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When Cooper first called Brent Ruby, he wanted to talk about jerky.
Ruby is a physiologist, probably best known locally for studies that remove plugs of flesh from cyclists who pedal long distances in order to gauge exercise metabolism. As the director of UM’s new Montana Center for Work Physiology and Exercise Metabolism, Ruby focuses on the needs of what he calls “occupational endurance athletes,” such as wildland firefighters and military personnel.
When Cooper called, Ruby steered him away from jerky because it provides poor fuel for working muscles. He instead encouraged Cooper to look for unprocessed ingredients, especially fats and carbohydrates, that would make the Omnibar more complete and complex than its competitors. Most people, Ruby says, don’t know what their body needs to thrive at work.
“On the fire line, everyone is wearing a yellow jersey,” he says, referring to the color worn by both firefighters and Tour de France champions. “I always ask them, ‘Why aren’t you eating like the elite endurance occupational athletes you are?’”
Ruby says the Omnibar team is “concerned with feeding people the right way to get the job done.” This often means bucking traditional energy foods, such as gels. Fructose and sucrose—simple sugars—send a “help is on the way” signal as soon as they hit an athlete’s mouth, and make blood sugar levels quickly rise. During sustained exercise, like a marathon, muscles easily put that sugar to use. But in work like firefighting or military operations, where effort may be more sporadic and over a longer period of time, the body needs more.
“You don’t want to use simple sugars as a food source all day long,” Ruby says. “If you’re in a rest break during a work day and you eat, the blood sugar goes up, the insulin levels go up and then your break is over. … You feel sluggish and wonder, ‘Why am I bonking?’”
Ruby suggests that the Omnibar’s complex mix of ingredients solves this problem. Using meat as a base gives the bar several advantages. Fats from almond butter and beef, mixed with carbohydrates, also slow digestion.
“When you eat a mixed diet it takes longer to digest, and the energy trickles into the body,” he says.