Cooking with Dr Allen Lim

Dr. Allen Lim is a physiologist, sports scientist, coach, nutritionist, and all-around endurance sports smart-guy. What MacGyver can do with wood putty, string, and a knife – Lim can do with a few simple ingredients in the kitchen (minus the resulting explosion). This is just to say - the guy knows his stuff.

While well-known around the cycling side of things, he isn’t yet quite a household name in triathlon. In the past, he worked for teams such as Garmin-Slipstream, and more recently Radio Shack. The thing that really consumes his time, however, is the launching of his own nutrition business, Skratch Labs. The name comes from the fact that he promotes making food from “scratch”. Lim would also correct me by saying that they are not a sports nutrition company, but a sports nourishment company – he says the two are not the same.

Several years ago, Lim began experimenting in the kitchen to make a sports drink that was better. He started by taking teams’ sponsored drink mixes, diluting them to reduce the osmolality and strong flavor, and adding more electrolytes. He then got to making his own unique blend, with minimal ingredients and no coloring agents or artificial flavors (it is flavored with freeze-dried real fruit). It was lovingly dubbed “Secret Drink Mix”, because teams were buying it and using it in lieu of their sponsors’ product. The stuff has seemingly caused a revolution in the pro peloton; thus the company was born.

The thing that Skratch Labs does not sell is any sort of bar or gel. By Lim’s own definition, it isn’t possible to sell a packaged product that fits his guidelines. He says we ought to drink our hydration and chew our calories – and that those calories should be from real food. What do his riders eat? Rice cakes. No, not the kind you get in a plastic bag from the grocery store. Rice cakes you make at home. The base ingredient is sushi rice, and from there you can add what you like. He has two key flavors – savory and sweet. The former includes bacon, eggs, maple syrup, and a few other goodies. The latter relies on coconut, blueberries, and chocolate. In Lim’s own words:

“Instead of just accepting [GI distress] as the norm, I decided to try a back to basics approach and began traveling around the world from hotel to hotel with a rice cooker and an electric frying pan so I could make the athletes I coached fresh food each morning at grueling events like the Tour de France.

I also started diluting their sports drinks to lower the sugar concentration while adding back extra salt and electrolytes to replace what was actually being lost in their sweat. Eventually, I started making a “secret drink mix” in my kitchen using a recipe with less sugar, more sodium, and no artificial sweeteners, flavors, or colors, with a simple and clean taste created by using real fruit.

Instead of making an “orange” drink, I made a drink with real oranges. Instead of making sweet syrupy bars, I made savory cakes with sushi rice. And it worked. The athletes stopped complaining about feeling sick, bloated, and nasty from the synthetic gut rot that normally plagued them. Most importantly, with better hydration and better fuel they started feeling and performing better.”

By all accounts, these things are astoundingly popular. I had a chance to meet up with Dr. Lim while he was in Colorado for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. While I’ve never heard of this before, the race actually hired Dr. Lim to coordinate all of the food for the race. The entire race. He was to handle not only the support food during each stage, but also coordinate with each hotel’s kitchen staff for the breakfast and dinner menus. This was a big job.

We met at the race hotel in Colorado Springs at 6:00 a.m. The riders were to have breakfast there, and then make the 90 minute transfer to Golden, CO for the race start that day. The key thing I wanted to learn about was Lim’s famous rice cakes. How do you make them? Is it difficult? Do they work for triathlon? That last question is a biggie, and one that I’ll hopefully answer in a separate interview with Dr. Lim. For now, enjoy this gallery of a race morning for the pro peloton – breakfast, rice cakes, and all.

All images © Greg Kopecky /

The Feed Zone – lots of tasty recipes in here, including the rice cakes. The book was co-authored by Dr. Lim and Chef Biju Thomas.

It was a very early morning for Allen, but he appeared to be in good spirits.

Key ingredients for the 'savory' cake include rice, eggs, and a LOT of bacon.

Other ingredients for the 'savory' flavor rice cake.

Dr. Lim stirs up a frenzy…

It’s starting to come together.

Unfortunately, the rice provided by the hotel was far too wet and made for bad cakes. The solution? A last-minute audible to run out to the car and grab their own rice cookers.

Only the finest sushi rice will do for Lim’s cakes.

The ‘sweet’ version of the cakes includes blueberries, coconut, and chocolate.

Dr. Lim and chef Thomas discuss the particulars of the day’s nutrition plan.

At about 7:00 a.m., some sleepy riders began to emerge for breakfast.

The eventual race winner would soon sit here.

Some teams brought their own array of specialty foods to suit the riders’ preferences.

What’s in the bag?

The buffet had just about anything you could want for breakfast.

Want a pastry?

With the mixing of many different cultures in one room, everything was meticulously labeled.

The sun begins to rise over Cheyenne Mountain. In a few short hours, the riders will be busy hammering out the watts.