Lemon Snow Cones

Summer’s here and the temperature is rising! Yesterday in the Boston area the temperature was up to about 97 degrees and today will be much of the same. Last week I was talking about ways to beat the heat when exercising in weather like this so I have had to opportunity to try out some of the strategies I talked about.

This morning I was up at the crack of dawn and out by 5:00 am to get get a run in with some friends. It was already 77 degrees when I left the house and since the Sumer Solstice was yesterday, it was light out too. It felt like the middle of the day except for the fact that not too many other people were out. When I got home I knew this would be the perfect day to break out my new toy.

I bought this snow cone maker so that I could make some icy slurries for myself. I’m hoping that drinking down a slurry on hot days like this before exercise will help me make it through workouts with less discomfort. As soon as I took it out of the box my husband and three boys yelled “snow cones!” It hadn’t even occurred to me to use it for its intended purpose when I bought it, but on a day like this that’s exactly what I did! When I started to look for a syrup recipe, I was dismayed that almost every single one called for sugar, water and Kool-Aid mix. Since I would rather make something without a powdered mix, I decided to make a lemon simple syrup which would be both delicious and easy.

To make the syrup, mix 1 cup sugar and 1 cup of water in a saucepan. Boil until the sugar is dissolved. Turn off the heat and add the zest of one lemon (I peeled large strips off with a peeler), and also the juice of the lemon whichI squeezed it into a small strainer so that pulp and seeds wouldn’t drop in. Allow the syrup to steep while it cools, once it cooled off a little I put it in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. When you have let it cool completely, you can save it in a sealed jar in the refrigerator, either strain it before storing, or as you use it.

Lemon syrup as it steeps and being strained for use.

Once you have your lemon syrup ready, it’s time to make the shaved ice. There are plenty of fancy electric shaved ice machines out there, but the machine I got is really low tech and easy to use. It comes with some forms so you can freeze just the right size and shape of ice to fit in the machine. My kids had fun cranking out the ice and we got five snow cones out of one ice block. I then drizzled about three big spoonfuls of syrup over the shaved ice and stirred it around a little. A very refreshing treat on such a hot hot day!

Tomorrow’s weather is supposed to be more of the same. I’m planning to make an ice slurry by blending pineapple, banana, dates, and coconut milk, then pouring that over a large amount of shaved ice. I’ll drink about half before my workout and sip the rest during it so that I can keep cool. By using real fruit to make my beverage I’ll get not only the energy I’ll need from carbohydrates, but I’ll also be getting much needed electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals – plus it will taste delicious!

Beat the Heat!

A week ago I talked a little bit about hydration as the weather gets warmer going into the summer months. Hydration is important, but it is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to exercising in the heat. Heat stroke is a very dangerous condition where body temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. When you perform any vigorous exercise, your body temperature will rise (which is why you sweat) and exertion in the heat will speed this rise in body temperature. The symptoms of heat stroke are nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, headache, muscle cramps, and dizziness (although not all people will experience all of the same symptoms).

Prior to reaching 104 degrees however, you will probably begin to experience fatigue and the feeling that you simply cannot perform at the same level you had been. There are other conditions associated with high temperatures including heat cramps, and heat exhaustion. If you spend a lot of time out in the heat, it is important to review these different conditions to get a sense of the warning signs as well as what to do when you experience them or see them in others.

So, what can you do about it? There are several strategies that you can use to approach the summer weather and still fit in all of your active plans. The first thing is to not overexert yourself, especially in the beginning of the hot weather. Give yourself a little time to acclimatize to the heat and take it easy the first several times the weather gets hotter than usual. Secondly, make sure to lather on the sunscreen, and maybe change your route or typical location to include some shade. Additionally you can avoid the heat by either going outside earlier in the day before the full heat is on, or by heading indoors to exercise in an air-conditioned space.

Before you begin strenuous exercise outside, you can pre-cool your body. Basically, by pre-cooling the body prior to the start of prolonged exercise, it gives you a little more time before hitting the danger zone. What do I mean by pre-cool? There are several methods including immersion in cold water, wearing an ice vest or drinking an ice slurry. It’s important to also work on cooling down during your activity by making sure to take breaks when needed, and making your beverage of choice a cold one. I have also heard about people putting ice into a bandana that they tie around their neck, putting some ice cubes on a sponge and slipping that under their hat, or pre-chilling a wet hat in the refrigerator. While dunking yourself in a vat of cold water isn’t always practical, some of the other suggestions can be. The studies about ice slurries show that they work almost as well as the full body immersion, and who wouldn’t want an icy drink on a hot day? I’m planning to test this out on my next long hot run and I have some ideas about how to make slushy beverage which I’ll share when I work the best strategy. As I write this, it is rainy and 64 degrees so I haven’t felt like making slush, but since this is New England so I’m sure the weather will be changing soon!

The most important thing you can do is to avoid these conditions from happening in the first place. As I always say, “fail to plan and you plan to fail”. By planning ahead you can prevent a lot of these negative symptoms from happening to you!

Hydration & Season Change

How many of you think about hydration either when exercising or just in general? For some people this might seem like a non-issue, but for others this could be the difference between a very good day and a very very bad day! For the most part, thirst can be your guide. The exceptions are with the elderly and sick whose thirst mechanisms aren’t working as well and sometimes children, who “forget” to drink as they get wrapped up in their busy play schedule. When it comes to exercise there have been conflicting viewpoints about hydration lately and I think that most of this conflicting advice comes down to the fact that we are each very individual in our needs; hydration isn’t a one size fits all proposition.

You may have heard of hyponatremia, a condition of dangerously low sodium levels in the body which can be caused by over-hydration while sweating without replacing electrolytes (like just drinking tons of water without any other nutrition during endurance activities). This dangerous condition has lead many people to back off from hydration advice in attempts to not encourage over-hydration. The flip side of this issue is dehydration which can also be very dangerous in the extreme and will inhibit performance even in small amounts. What’s a person to do?

After feeling the negative effects of heat and dehydration during my last race, I have been thinking a lot about how to make sure I don’t encounter the same problems again. Part of my problem was that the weather changed at the last minute (when you are prepared for 66 and overcast, 85 and sunny makes a big difference!). Currently, many of us have to deal with wide variation in conditions from day to day as spring makes way for summer. One aspect of this is sweat rate, which will change as temperatures change and it’s important to recognize this (I’ll talk about heat specifically in another post). The best way to arrive at the amount of fluids that you personally need is to calculate your sweat rate and then use that information to try to keep within the range of fluids you need. The goal is not to exactly match the sweat rate, but to get into the ballpark so that you aren’t in the danger zone on either side.

Calculating sweat rate is actually much easier than it sounds. Weigh yourself before and after your workout without any clothing. Each pound of weight difference is roughly equal to 16 ounces of fluid and don’t forget to take into account any fluids you consumed during your workout. For example if your pre workout weight is 150 pounds and your post workout weight is 149 pounds but you drank about 16 oz of water during exercise, your sweat rate for that particular exercise session in those conditions was approximately 32 oz. It is important to note the weather conditions and duration of activity so that you will have that information for future reference.

Knowing your sweat rate, as well as how salty your sweat is (do you see white lines on your clothes when they dry or can you feel crusty salt on your skin when your sweat dries?) can help you when it comes to proper hydration and nutrition in endurance activities. This can be a very complex issue and I’ve only just brushed the surface here. It’s very important to pay attention to the way your body reacts in different circumstances. Planning ahead and trying different strategies to find what works best for you personally will be like money in the bank when it comes time to perform!

Glycemic Index for Healthy Eating?

As I continue to evaluate those pesky “noes”, today the focus will be on the glycemic index. Have you ever heard of the glycemic index? Do you try to eat foods that are low on the glycemic index? If this is new to you, here’s a quick overview of what are low glycemic index foods and a list of glycemic index foods from Harvard Medical School.

There are quite a few diets that were created using the index. If you compare basic types of carbohydrates using this index it might generally point you to better choices (pumpernickel bread has a lower index than a french baguette) but overall I don’t think it is really a direct path to good health. There are many foods (like ice cream and pound cake) that are low on the index yet aren’t exactly on everyone’s list of top healthy foods! The glycemic index is really most relevant for diabetics who are trying to keep their blood sugar under control. Foods that contain fat, protein, and fiber generally will lower the rate at which food is digested and sugar will enter the bloodstream, therefore lowering the glycemic index (hello big juicy steak), but these three components are not the only hallmarks of a healthy diet! I have heard people say that they stay away from carrots, bananas, and sweet potatoes because they are too high on the GI but I don’t think there are many people out there who became overweight by eating those foods!

What it boils down to is this, you don’t need lots of complicated charts and indexes to follow a healthy diet! This is the kind of thinking that sells a lot of books. If you are told you need to buy someone’s book or follow a ‘special’ diet to be healthy, don’t believe the hype! Your best bet is to load up your plate with vegetables and fruits, add some lean protein (including fish, nuts, beans and low-fat dairy), if you are going to have a grain make it a whole grain and wash it all down with plenty of water. Top this recipe off with plenty of whatever physical activity you like best and call it a day!