When I tell people I’m an engineer, an endurance athlete, and a baker, I often get a lot of confused looks. But to me, these three things have more in common than you might think. Growing up, I was involved in nearly every team sport out there, including basketball, football, soccer, volleyball, rugby… etc! Despite my love for sports, I had never really considered triathlon until last year. I had no experience in swimming, cycling, or long-distance running – but I absolutely love a challenge! And when I sit back and think about it, it’s really no surprise at all that I found my way into triathlon, where the sport is all about pacing, nutrition, and precise calculations of time and distance. It’s similar to how in baking, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of following exact measurements and ratios in order to create the perfect batch of cookies or cake. Just like in triathlon, success in baking requires discipline, planning, and an eye for detail. These are skills that I’ve developed throughout my schooling and training as an engineer as well. Three seemingly different worlds, all connected by the importance of precision and love of detail.
Who am I?
My name is Steph, and I am an engineer, an Ironman-in-training, and a baking enthusiast with over 1 million social media followers. Some people think that athletes shouldn’t be eating sweets, but let me tell you, when you’re training as much as I am, you need ALL the fuel you can get! In this blog post, I’m going to talk about the parallels between baking and endurance training and break down some of the misconceptions about what athletes should be eating.
How it Started:
So, how did I get here?? When I graduated from university, I found myself lost without basketball. I had dedicated my life to the sport for the last 10 or so years, and then it was just… over. I briefly got into running, and did the Ottawa half marathon, but that fell off a few years ago as I got more into touch football. When I moved into my condo near Gatineau Park, I started cycling for fun and fitness, instead of just to commute. Then the winter hit, and football and biking were on pause… so I scoped out my condo’s tiny pool (only 11 meters), and I decided I’d teach myself how to properly swim. I signed up for a sprint triathlon as a goal to shoot for, and then I dove right in and signed up for a 70.3 as well.
My first bike – not sure how I ever got this thing up the Gatineau hills!
In the spring, I moved to Kitchener and joined LP Endurance – my triathlon team. I quickly fell in love with the structure of the training schedule, and the amazing community. In my first summer of triathlon, I completed two 70.3s and two shorter triathlons, managing to place third in my final race of the year at 70.3 Muncie. Despite the podium, I wasn’t super happy with how the race went, so I signed up for 2023’s 70.3 Mont Tremblant to get some redemption! And then, while watching the Ironman World Championships, I was inspired to push myself even further, so I signed up for my first full Ironman in July of 2023 at Lake Placid. I am clearly HOOKED.
Baking vs Triathlon:
How exactly are baking a cake and training for an Ironman similar again?
- Precision: Just as baking requires precise measurements and attention to detail, endurance training requires careful planning and execution. You need to make sure you’re getting the right amount of fuel, rest, and recovery in order to perform your best on race day.
- Timing: Both baking and Ironman training require careful timing. In baking, you need to know exactly how long to leave something in the oven, while in training, you need to carefully time your workouts and rest periods to maximize your performance. Although my coach handles most of this, it is important to note since it’s up to each athlete to correctly follow the prescribed training plan.
- Goal-setting: Whether you’re trying to bake the perfect cake or complete an Ironman, setting and achieving goals is key. You need to break down your goal into smaller, achievable steps and stay motivated throughout the process.
- Analytics: In both baking and endurance training, data can help you optimize your performance. When developing recipes, I’m constantly tracking metrics as I try new things. During training, I track my heart rate, paces, power, and nutrition. All of this information is used to fine-tune my baking and training processes.
- Creativity: Both baking and endurance training offer opportunities for creativity. In baking, you can experiment with different flavors, textures, and techniques to create unique and delicious creations. In training, you can try different workouts, routes, and training methods to keep things interesting and challenge yourself in new ways.
- Process: The strongest parallel for me between baking a cake and triathlon training is how the processes align. Both start with detailed planning and measuring, scaling and plotting, and careful execution of required steps. But then it shifts into a totally different vibe! When I’m baking, once I get all the components baked and decorations ready, I get into this lovely flow state as I’m decorating my cakes that is so zen and just all-consuming (in the best way possible). While working out and racing, I get the same meditative feeling.
The overall theme of both activities is patience and dedication. Just as a cake cannot be rushed and must go through a specific process of preparation and baking, training for an Ironman requires a gradual buildup of endurance and strength over time. Additionally, both activities involve setbacks and challenges that must be overcome. Whether it’s a cake that doesn’t rise or a training session that doesn’t go as planned, it takes stubbornness and problem-solving skills to come out on top. Last but not least, both baking and endurance training are ultimately rewarding experiences with enjoyable journeys. There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of producing a beautifully decorated cake after hours in the kitchen, or crossing the finish line after months of hard workouts.
Food is Fuel:
Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: the misconception that athletes can’t indulge in sweets. As someone who loves baking and sports, I can tell you that this is far from the truth. In fact, I’ve found that baking and triathlon training can complement each other quite well. While training for long hours, my body craves fuel in the form of carbohydrates and sugar. And what better way to satisfy that craving than with a delicious baked treat? Honestly, nothing can top the mid-bike ride coffee shop stop for a gooey brownie.
Of course, moderation is key. I don’t eat cake and cookies all day long. But incorporating treats into my diet has actually helped me maintain a healthy relationship with food. I don’t believe in restrictive diets or labeling foods as “good” or “bad.” Instead, I focus on what I am eating and try to ensure I’m getting a good balance of fruits, vegetables, protein, and other nutrients. By focusing on what I am eating instead of what I’m “not allowed” to eat, I’ve developed a sustainable relationship with food that fuels both my athletic and baking pursuits.
This is so important because when it comes to endurance training, fueling is just as important as the workouts themselves. We need to make sure we have enough energy to power through our long training sessions and races, which means calculating the amount of carbohydrates we need to consume and measuring out our fuel accordingly.
For example, during a long bike ride or run, I bring along gels, maple syrup, and candies to consume at regular intervals. Each gel or serving of syrup provides a specific amount of carbohydrates, which I use to determine how much fuel I need to bring with me. I’ll typically aim to consume 60-90 grams of carbohydrates per hour of exercise, depending on the intensity and duration of the workout.
As a baker, I’m used to measuring out ingredients and following precise ratios to ensure my baked goods turn out just right. The same approach applies to fueling for endurance sports – it’s all about calculating the right amount of carbs and measuring out our fuel to make sure we have enough to get us to the finish line. In fact, I’ve even used my baking/engineering skills to develop my own sports nutrition products, such as homemade energy bars and electrolyte drinks. It’s really all so similar!
All about Balance:
But how do I juggle all three things? It’s really just a scheduling game, which reminds me of my university days when I was balancing a double major and a hefty basketball schedule. I find that making to-do lists and prioritizing tasks helps me stay organized and productive throughout the day. Creating a repetitive structure is really helpful too, so I spend less time planning and stressing about when to fit things in! The framework that’s best for me is working out in the mornings, so my body is fresh, then going to work during the day – I have an office job, so it’s a nice physical break (while still being mentally stimulated). Then I bake in the evenings when I have time! At the moment, I’m prioritizing training over baking as I ramp up to get ready for race season. But in the winter/off-season, I have a bit more time for baking. Seasonal scheduling 🙂
Photo Credit: Ricky Tjandra
A week of training at the moment is about 15-17 hours, but this will grow to somewhere near 20 hours at its peak. Here’s a sample of a typical week:
- Mondays, I start the week with an hour of strength training, followed by an an easy hour-long bike ride and about an hour in the pool.
- Tuesdays are focused on the bike, with a 1.25-hour interval ride and a 30-minute easy brick run to follow.
- Wednesdays are all about the run, with a 1.5-hour interval session in the morning.
- Thursdays I hit the pool for an hour in the morning, and do a 2-hour bike ride in the evening.
- Fridays are a bit more relaxed with an easy 1-hour run and sometimes a bonus 1-hour swim.
- Saturdays are long bike days, usually aiming for 4-6 hours with a possible 20-30 minute run afterwards.
- Sundays round out the week with a 2-2.5 hour long run.
And after all that, you know what I need? CARBS BABY!
As I continue on my journey to my first Ironman, I want to inspire others to challenge themselves and push beyond their limits. It’s not about being the first or the fastest, but about pursuing your passions and striving to be your personal best. And for me, that means balancing my love for baking with my passion for fitness. I want to show that high level athletes can enjoy sweets and still maintain a healthy and sustainable relationship with food. Let’s get rid of the notion that athletes can’t have a sweet tooth!
At the end of the day, both baking and triathlon require dedication, hard work, and attention to detail. Whether I’m measuring out ingredients for a cake or calculating my carb intake for a long ride, I approach each with the same level of focus and determination. And just like a perfectly baked cake requires time, patience, and practice, building endurance and strength in triathlon takes time and consistent effort.
Here’s to breaking down barriers, pursuing our passions, and finding joy in the journey. I hope that by sharing my story, and my love for both baking and triathlon, I can inspire others to challenge themselves, and embrace a balanced and sustainable approach to food and fitness. So join me in the kitchen and on the road as we strive to become the best versions of ourselves, one delicious bite and one sweaty mile at a time!