Last time I checked in with the Skratch Labs blog, I had suffered a minor meltdown in Las Vegas on my way to Redlands, and vowed to never again be subjected to the disaster known as the “average American meal” as I traveled from race to race. After I got back home, Allen decided I needed a few more key pieces in addition to the rice cooker, so we went to procure supplies for the Skratch Labs Mini Kitchen.
The Mini Kitchen is the result of a paradigm shift in the way athletes care for their nutrition needs. It has always amazed me that people will spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on equipment, only to shovel garbage down their throats right before a race or skimp on the quality of the food they eat. Skratch Labs and The Feedzone Cookbook are both founded on the premise that conventional wisdom isn’t very wise, and that simple solutions are often better than their pseudoscientific counterparts. In the same way that there is no advanced technology behind an ice-sock on a hot day, or that the ingredients in a rice cake are far fewer than almost any energy bar, the marginal gains to be had by bringing a rice cooker (and few other bits) to a race are easy to take and low tech. It’s a cheap and simple insurance policy that means you will have familiar food at competitions.
The Mini Kitchen is also contagious; after the upgrade to the equipment, I started cooking for my team at races. It became a way for me to relax; I could both control what we were eating, and it took my mind off the race by giving me a task to complete. What I didn’t really expect was for my personal paradigm shift to start affecting the other riders on the team; I thought I was the picky, weird guy on the team who would always shut down restaurant options, but I started to notice the others catching on. When I showed up to Tour of the Battenkill, I found that one teammate had brought his own rice cooker in case I hadn’t brought mine. As we coordinated to drive to Tour of the Gila, the only question he asked me was whether he needed to bring his cooker or if mine was enough. The early riser on the team learned how I make oatmeal in the cooker so that he could start a massive batch for the team each day. I’m currently guest riding for a team at Tour de Beauce, and I expected raised eyebrows when I said I brought a rice cooker, but after I gave a few guys honey and almond butter rice cakes, they all thought it was great.
So what are the essentials? My crucial tools are pretty limited, but most of my races have host housing, so that makes things considerably easier. In addition to a 6 cup rice cooker (3 cups is ok for one or two people, but a team needs the grown-up version), I always have a rice spatula, a small, lightweight brownie pan for forming rice cakes, a roll of foil or Martha Wrap, a knife, a bag of rice, a bag of oats, some nut butter, honey, and dried fruit. Those things will get you through, but if you need more heat and variety, an electric wok/frying pan or a small George Foreman grill will make just about anything you need to compete. It all can stack inside itself in your suitcase, and doesn’t really add that much to your traveling weight, but it makes a huge difference in your confidence and comfort.
The Mini Kitchen has already paid itself off in the first two days of Beauce. No lunch after the race? No problem. Only gels to eat? Not now, I have rice cakes. Again, I expected to be the strange foreign guy on the team, but everyone seems to agree with the value I put on these tools. Now if only teams will get with the program! - Julian Kyer