwise you’ll just get overwhelmed. You just start out kind of small and then you let it grow. You start substituting things. You can use olive oil instead of butter. You can use egg whites instead of whole eggs. It’s not easy—it’s work, just like any good thing.”

Dodge the fat

The stereotypical footballer’s diet — the notion of a lineman sitting down to a massive plate of rib-eye steak and taters—has become more and more of a work of fiction for the Bakers. “You’d think red meat—a lot of protein, a lot of nutrients—would be fine. But it really has a lot of fat in it, fat that’s not good for your heart. We still eat red meat, we just do it in moderation. We’re very aware of it—we’ll go lean red meat, like a filet.”

The Bakers have also switched to organic, skim milk — despite his bulk, Ryan needs to dodge the fats that could damage that precious muscle in the middle of his chest. “And if you’re not buying organic milk, you’ll be getting those antibiotic and hormones that are given to the cows. So if we’re not buying organic, nonfat milk, we’re buying almond milk instead.”

Yes, Susanah shops at Whole Foods and Fresh Market, and she’s appreciative of the ways these chains have changed the grocery-buying experience.

“Farmers’ markets are a great place, too,” says Susanah. “The thing about farmers’ markets is that you’re not going to find that ‘organic’ symbol on a lot of their foods. That’s because the certification is expensive—but it does NOT mean that the foods at farmers’ markets aren’t organic. So you just ask.”

Susanah’s interest in organics soon became a passion and she started a website called thatorganicgirl.com. Her mission statement reads, in part: “After being introduced to the concept of organic foods I became a little overwhelmed with all the issues and controversies surrounding our food and overall health. So…I thought I would start writing about it, maybe poke a little fun at myself, and to try to inform, not scare, you all about the latest in the food and health industry.”

The website is loaded with info, and most importantly, recipes — everything from a kale and spinach smoothie (which sounds, thankfully, that it won’t taste anything like kale) to a recipe for a homemade green cleaner. Again, the Bakers aren’t the Mannings—the cold fact of the NFL is that there are players like Ryan who spend part of the regular season working out and
waiting for the call that some other player’s injurious misfortune means a fresh paycheck for the family—so the recipes are cost-effective.

Susanah wants to make one thing clear: the Bakers aren’t missionary zealots. “It’s not like we don’t go out to dinner, or dinner parties, or whatever — we don’t refuse any food that isn’t organic, we’re just careful with the foods we can control.”

Editor’s note: ILG Editor Jim Poyser is related to the Bakers via marriage.

The Bakers are philanthropically minded and have their own foundation: The Ryan Baker Foundation.

Photo by Kristen Pugh.

Foundation Mission Statement: Through our team and partnership with businesses, private sponsors and dedicated volunteers, The Ryan Baker Foundation, founded in 2010, exists to generate funds and create opportunities for the benefit of children and young adults, with an emphasis on health, education, sports and mental well being.

Says Ryan Baker, “The Ryan Baker Foundation is my way of giving back. We exists, solely, to generate funds and create opportunities for children less fortunate, with every, single dime that we raise going to those kids. We have recently teamed up with a foster center where we will be working with foster children that are aging out of the system. It has been so rewarding to
look back and see the progress and impact we have made in just 3 years, it’s makes me really excited about the future.“

Also: The Ryan Baker Football Camp is a FREE, one-day, non contact football camp held in Indianapolis, and is open to all 4th-8th graders. Each camper is provided with a camp T-shirt, meal and opportunity to win several awesome prizes.

Places to buy organic

In the Indianapolis area:

Earth Fare

13145 Levinson Lane, Noblesville, (317)-773-3271
The new kid on the block: Earth Fare’s motto is that food should be as close to the ground as it gets, which is why they only offer healthy eating that’s convenient, affordable and delicious.

Georgetown Market
4375 Georgetown Road, (317)-293-9525
At Georgetown Market you can find fresh and organic produce as well as tasty deli items that cater to both vegans and meat eaters. The staff will gladly answer any question you have regarding health and organic food.

Good Earth Natural Foods
6350 Guilford Ave., (317)-253-3709
This family-operated business has the best products at the lowest prices, offering a wide variety of natural and organic foods. They were organic before organic was cool!

Indy Winter Farmers Market
202 E Market St.
Finding healthy, fresh food during the cold season isn’t be so difficult. Offering produce from over 60 local vendors, the IWFM is open Saturday mornings through April 27 at The Platform.

Nature’s Pharm
8215 US 31, (317)-888-0557
Located just 15 minutes from downtown Indianapolis, this locally owned health food store offers a broad selection of organic produce ranging from fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy and meat to bulk grains, nuts, seeds and herbs.

Whole Foods Market

1300 E. 86th St., (317)-569-1517; 14598 Clay Terrace Blvd., Carmel, IN, (317)-569-1517
Called “America’s Healthiest Grocery Shop,” Whole Foods has been around for over 20 years. Their experience, commitment to sustainable agriculture and strict quality standards combine to bring the freshest natural groceries.

Winter Market at Carmel City Center
719 Hanover Pl., Carmel
This market provides another excellent option to get fresh produce during the cold months. Taking place every Saturday through Jan. 26, it will feature some 20 vendors from the Carmel Farmers Market.

In Bloomington

Bloomingfoods
3220 East Third St., (812)-336-5400; 419 E. Kirkwood Ave., (812)-336-5300; 316 W. Sixth St., (812)-333-7312
Dedicating themselves to good food and good health, Bloomingfoods is a staple in the Bloomington community, offering excellent fresh products from local and regional producers.

Bloomington Community Farmer’s Market
401 N. Morton St.
Running from April to November, this weekly gathering allows consumers to acquaint themselves with the local growers of the food they buy, offering a great variety of produce with several different vendors each week.

Sahara Mart
2611 E. Third St., (812)-339-6222; 106 E. Second St., (812)-333-0502
Sahara Mart’s most distinctive feature is their offering of products that ranges from the exotic to the ordinary while maintaining a wide selection of organic and fresh food.

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