Like great swarms of insatiable locusts, thousands of ravenous triathletes descended on Madison in the days before Sunday's Ironman Wisconsin triathlon, packing downtown restaurants, devouring countless millions of collective calories and all but denuding the central isthmus of pancakes, pastas and proteins.
This is an opportune moment to revisit a feature that ran in Isthmus almost 20 years ago, when local sports figures divulged what they ate for breakfast on the day of a big effort. Innumerable high-performance diets have been introduced since then. Some have endured. Others have faded.
An informal and scientifically invalid e-mail survey of area residents engaged in the sporting life turns up one constant in their varied breakfast menus: None of them cite Wheaties, which has marketed itself as the Breakfast of Champions since the 1930s.
A sampling of their responses follows. For the unabridged breakfast routines of all 16 respondents, log on to TheDailyPage.com. Call this "Son of the Breakfast of Champions," "Bride of the Breakfast of Champions," "Revenge of the Breakfast of Champions" or "Breakfast of Champions, Part Deux." But don't call it Wheaties.
Thomas Brunold, the top Wisconsin finisher in Sunday's Ironman, first among men age 35 to 39, and sixth overall, notes that his nutrition regimen starts long before race day. He tailors his breakfast to the specific event.
For the Mad City Marathon, which he won in 2005, the associate UW-Madison chemistry professor wakes up almost two hours before the start, warms up with a 10-minute run and eats one big bowl of cereal containing Blueberry Morning, Chex, one small banana, one scoop of protein powder, one spoon of fat-free whipped cream, milk and water. "My wife thinks the cereal mix looks disgusting," Brunold allows, "but it tastes great!" About 45 minutes before the marathon starts, he consumes a Power Bar (Cookies & Cream or cappuccino flavor) and drinks Gatorade (Riptide Rush flavor) all the way to the start.
For Ironman Wisconsin, he rises even earlier, skips the warm-up run, adds "a lot of blueberries" to his cereal mix, and adds a Vanilla Crisp Power Gel to the Power Bar and Gatorade he consumes en route to the swim. Considering that he burns about 10,000 calories during the Ironman, he explains, "I much rather prefer to feel a bit full at the race start than to run out of fuel long before even getting close to the finish line."
Holly Anne Liske, an off-road cyclist and winner of the women's division at this year's Badger State Games in-line skate marathon, starts every morning with "fruit and a bowl of oatmeal with walnuts, yellow raisins and Craisins. I also drink a lot of water. When I race in the afternoon, I eat a little bit of GoLean Crunch cereal as a snack."
Her rationale for this menu: "Regular oatmeal provides more complex carbohydrates than instant oatmeal, which are especially good for long races. The nuts provide a small amount of protein and healthy fats, and raisins have a lot of potassium. It's a pretty simple breakfast and seems to provide enough energy even for long races."
She adds that she rarely strays from this breakfast routine, "but the portions shrink as the length of the race or the time before the race decreases. I usually compete in mountain bike races that last around two hours, so I need more energy (and food) than when I compete in a shorter running or skating race."
Keith Binns, one of the founding fathers of the Madison soccer scene, and, in his words, one who is "still kicking," has learned over the years that a big breakfast at about 8 on the morning of an afternoon game is important. "By a big breakfast," he elaborates, "I would mean bacon, eggs and hash browns, or a three-egg omelet, or pancakes with sausages, accompanied by several cups of coffee. This way a player can ‘bulk up' and then have a very light lunch, so that he does not feel lethargic before the soccer match."
Jim Neefe, president of the MadCity Paddlers, says his breakfast menu depends on how much time he has between getting out of bed and launching his boat. "Usually I drink two cups of coffee and a glass of orange juice," he adds. "My main food consists of fresh fruit and doughnut holes. Usually I am in a hurry and tend to eat food that is effortless to prepare. The coffee wakes me up so that I can think about what I need to take on the paddle. We all have gone on a trip with someone who forgot to pack their paddle."
Noting that the MadCity Paddlers' motto is "Paddle once and eat twice," Neefe adds that he is less concerned with breakfast than packing food for later in the day. "On my last trip, which was down the Red River near Shawano, I was still eating [breakfast] with my feet already in the water."
Jessica Burda, president of the Wisconsin Women's Rugby Football Club, explains that her pre-game meals depend on whether she will be playing in a full 15-a-side game in the afternoon, or a tournament with five or six seven-a-side games in one day.
"I like to get up early, hydrate with water and sports drinks, eat something light like an energy bar, oatmeal, cereal or apples/bananas," she relates. The physical and mental rigors of rugby require quick reactions, Burda adds, and she does not want to compromise her agility by overeating at breakfast: "I normally love to eat food, but on game days I get too excited to play, so I do better with light eating."
She adds that she adjusts her breakfast menu in response to the weather. "If I know it's going to be colder, like an 80-minute game in the snow or rain, I'll eat more oatmeal/cereal. If it's a Sevens Tournament and hot, I'll eat more fruit."
Melissa Adams, chair of the Bombay Bicycle Club's annual Wright Stuff Century tour, once fueled up for long bike rides with a breakfast of doughnuts and cold pizza - but has since reformed. Now, she prepares for a day on her bike by consuming bananas, V8 juice or oatmeal. Her rationale? "Ease of digestion so blood isn't swirling around in my stomach instead of my legs."
Walter Meanwell, co-president of the Madison Nordic Ski Club, an avid cyclist during the seasons between snow, and husband of Stacey, who shares his enthusiasms, says, "I eat the same thing every morning - a banana and Stacey's homemade granola, raisins, and oats mixed in plain yogurt. This is washed down with nine liters of strong coffee. On race mornings I just triple my usual dose. The jitters usually wear off after a couple of hours and then I can get down to racing."
It should be noted that such a volume of coffee may be inadvisable, but might also explain Meanwell's indefatigability.