A Tribute to Brian Maxwell: He Changed the Sport of Running
While to many runners the name Brian Maxwell may not be familiar, surely the product he invented is known to all.
Posted Thursday, 8 April, 2004
For me at least, it was definitely not “love at first bite.” Some 15 years ago, a co-worker in the office in which I worked introduced me to a new kind of “candy bar,” one I was assured was actually “good for you.” It sounded great, but there was just a small problem: the tough texture and bland flavor. I simply could not acquire a taste for these so-called “Powerbars.” Thanks, but no thanks, I told my co-worker, politely rebuffing the suggestion to regularly eat those healthy snacks.
But some weeks later, I decided to give the contents within the shiny wrapper another try. “Not quite as bad” was my thought. Before I knew it, I was searching out where I could buy Powerbars myself. As difficult as it is to imagine now, at the time it was almost impossible to find them in stores; the only way to buy them was through mail order. Coincidentally, at about that time I was training for my first ultramarathon. When the race rolled around, I had received a shipment of bars and packed them with my gear for race day. With a low fat content and thus being easily digestible, I found I could eat them close to or during a race without worrying about the stomach upset that resulted from other solid food. And the vitamins! Just looking at the lengthy list of health benefits in one small 220-calorie snack was enough to make you feel better. And miracle of miracles, over time I actually acquired a taste for these little treats. Chocolate and malt nut were staples, with an occasional peanut butter. Berry was not a favorite, but good for a change of pace.
Eventually other sports bar manufacturers popped up. Clif, Balance, and Boulder Bars offered alternatives, but the fact is, Powerbar was the first, and for that, a tribute is warranted to Powerbar inventor and founder Brian Maxwell, who died tragically last month at the age of 51.
For those of us who count our time in the sport not in months or years, but rather in decades, the most revolutionary changes in the sport (with the possible exception of the Internet and instant communication, which is not directly related to the sport) have taken place in the field of nutrition; specifically race-day nutrition. When Gatorade appeared on the scene in 1970s, it altered long distance running in a major way, in that it became possible to enhance performance through nutrition not only before and after an a event, but during a race as well. Since then, sports drinks have been increasingly refined and developed to optimally meet individual runners’ varied requirements.
Powerbar provided an even greater advancement, offering actual food that could serve the same purpose. Of course, GU and other sports gels that followed have proved to be more popular with long distance runners, but when you consider it carefully, Brian Maxwell and his original product have had a more profound impact on endurance sports than perhaps any other in the current generation of long distance running. The fact that what began as a kitchen and back-of-the-station-wagon business grew to a $150 million-per-year corporate giant only further underscores Powerbar’s impact.
Fittingly, the germination of Maxwell’s idea was born from a desire to improve his own performance. A world-class marathoner with a 2:14 personal best, he was frustrated by the lack of quality nutrition that would help him overcome the 20-mile “wall” that hampered his efforts in the marathon. Since no commercially available product did the trick, Maxwell tinkered with numerous combinations of ingredients in his own kitchen before coming up with what would eventually become known worldwide as a Powerbar.
Certainly shoes have improved greatly during the past few decades, but the product is ostensibly the same. Performance fabrics have made running in extreme weather much more practical, and sports medicine has made great advances in the assessment and treatment of injuries. But to consider going to back to an era without sports nutrition products? It’s unthinkable, especially in ultra distance running and other endurance sports, in which what you do—or do not—consume during a race can have a huge impact of performance. Many of us have achieved heights in the sport that simply would not have been possible without the help of the contents within those shiny packages. For that, Brian Maxwell, thank you.