Admittedly, I’m not an objective journalist. I lose sight of objectivity with my subjects; I want to like them....
After a few rides with Allen Lim, founder of Skratch Labs, that’s easy to do. As the company’s products debut in NZ later this year, now is an opportune moment to meet the guy behind the brand.
We come together for a coffee ride one morning, and he greets me heartily. This is the Lim I’ve long heard about—cheerful, gregarious and quick. What follows is a rapid-fire conversation that shows a mind at work. He’s still able to rattle off the mnemonic devices he used to win his state academic history championships more than 20 years ago.
If you’ve followed the pro peloton at all anytime in the last 15 years, Allen Lim is a familiar name. He’s been the scientific advisor to Floyd Landis, Jonathan Vaughter’s Garmin team and Lance Armstrong’s Team RadioShack. A smart guy with an impressive CV, Allen has been in the thick of it. His time with the pros is already well publicized; so too are the stories behind the creation of Skratch Labs, Lim’s science behind hydration and nutrition, and the publication of “The Feed Zone,” the book he co-authored with chef Biju Thomas. If you’re looking for a behind-the-scenes tell-all rehash, this ain’t that. Please move along; there’s nothing to see here.
A ride with Lim means bringing your conversational “A-game.” Topics easily flow from theories of cultural production to off-colour metaphors for what happens when the small intestine is flooded by sports drinks loaded with branched-chain amino acids. Allen may have the mind of a scientist, but he has the heart of a humanities professor—mixed with the soul of a stand-up comic.
When I ask him what advice he gives new athletes, he says, “The same advice Plato once gave, which is, ‘The mere athlete is philistine and brute, the mere intellectual spiritless and unstable.’ So my advice is, don’t just be one thing. Cultivate polarity.”
Cultivating polarity is something he talks about—and lives—frequently. It means finding, understanding and accepting life’s opposites, while walking a harmonious middle way between them. There is a hefty strain of 2,600-year-old Chinese Taoist wisdom at work in Lim’s philosophy.
As a grad student, he envisioned a life in the classroom. Now, as a business leader, he finds himself teaching staff, consumers and athletes. Even as a coach, Allen is drawn to athletes who have a learner’s mindset.
He’s often worked with young pro riders, who are living in Europe and away from home for the first time. For pros, although it’s important to train hard, it’s equally important to rest well. The two work in balance. Early on, Allen developed a useful acronym to help fatigued and frustrated athletes take control over their uncertain and unsettling situations: H.A.L.T.
- Are you Hungry (or Horny)?
- Are you Angry?
- Are you Lonely?
- Are you Tired?
The answer to any one of these questions has its own practical and built-in solution; it usually comes down to eating and/or sleeping.
Skratch Labs began with the Secret Mix—a natural ingredient, high-salt drink concoction designed to keep riders hydrated with proper electrolyte levels. As more friends began to ask for the mix, the business potential looked increasingly plausible. Since then, Skratch has grown into one of the most visible endurance drink alternatives to high fructose, mass-market versions. The product line has expanded from drink mix to chews and bars, and even a cookie mix—all supporting the vision that athletes should eat real food
The sports nutrition business is a competitive one. It also relies heavily on technocentric lab-driven solutions for endurance fueling. Rightfully so, as endurance nutrition is a technical problem that demands thoughtful solutions. For all his scientific bona fides, though, Allen and the Skratch team have taken an ethnocentric approach to this technical problem by referring back to the very foods he grew up eating. This focus has helped develop Skratch into a strong and compelling brand with a passionate following.
Words & Images: Bryan Yates & Greg Erwin
The full story is available in volume 5 of the New Zealand Cycling Journal. Subscribe today.