Ed Burke's Got a Rocket in His Pita Pocket

Sick of protein shakes and energy biscuits? Meet the exercise physiologist who has revolutionized sports nutrition with a radical new diet for athletes—real food.

May 1, 2001
Outside Magazine

IT'S THE LAST day of my visit and Burke is in his element. We're riding bikes in the Garden of the Gods, threading through a spectacular formation of red-rock pinnacles just outside town. A veteran of such two-wheeled spectacles as the Iditabike and the Leadville 100, the good doctor is schooling me up and down the hilly roads, spinning with an effortlessness I can only envy. He pauses at the crest of a climb, swigs from his drink bottle, and waits for me to catch up. "Hmm. Want my advice?" he says when I arrive. "Take two weeks off, then quit."

I'm pretty sure he's kidding. But then, if I've come to understand anything about Burke, it's that, since his world is illuminated by the cold light of science, he calls 'em as he sees 'em. Which is not to say I'm entirely a lost cause. In fact, the reason Burke's recovery plan works so well is just this: In a fundamental way, he understands why our bodies fail during physical endeavor, and he knows how the foods we eat can help keep failure at bay just a little longer—perhaps long enough to win a marathon, or triathlon, or bike race.

That pragmatism is, in the end, what makes Burke and and his method so appealing. He can't change my genetics, but he has shown me how to enhance what I have, not just with expensive, complex formulas, but with a straightforward explanation of the way food becomes energy. In the weeks following my visit, I can tell you with certainty that this approach to recovery nutrition works, but it's helped me in other ways, too. I've come to be much less obsessive about my workout diet. I can miss a gram of protein here or a milligram of glutamine there. I'm training harder and feeling better, and the bike-racing season is just beginning.

When we wrap up our ride in the Garden of the Gods, I pack my bike into Burke's truck and begin rooting through my bag for a recovery snack—not of whey powder or a drink that tastes like TheraFlu, but maybe something a little less scientific, like a strawberry Pop-Tart. Only, despite being a Burke disciple for the last three days, I've forgotten to bring a single thing to eat or drink. He looks at me, and shakes his head. Burke doesn't need to say a word; I know exactly what he's thinking. When it comes to saving a world of tired, underfed athletes, the prophet of recovery has his work cut out for him.

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