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Allen Lim, Biju Thomas team up on recipe collection for busy athletes

It sounds odd, but a bowl of cereal was the genesis for the recently released cookbook, “The Feed Zone: Fast and Flavorful Food for Athletes.”

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2011 The Feed Zone
Allen Lim and chef Biju Thomas teamed up to write a cookbook geared for the busy athlete. Photo courtesy VeloPress.

It sounds odd, but a bowl of cereal was the genesis for the recently released cookbook, “The Feed Zone: 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 nameless racer was tired of the standard bland chicken-and-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 Ph.D. 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.

Enter Biju

Lim and Thomas first met a few years back at a dinner party hosted by Garmin team boss Jonathan Vaughters. Thomas had been brought in to prepare food, and Lim was blown away by both the meal’s taste and simplicity. It was just the kind of food that made sense for cyclists: healthy and easy to prepare.

“We are both Boulder (Colorado) people, so we’ve been around the cycling community here for a while,” said Thomas, an accomplished chef who has helped draw up menus for some of Colorado’s most prominent restaurants, and has himself worked closely with the likes of Leipheimer, Lance Armstrong and numerous other pro cyclists. He’s also a food contributor to MapMyRide.

“Allen and I were both involved with Garmin a few years back and got to be good friends. That’s when we started our conversation on how we could get people more involved in the whole cooking process. Thinking about food as a participant more than just something that shows up at your table.”

And that’s the overriding theme of “The Feed Zone Cookbook.” Unless your kitchen is truly an unabashed caveman-bachelor zone, you likely already have everything you need to start cooking, save a rice cooker.

“And you can get one of those for $15,” says Thomas. “Basically all the photos in the book are of things we cooked at my house using two sauté pans, an electric stove and a rice cooker. You really don’t need a lot of fancy stuff. Just very basic equipment and more than anything the desire to do it for yourself.”

That desire, mated with a little curiosity, and perhaps fatigue from the more mainstream food offerings, is what Lim hopes will drive people to give the book a try.

“More than anything, it will inspire people to actually cook their own meals,” he says. “The biggest problem we have — maybe it’s a mistake, maybe it’s just a consequence of the lifestyles we lead — but the biggest mistake I see athletes make is that they are constantly eating out. Or they are constantly eating pre-packaged foods. They are not making anything from scratch, and taking the time to actually prepare themselves meals.

“A lot of that is driven by the fact that we are always on the road and not at home, and these guys are tired at the end of the day. Well, the fact of the matter is that being an athlete is hard, and taking the extra step to cook for yourself can be hard as well. But it’s well worth the effort.”

Check back Friday for the first of a six-part video series featuring Dr. Allen Lim, chef Biju Thomas, and recipes from “The Feed Zone Cookbook: Fast and Flavorful Food for Athletes”.