The Chief “Energy” Officer
For AgeGrouper and CEO of PowerBar Sport Eric Zaltas, a new triathlon chapter in an already incredible career is unfolding.
As a kid, when Eric Zaltas sprinted his bike around his Bronx neighborhood with his best friend, yelling out the names of their favorite European pro-cyclists, he never thought he’d be riding pro himself one day.
He and his best friend were just enjoying the sweet freedom of speeding through the city streets, imagining crowds of cheering spectators and photo-finishes.
Eric had no idea that he would have a future filled with races of all varieties – cycling, swimming, running and eventually, all three together.
His natural aptitude and joy for endurance sports has taken Eric from the streets of the Bronx, to the winding hills of San Francisco, to the peaceful waters of Lake Geneva, to the pounding pavement of NYC, and more. His academic-level interest in what makes endurance athletes go has also fueled his career in sports nutrition science and how he found himself, in his mid-50s, launching Pivot Nutrition and refocusing the sports portfolio of PowerBar products on US endurance athletes. He’s met success here too.
THE JOY OF ENDURANCE SPORTS
You could say that Eric built his life around endurance sports. It is his career, exercise regimen, leisure time activity and social circle. But you’d be missing the point. Endurance sports, for Eric, is his joy.
“I really love training for a race,” he said. “I train hard, but I also train smart. It doesn’t feel like work at all.”
Eric has been competing in cycling races since high school, when he attended the Bronx High School of Science. He also swam competitively there, although he never had a lesson and still can’t do a flip turn. But in butterfly he was a natural and he rode the rhythm of that stroke to a successful high school swim career. Running came later in adulthood, mostly as a means to get exercise during his lunch break at work.
It wasn’t until his 40s that Eric put all three together to complete a full Ironman in Switzerland, where he was living while working on the PowerBar brand, owned at the time by Nestle.
“I have always lived a healthy active lifestyle – it’s part of my DNA. It’s who I am and the people I like to be with,” said Eric. “I have running friends, bike friends and now I’m getting some swimming friends too. It’s social for me and always has been.”
SHIFTING CAREER GEARS
It’s with cycling that it all first started. “I was good at it pretty much right away, while I was not as good at traditional high school sports,” he said. “From there, I discovered a latent endurance ability.”
Immediately Eric was drawn to the tactics and strategies that make up the complex sport of bike racing. “It’s a team sport, so there’s a lot of thinking going on and a whole social component of figuring out how to win together.”
Eric took his cycling career from high school to college at Stony Brook University, to the national level where for 12 years he competed in races around the world, including the Tour of Morocco, two weeks of 100 mile-a-day racing. He led his team to wins in more than a few, like the Yale Intercollegiate bike race and the US National Championships in the Team Time Trial event.
Imagine riding through your twenties without, as Eric says, “having to get a real job.” It wasn’t until 1993 that Eric traded his Lycra for a wool suit and tie and began working as a staff researcher in the Health Sciences department at a health and sports nutrition company in San Francisco. He found time to run the famous Embarcadero at lunch to offset the pound a week he’d gained during his transition from pro-cyclist to desk job.
“I don’t love road running, but I like it,” admits Eric. “I like how you can get somewhere on your own two feet. I do love trail running though.”
But it was in Switzerland, where Eric moved as global science lead for performance nutrition, including the PowerBar brand, then owned by Nestle and headquartered in Vevey, where he stoked his passion for endurance sports. At lunchtime, he and some like-minded colleagues went for swims in Lake Geneva, which bordered Nestle’s campus, where they glided through the water surrounded by snowcapped mountains. Cycling up and over the passes through those mountains was equally stunning, cowbells ringing in the fields adding to the picturesque scene.
Eric and his coworkers signed up for triathlons and other races that PowerBar sponsored and took their lunchtime training sessions to the course. Among the races he completed were Ironman Switzerland, Ironman 70.3 Cancun and Zurich Marathon, where he went under three hours. He also completed the L’Etape du Tour, which follows one stage within the Tour de France each year and that year concluded a 100+ mile ride with a climb up Mt. Ventoux. He went back to the states for the NYC Marathon, which he’s done eight or nine times out of a total of 20 marathons completed to date.
Why? Because he could. And because he loved it.
Eric also took advantage of the family activities that abound in Switzerland and enjoyed taking his kids, Emmie and Lincoln, biking, skiing and yodeling in the Alps. In between his family adventures, working and training, Eric even found time to complete the prestigious Diploma in Sports Nutrition from the International Olympic Committee.
TRIATHLON AT (ALMOST) 60
Eric’s career has taken him around the world and everywhere he’s lived he’s found his sports home. Now, at 59, that home is in Montclair, New Jersey. Is age slowing him down? No. Maybe, he’s even speeding up.
In 2018, after an eight-year hiatus from triathlon, some of Eric’s running friends in Montclair dared each other to do a triathlon. They signed up for the Wyckoff/Franklin Lakes Triathlon and to his surprise, Eric finished first in his age group, beating his closest competitor by seven minutes. He was instantly reminded of his passion for the sport.
“I came flying into the transition zone and mine was the first bike in the rack,” he said. “I loved it. I really, really loved it. The diversity of training is just great. The lifestyle of training for triathlon really suits me.”
Like cycling, Eric loves the mental aspect of triathlon—everything you have to think about, from the process of transitions to the strategy for fueling to the calculated expenditures of energy. The thought process is as much a part of his training as the workouts.
A torn hamstring from a bodysurfing accident and then the Covid pandemic took him out of the game for a while, but he’s now back in the mix. He competed at the Mighty Hamptons Triathlon in September, but ended up getting beat by two other guys in his AG, both from New Jersey as well. That loss strengthened his motivation for training this winter, and he’s set new ambitions. A half-marathon in December won him a slot in the NYC Marathon in 2022. Also on his slate this year are the New Jersey State Championships in Olympic distance, and repeat runs at the Wyckoff/Franklin Lakes Triathlon and Mighty Hamptons Triathlon.
As proved by his packed roster, age is irrelevant to this athletic ability. “I honestly feel like there is more difference from when I’m fit versus unfit, than me at 30 or 40 versus now,” he said. Consistency is the plan for Eric. In 2021, he missed only six days of training and hasn’t missed a day yet in 2022.
“My times are still getting better since my injury. I still feel like there’s more headroom to continue improving,” said Eric. “Proper training can offset aging. I don’t believe in the typical conception of aging. Look around a race and you’ll see plenty of super fit older guys. It’s possible, just most people don’t do it.”
Maybe one day, kids will be riding around their neighborhoods calling out, “Zaltas!”