What Puffs a Choux?

I promise that sentence makes sense. Choux pastry (pronounced “shoo”) is used to make a number of hollow desserts, including cream puffs, profiteroles, eclairs, and beignets. I was googling “what puffs a choux” because mine obviously wasn’t working. I need to remember that baking is more finicky than cooking, and even though I can fudge around pretty well with a muffin or cookie recipe, the French classics aren’t so forgiving. So for future reference, even though it’s moisture that causes choux to puff, it’s not good to substitute 2 of the 4 eggs with almond milk. If you’re out of eggs, you gotta go buy eggs.

Huh. Chouxt.

It’s been a long spell since I’ve been much into cooking, but marathon training makes you hungry. It’s one of my pet peeves that in magazine interviews with professional female runners the question of “what do you eat” always comes up. Food, dummy. They eat food.

What’s worse, though, is the pared-down menus that get published in response: Oatmeal and coffee for breakfast. A mid-morning apple. Sandwich for lunch, and later, grilled chicken breast and veggies. Maybe greek yogurt and fruit, or something equally ‘indulgent’ for dessert.

There’s nothing wrong with eating healthy; I just think the caloric requirements of exercising women are grossly misrepresented in the media.    

It also annoys me that there aren’t more distinctions between running for weight-loss vs. running for performance. You can’t be a chronic dieter and maximize performance over time. It just doesn’t work. If you’re losing weight, you’re losing stored vitamins, minerals, muscle, and bone, as well as fat. Eventually you’ll develop chronic injuries, illness, and fatigue.

Sometimes you do the same things for different reasons, depending on your goals. Sometimes you do completely different things. Here’re some nifty reminders for all you running women out there:

  • Eat breakfast, including a fluid other than coffee so you can at least start the day hydrated.
  • Eat every 4-5 hours, at least. Maybe not difficult for some, but a lot of jobs (teacher, nurse, stay-at-home mom to multiple kids) aren’t so accommodating. It’s tempting to sacrifice yourself, but from an athletic performance standpoint, eat regular meals at regular times for reliable energy.
  • Drink non-caffeinated beverages every 2-3 hrs (at least). Again, I completely understand when that’s not feasible as a working adult. You have to do your best.
  • Eat when hungry. That ‘don’t eat 2-3 hrs before bed’ bullshit is for dieters, not athletes. If you’re waking up hungry in the middle of the night, it’s an indicator that you need a snack between dinner and bedtime. You don’t want midnight waking because a) your sleep is disrupted and that’s when muscle repair takes place, and b) your digestive system isn’t the most effective at night, so whatever you do end up eating (if you decide not to lie there tossing and turning with hunger pains) hangs around in your stomach, making you feel gross and putting off your appetite for breakfast.
  • Use liquid calories to your advantage, if you don’t have time for extra snacks all over the place. Milk, hot chocolate, juice — all perfectly usable calories and water for the active woman.
  • Eat fat. It will keep you full and comfortable longer. Use it as a tool when you have to go more than 5 hours between meals. No need to suffer unduly.
  • Choose variety. Your coworkers may be able to get by on the same Coke and sandwich day after day, but falling into food ruts creates the risk of malnutrition. At least aim for different sources of proteins, carbs, and fats, even if the food genre (casserole vs. sandwich or burrito) stays the same.

This is all common-sense stuff, but easy to forget amidst the vegan/whole-30/paleo/intermittent fasting craziness. If you’re running, say 40+ miles a week, it’s more important to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients that you need, rather than cut things out. While hyper-processed crap can always be eliminated (chips, soda, hydrogenated candy bars), even that has a bit more wiggle-room with high mileage. Instead of searching for ways to limit calories, look at eating as an opportunity to maximize nutrient intake. Everything within reason — fat, carbs, meat, grains, starch, and simple sugars — can make you a better runner.  
Lots of love to all my weight-conscious, diet-conscious, ambitious female runners out there who want to win races more than they want to be skinny.  

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