Monday, April 16, 2012

Make your own Gatorade, stay hydrated, get running!

Wow – what a rush to stand at the finish line and watch the most elite marathoners in the world break the ribbon at the Boston Marathon!  Congrats to Kenya for a clean sweep of first through third places for men and women.  Congrats also to American, Jason Hartmann, who finished fourth for men.

The view: one of many reasons I chose to run the Big Sur Marathon - breathtaking!

As I train for my own marathon in two weeks - the Big Sur International Marathon – I am definitely inspired.  After standing in the heat today at Boston’s finish line (75F in the shade, but hot enough that I was drenched in sweat after just standing for a few minutes in the sun), I am also inspired to share a recipe for homemade Oral Rehydration Salt AKA Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS).  The mixture is used as the basis of everything from sports drinks and gels to the World Health Organization's treatment for cholera and worldwide diarrheal illnesses.  Essentially, it is the safe treatment and prevention of dehydration – something that is a very real risk for today’s marathoners or anyone doing a lot of physical activity out in the sun.

Why not just drink water?  Whether you’re sweating or ill with diarrhea, you’re not just losing water.  You’re also losing electrolytes necessary for all the functions of the body.  The most important of these are sodium and potassium.  If you lose a lot of electrolytes and drink a lot of plain water to rehydrate, dangerous things can happen.  In athletes, severe hyponatremia (low blood sodium) can lead to death. 

The New England Journal of Medicine published the article, “Hyponatremia among Runners in the Boston Marathon,” after a woman died of hyponatremia during the 2002 Boston Marathon.  Those most likely to suffer from hyponatremia are non-elite athletes, those at the extremes of body mass index, those with weight gain during the race and with slow race times.

The body won’t absorb water alone very well since the intestines (the place where most of the water we drink is absorbed) have a co-transporter that requires sodium and glucose (aka. sugar) to absorb water - think of this as a guarded doorway with the password for entry of water being “sodium and glucose.”  (For all those well-versed in the science, I realize that I've left a few details out for simplicities sake.) Give the body sodium, glucose and water and hydration occurs without causing a dangerous decrease in the sodium in the blood.  The glucose also gives you the extra calories (aka. energy) you need, in the form easiest for your body to use.  This will also help you prevent feeling like you’ve “hit the wall” during exercise.  As an experiment, I tried running 16 miles with nothing but water and running 16 miles with ORS.  The results were dramatic.  With the ORS, I felt like a functional human being for the rest of the day and found that the run was really enjoyable.  Without the ORS, the last 4 miles were torture and my brain refused to work for the remainder of the day.

The other important player – potassium.  Potassium is essential for heart, nerve and kidney function, acid-base balance in the body, glycogen (energy) storage in the muscles and liver…I could go on.  It is also depleted by fluid losses from the body.  On average, one loses about 150mg potassium in a liter of sweat.

Sports gels and drinks are not cheap considering that their ingredients cost pennies.  The average retail cost of sports gels in is $1.25 to $2.50 a packet or serving. They are essentially glorified ORS containing sodium, potassium and sugar (the only necessary components) and a variety of other flavorings and additives for palatability and marketing edge.  They must all be consumed with water. 

In front of me are 3 types of sports gels and chews:

Clif Shot Strawberry + caffeine energy gel $1.25 per packet.
Each packet contains 100 calories, 90mg sodium, 55mg potassium, 24g carbohydrate (sugar).
Ingredients (dissected): organic maltodextrin (sugar), dried cane syrup (sugar) , water, organic strawberry concentrate (flavor), sea salt (sodium), potassium citrate (potassium), citric acid (flavoring and stabilizing agent), green tea extract (marketing ploy – caffeine).
Other marketing ploys: “organic,” a loop to hook to your belt while running, aimed at health nuts with “sea salt” and “green tea.”

GU Roctane ultra-endurance energy gel $2.50 per packet.
Each packet contains 100 calories, 125mg sodium, 55mg potassium, 25g carbohydrate (sugar).
Ingredients (dissected): maltodextrin (sugar), water, fructose (sugar), Roctane Amino Blend (marketing ploy), ornithine alpha ketoglutarate (marketing ploy), sodium citrate (sodium), natural pineapple flavor (flavoring), malic acid (flavoring), potassium citrate (potassium), citric acid (flavoring and stabilizing agent), calcium carbonate (marketing ploy), sea salt (sodium), preservative, vitamin E (preservative). 
Other marketing ploys: male geared with phrases like “race with the Roc,” gluten-free, amino acids and calcium listed above.  The latter items are in tiny doses and insufficient to aid in recovery of muscles and are not necessary for hydration, aimed at health nuts with “sea salt” and “amino blend.”

Clif Shot Blocks $2.50 per package of 6 chews, contains two servings of 3 chews each.
Each serving contains 100 calories, 70mg sodium, 20mg potassium, 24g carbohydrate (sugar).
Ingredients (dissected): organic brown rice syrup (sugar), organic dried cane syrup (sugar), organic brown rice syrup solids (sugar), pectin (gives the chew it’s chewy texture), citric acid (flavor and stabilizing agent), natural flavor, organic sunflower oil (prevents chews from sticking together), carnuba wax (makes chews shiny and prevents them from sticking together.
Other marketing ploys: organic, “clean and natural performance,” different medium (chews).
**Yes, they managed to leave the sodium and potassium containing ingredients off the label…hmm.

To summarize: important components of ORS include glucose (or simple sugar), sodium, potassium and water.  That’s it!  For pennies, you can make your own batch of ORS by using the recipes below.  Of course, sometimes convenience wins out – save the sports gels for those times when it’s inconvenient to make your own.  They really are no better at hydrating you. 

HINT: The recipes are based on the ORS proven by the World Health Organization to be best for rehydration.  Brand name Gatorade is actually not made according to what science says is best for rehydration.  To make something more like Gatorade (more tasty but less good for rehydration), double the sugar in the recipes below and cut the sodium and potassium salts in half.  ORS is saltier and less sweet than Gatorade.

Standard Recipe:
16 oz bottle
1 liter/quart
1 gallon
granulated sugar (aka. Standard table sugar)
1 Tablespoon
2 Tablespoons
1/2 cup
Sodium chloride (table salt)
1/4 teaspoon
1/2   teaspoon
2 teaspoons
Potassium chloride (salt substitute)
1/4 teaspoon
1/2 teaspoon
2 teaspoons
1 Tablespoon + 1/2 teaspoon
1 teaspoon

Directions: add ingredients separately or mix a large batch together (i.e. the gallon size) and then just measure out the "total" amount listed under 16oz or 1 liter into a water bottle and fill the remainder of the 16 oz. or 1 liter bottle with water.

Modified Recipe #1:

16 oz bottle
1 liter/quart
1 gallon
Fruit juice or fruit juice cocktail
1/2 cup
1 cup
1 quart/liter
Sodium chloride (table salt)
1/4 teaspoon
1/2   teaspoon
2 teaspoons
Potassium chloride (salt substitute)
1/4 teaspoon
1/2 teaspoon
2 teaspoons

Directions: Add all ingredients together in a container and fill remainder of container with water.

Modified Recipe #2:

Directions: Use the standard recipe above, but add a powdered drink mix of your choice for flavor.  Use manufacturer's instructions to add appropriate amount for the volume of liquid you're using.  I find that using half the amount specified for a volume of liquid is usually enough for my taste.  For example, I would add a container of Crystal Light meant to make 2 quarts to the gallon-sized recipe and then just measure out the amount listed for "total" (plus a small amount to account for the volume of the added drink mix) into a water bottle and then fill with water and shake.

Where to find the ingredients

Sodium chloride: table salt.  I prefer non-iodized salt for flavor purposes.  You can use any granulated salt or sea salt that you wish.  If you use flaked or kosher salt, it’s more difficult to get the measurements right, but on average, you can multiple the amount of salt in the recipes below by 1.33 to get the equivalent measurement of sodium.

Potassium chloride: commonly marketed as “salt substitute” for those with diabetes or high blood pressure.  A popular brand names are Nu-salt or Lite Salt.  Now Foods also sells an 8 oz. jar of powdered potassium chloride for $6.92 on Amazon.

Glucose: table sugar aka. granulated sugar.  These are actually made up of sucrose which is made up of glucose and fructose.  Since most people have table sugar, but not glucose at home, I have modified the recipes to use table sugar.

Now get running (or whatever active thing you do)!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Quick Tips: Asparagus

It's springtime: the birds are chirping...and my dog is chasing them.

Oh, and asparagus is EVERYWHERE!  I have been asked a couple of times this week about the best way to store asparagus and how to pick out the best spears.

Myth: skinny spears are the most tender.

Tenderness has to do with the growing conditions and maturity of the asparagus plant.  Fat stems are fat when they poke out of the ground and thin ones, thin.  Instead of using size to dictate tenderness, look for firm, straight stems with tight crowns.  In terms of diameter, choose what you like or what would look best with your dish.  You can estimate how much yield you’ll get from the bunch of asparagus by grabbing the stem end and midway up the spear and bending it just before the point of snapping.  The closer to the stem the snap looks like it will be, the more yield you’ll get from your asparagus and (likely) the more tender the stem, however this depends a bit on how the asparagus was harvested as well.  Finally, asparagus grown in cooler weather tend to be tougher since they grow more slowly and have more time to develop fiber/woodiness than those grown in warm weather.

Nerd factor: Grading of asparagus.  Asparagus are graded based on diameter as measured 9-inches down from the tip. 

Small: 30-40 spears per pound, not less than 3/16” in diameter
Standard: 20-30 spears per pound, not less than 5/16” in diameter
Large: 10-20 spears per pound, not less than 7/16” in diameter
Jumbo: 5-10 spears per pound, not less than 13/16” in diameter
Colossal: 6 or fewer spears per pound, roughly 1” or greater in diameter

Storing Asparagus

Like any vegetable purchase, it is best to use them ASAP, preferably within a day or two.  However, life happens and few of us have the luxury of going to a gorgeous farmer's market to buy freshly picked produce on a daily basis.  If this describes you, don't fear.  Cut an inch or so off the end of the stems and place them immediately into an open glass or container with an inch or two of cool water in it.  Put the container in the refrigerator.  As an experiment, I tried this over a week ago.  The remaining asparagus are in the picture below.  
Storing Asparagus (on the counter for photo - put them in the fridge!)

They are still perfectly crisp and delicious.  They're also tender despite not being skinny (just to prove the point above).  Last night, a few victims were part of the filling for potstickers. So good!

Potstickers with Asparagus Tofu Filling