Christina Koch has gone where no woman has before. Not long ago, she spent 328 straight days in space orbiting the Earth, the longest space mission completed by a woman. For most of 2019, the NASA astronaut lived, worked, and chilled out in the International Space Station.
That’s not the only out-of-this-world record Christina set during her historic space mission, either: She was one of two women on the first all-female spacewalk. (And the second, and the third…)
Each day, Christina ate regimented pre-portioned meals in order to get enough calories in. Turns out, the microgravity in space suppresses your appetite and makes you feel full way before you’ve consumed enough cals. This was especially challenging for Christina, who’s used to working up an appetite with an active lifestyle.
“On the ground, I love working out. I love running, surfing, rock climbing, and yoga,” she tells Women’s Health. “In the space station, we exercise every single day so we can prevent bone and muscle loss, as well as maintain cardiovascular health.” In fact, Christina and her crewmates did both cardio and strength training every single day.
Though Christina is happy to be back on solid ground, there’s no denying her space routine (including her food!) was pretty darn cool. Here’s exactly what the record-breaking astronaut ate in space every day for 328 days.
Morning meals, even in space, were grab-n-go style for Christina and most of her astro-companions. Her usual: An energy or protein bar, like a Clif Bar, Clif Builder Bar, Pro Bar, Luna Bar, Kind Bar, Lara Bar, or Go Macro bar. (Sounds like the entire bar aisle at Whole Foods, amiright?) “We had everything you can imagine,” she says.
Astronaut Christina Koch’s Space Breakfast Faves
Of course, coffee is also very much a thing in space. However, instead of a cup, it’s in a pouch. “We drink all of our beverages out of packets with a straw,” Christina says. “Think of a Capri Sun with an integrated straw so there’s no way it can leak out.” One downside of the pouch life: You don’t get to enjoy that beautiful coffee aroma.
Luckily for the International Space Station crew, though, each astronaut could make special requests for their preferred brew (as long as it’s instant).
On days when Christina was scheduled to venture outside for a spacewalk, her morning meal looked very different. Though you might think spacewalking would be a cake-walk, these days involved a grueling six or seven hours outside the station in the vacuum of space, solving problems and fixing crucial station components. It’s a tough endurance workout, both mentally and physically, Christina says.
To get through a full day in a spacesuit, Christina had to cram a full day’s worth of nutrition into an early breakfast. That meant waking up extra early and shoveling down 2,000 calories before 7 a.m.
From there, Christina had to suit up and start practicing breathing in reduced cabin pressure before opening the hatch and heading out. “My treat for myself after a spacewalk was always a hot chocolate,” Christina says. “I would just know that I had a hot chocolate waiting for me.”
NASA supplied the astronauts with plenty of snacks, like dried fruit and nuts, to keep them fueled whenever hunger struck. “I’m a big fan of trying to go low-sugar, so I would gravitate toward a snack of nuts rather than dried fruit,” Christina tells WH. “We had a lot of different options for nuts, usually unsalted almonds, cashews, and macadamia nuts in little 100- to 150-calorie vacuum-sealed packages.” Yum.
“I felt like I hit the jackpot going to space; I got to have free macadamia nuts for 11 months,” Christina jokes. “The views of Earth and the camaraderie working with my crew are all great, but the free macadamia nuts, that’s what I’m really missing.”
For Christina, these snacks were really helpful in hitting those daily calorie needs. “You feel full differently in space because the food doesn’t go down to the bottom of your stomach, it’s floating in your stomach,” she explains. “A lot of the ways that you feel satiated on Earth, we don’t have those same signals in space, so we really have to rely on calorie-count to know we’ve eaten enough. (She logged her food in an app to make sure she ate enough.)
At mid-day, Christina and the rest of the crew relied on pre-portioned, ready-to-eat meals known as MREs in space and in the military. “All of our food up there is pre-packaged and most of it is dehydrated,” she tells WH. (If you’ve ever eaten a Backpacker’s Pantry meal while backpacking or camping, you’ve basically eaten a larger version of astronaut’s meals.)
A post shared by Christina Hammock Koch (@astro_christina)
“It’s not necessarily the same things I would eat on Earth, but there’s a huge variety so it was pretty easy to enjoy what was available,” Christina says. “We had plenty of vegetables; not every vegetable, but quite a few different ones. For main dishes, believe it or not, you can dehydrate everything from shrimp to chicken to ground beef and pasta, so we had all kinds of different meals.”
Christina often added potatoes, tortillas, or rice to her meals. “One thing I might try to do for lunch would be to make a little turkey wrap. I would clip the tortilla down to the table so it wouldn’t float away. Then, I used a sauce like mustard or Cholula to make the tuna stick to the tortilla without floating away.”
Bread, however, was scarce. “Bread doesn’t do well waiting for six months for you to eat it,” Christina jokes. And salad? Rarer still. “Any kind of perishable fruit or vegetable isn’t really an option.”
When dinner rolled around, Christina grabbed a few more pouches and packets for a mix-and-match meal. “For dinner, I’d have more hot rehydrated dishes. I really liked cashew chicken curry with some rice.”
Christina admits the food packet life wasn’t the most appealing way to dine. “You have to warm up several little food packets, which doesn’t necessarily have that same sensation as filling up a plate of food,” she says. “But it never bothered me that I was eating the same dehydrated or MRE-style foods for 11 months. I enjoyed it because of the diversity of our menu.”
And, as on Earth, special occasions called for special celebrations. The crew recognized spacewalks and other big accomplishments throughout the mission with pizza nights and taco nights, thanks to specially-requested group meal kits.
The key to success? Getting toppings like cheese, olives, and pepperoni to stay stuck on the pizza by using sauce and clamping the base of the meal in the oven. Otherwise, you’d have toppings floating all throughout the space station. #spaceproblems.
Christina requested a variety of fair trade, organic dark chocolate bars as her dessert stash. “I had dark chocolate bars sent up in my care packages and hoarded them,” she says. “I would have one a week, which broke down to one square in the evening as my treat.”
Throughout those 328 days in space, Christina also built up some serious crunchy cravings. “Everything we ate is kind of mushy because if it’s crumbly or crunchy, then it’s probably going to float away as soon as you open the little packet,” she explains. As soon as she got back to Earth, Christina had a newfound appreciation for crackers and chips.
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