It sounds odd, but a basic bowl of cereal was initial genesis for the recently released cookbook, “The Feed Zone Cookbook: Fast and Flavorful Food for Athletes.” The moment of inspiration came during one of Allen Lim’s first trips to Europe, where he witnessed a young pro cyclist pour himself the aforementioned bowl of cereal — for dinner.
Clearly the to-remain-nameless racer was tired of the standard bland-chicken-and-bland-pasta diet that’s so common in the professional peloton, and was looking for a change. Sadly, the best he could do was a box of bran flakes.
“I knew then that there had to be a better way,” recalls Lim, a PhD and sports physiologist who has worked for both the then-Garmin-Transitions team and Team RadioShack, and this year is doing consulting work with individual athletes such as Levi Leipheimer. “I knew I needed to teach this rider, who I was coaching at the time, some simple, but practical recipes. But it was more than that. He needed to learn the very basics. How to shop. How to chop vegetables. How to cook an egg.
“What I found when I was on the road was that I was actually teaching guys how to cook, how to eat, how to prepare food from scratch. That’s when I started to fantasize about being able to give them a cookbook, and just say, eat the chicken marsala on page 75. Or make the beet juice. Or here is how you make rice cakes on your own.”
Flash forward to present time, and Lim’s wish has come true. The new athlete-centric book, co-authored by Lim and Chef Biju Thomas, includes 150 recipes complete with full-color photos, shortcuts, substitutions, and techniques to save time in the kitchen. And yes, you’ll even learn how to prepare Lim’s famous rice cakes, which have been stashed in many a pro rider’s jersey pocket during the world’s biggest bike races.
“Trying to change eating habits didn’t go over so well at the beginning,” admits Lim of his time immersed in the European peloton. “I’ve always wanted to innovate in the sport, and I came in from a totally different perspective with both Chinese and American culture. When I went to Europe, I found a sport that was basically full of tradition. Some of that was great and I learned a lot. But other things I saw, especially around food, were very backwards. Guys would finish huge days in the Tour de France and they’d be given a crusty baguette sandwich with salami.”
Knowing that wasn’t enough, Lim started bringing his own rice cooker on the team bus, and making racers fresh rice, scrambled eggs, fruits and vegetables, with the goal of trying to increase nutrient density intake during the critical post-race recovery window.
“It worked because I brought my own stuff and executed it myself,” says Lim. “But it took a long time before the soigneurs and the rest of the staff and management started to support that.”
Indeed, old habits die hard in the hardscrabble world of professional cycling. Lim says that when he returned the following year, the rice cooker had vanished.