Some people adopted pets during the pandemic. Some made sourdough. Olympic speedskater Brittany Bowe has sort of combined the two.
Bowe began making bread in her Salt Lake City home after her US Speedskating teammate Kimi Goetz gave her a starter kit last summer. The yeast and bacteria mixture that makes the sourdough rise has since taken on a life of its own.
“I have it in the fridge now and my roommate is taking care of it,” Bowe said in a phone interview during a recent trip to the Netherlands. “So I’m sending her a weekly text: ‘C’mon, it’s time to feed the sourdough baby.’
“So yes, I am one of those sourdough people.”
Bowe turned 33 in February and said nutrition has become more important to her as she pursues a medal in her third Olympics next February in Beijing.
Her body can’t bounce back as quickly as it once did from poor nutritional choices, she said. And success in her sport hinges on speed, endurance and focus, with wins typically determined by hundredths of a second. So she has to be more conscientious of what she puts in it.
“In order for me to continue performing at the highest level and performing my absolute best,” she said, “it is more vital and important than ever that I choose my food — or my fuel — wisely.”
The three-time and reigning world champion in the 1,000 meters, Bowe started to enjoy cooking and baking for herself in the last three to five years. But she really got into it during the pandemic.
With competitions curtailed for almost an entire year, she had more time to cook — and no real choice not to.
“With COVID and not having the restaurants as options, I was in the kitchen every single day and I really, really enjoyed it,” she said. “The more I learned and cooked for myself, it gives you a better awareness of what you need to put in your body so than when you go to these competitions, you’re able to make good choices of what to pick on a buffet line.”
The athletes’ table has been a trouble spot in the past. Bowe noted that food options vary widely by country and culture. In many countries, fresh fruits and vegetables are few and far between. Meats aren’t automatically identifiable.
Without kitchens to cook in, elite athletes often struggle to stick to their diets while traveling. Recently retired Park City ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson recalled her struggles as a flexitarian — a vegetarian who only occasionally eats meat — to find any options other than bread at some stops.
“We just go to the craziest places in the middle of Eastern Europe and all they have is blood sausage and mystery meat,” Hendrickson said. “And so you’re just like, ‘Oh my gosh. Like we need to get some calories and we need to get some nutrient-dense calories in so that we can be mentally focused.’ If you don’t have that glucose going, you’re going to crash — not literally crash on the ski jump, but mentally crash. You need to have all that dialed in on competition day.”
The culinary choices in a bubble, where athletes are strictly limited in their interactions with anyone outside their team to reduce the spread of COVID, typically have even fewer choices for filling their bellies. Bowe said she just tries to make the best of it and then get back on track when she’s at home.
“I’m just trying to make sure I’m getting my whole grains, my protein, my vegetables, my fat,” she said. “You know, all of the basic nutrients we need to perform at a high level.”
Bowe and Hendrickson both recently partnered with Imperfect Foods, a grocery delivery service specializing in often quirky-looking fruits and vegetables and foods that have short shelf-lives are surplus or have been discontinued, as a source of healthy food when they are home. Bowe said she likes that the company reduces food waste by finding homes for foods that are too abnormal for grocery stores to carry.
Besides, she’s getting pretty used to things being imperfect after COVID. She expects nothing less for the run-up to Beijing.
“At this time last year, I would have said, ‘Oh, there’s no way [the pandemic] is going to affect a winter sport that doesn’t start until November. We’ll be good by then.’ Well, I was very wrong about that,” Bowe said. “So, you know, nothing will surprise me going forward if we do or do not have a regular season.
“Whether this year is normal or not,” she added, “I just have to keep my head down and stay focused on the things I can control and not worry about those things that are out of my control right now.”
That includes the health of her pet sourdough starter. For now, that’s in her roommate’s hands.