The Road is Always Long

My journey through the world of ultra marathons.

UCAN Superstarch

UCAN Superstarch – Additional Review 26th May 2015

I thought it important to provide an additional review to the UCAN product because previously I have only ever tested it under long endurance events or training.  I wanted to see what, if any, difference it would make to my more intense training sessions.  Last Thursday (21st May 2015) I had scheduled, in my training plan, a hill session.  The session consisted of a 20 minute warm up then 8 x 90 seconds hill repeats with jog down recovery and when the heart rate settled to under 70% of maximum, then a 20 minute cool down jog.  At this point it is important to note that I am useless on hills, my hill climbing and descending is atrocious.  It is an area that I am trying to correct, hence this session and the many others that i have completed over the last few week and will continue to do so.  Anyway, I decided to use my last sachet of the berry flavour UCAN prior to the session to see what effect that might have.  There is no need for me here to go into the details of how to mix, or how the product sits in my stomach etc, you can read all that, if interested, below.  I mixed and drank the UCAN about 45 minutes before the session started.

Like before there is no definable ‘feeling’, there is no sugar rush (I eat very little sugar so know when I have consumed  some) and no ‘hit’ like you may get from coffee.  I have heard some people say that UCAN provides that top gear, particularly for those on a low carbohydrate nutritional plan.

Anyway, the session turned out to be roughly 400m hill reps, with around 20m of elevation gain, so a 5% grade.  Doesn’t sound like much, but this was a hard session, especially for one with little hill skills!!!  The paces for each rep ranged from 5:35 to 5:55 per mile, the paces getting quicker as the session progressed.  The average paces on this session were quicker than my threshold session the Tuesday before, which was on a flat course with a partial tail wind!!!  Now I wasn’t feeling 100% that day, but I don’t think I felt much better before this session.  I felt I had a little more energy and I certainly ran harder and faster the more the session progressed.  In fact each rep got quicker that the last.   I was very pleased with how things went in particular how I seemed to be able to find that extra gear when I needed it.  I jogged back to work feeling really good, the feeling I used to get after a very hard track session in my youth.  A feeling I have rarely had since!!!

I have wondered if a diet low in traditional carbohydrates affects that top end pace, top end effort, and I suspect it can.  The UCAN product may just be what is needed for those following the low carb, high fat protocol, who want to train harder and get the most out of themselves without compromising their chosen nutritional plan.

UCAN Superstarch – Reviewed 18th April 2015

I didn’t know if this was nutrition or gear, but since I have a different idea about how the nutrition page will develop, I’ve decided that in-race products, or even pre race products should be in the Gear page.  Anyway, this is my initial thoughts on the UCAN product.

I’d heard about the UCAN product on podcasts like Nourish Balance Thrive and Ben Greenfield where the hosts of the podcasts raved about this product.  As I had moved to a low carbohydrate nutrition plan, UCAN, seemed to fit the bill.  It is a starch that doesn’t spike blood sugar and this is important for any low carb plan.  It was originally developed for children who had a severe reaction to, what we would call, normal carbohydrates.  I won’t pretend to understand the science behind UCAN, but if you are interested you can read that over at the UCAN website.  All I was concerned with was how would this perform in an ultra event and with one of their selling points being the slow release and slow burn of the product, it seemed to fit the bill.  I’ve suffered from gastric issues, like most runners, but I am now more cautious about what I take on and test it rigorously before an event.

I’d sent off for their free sample (P&P the only thing to pay) some weeks before the G2E from UK UCAN Website. This arrived in plenty of time to test it out on a 4 hour 15 minute training run I had planned.  They come in a roughly   by 4 inch packet.  The free sample includes two flavours, berry and no flavour.  To be honest, I avoided the no flavour one after being almost physically sick drinking the Vitargo no flavour product!!  The product is a powder and has to be mixed with water.  I have mixed this in a normal water bottle and a blender bottle with the little steel ball inside.  I have to say that a blender bottle is really needed.  I found some clumps on the bottom of the normal bottle even after very vigorous shaking!!

On the training run I headed out with one bottle of UCAN and the other water and electrolyte tablet.  There was a little GI stress, but I wasn’t sure if this was down to my dinner the previous night or the UCAN, both of which were new.  However, the training run went very very well.  I managed 36 miles in a little over 4 hours at an average pace of 6:46 per mile.  My heart rate was low, in the 130’s and I felt very very good.  Could I put this down to the UCAN, I wasn’t sure as I was also testing out some Honey Stinger Gels.  So the following week I mixed up the no flavour UCAN and headed out for a 3 hour 30 minute run and this time I only took the UCAN.  I can’t say I felt anything.  It is not like the almost sugar hit that you can get from a gel but I didn’t need anything else on the run, and when I got in I was unusually not that hungry.  It passed the GI test and was deemed fit for the Glasgow to Edinburgh Ultra.

On race day Steven would be filling up my water bottles and I would request which type I had at each check point.  At the first two check points I opted for the UCAN and drank it slowly for the first 30 miles of the race.  The pace was quick at this point (around 6:33 per mile) and I can say for sure that the UCAN product was performing well.  I did feel that I had a steady flow of energy up to the point that I pulled out (due to injury – you can read about that in this blog post).  I was also taking Honey Stinger gels and after 28 miles they were definitely providing an immediate energy surge, but there was the underlying feeling of a small store that I was able to use.  I can only assume this was the UCAN.  I suspect a bonk would have been avoided had I been able to continue with the race.

However, I did get turned off the taste/texture after 30 miles and 2 water bottles of UCAN. At the next checkpoint I wanted something a little fresher.  UCAN has a velvety texture not unlike a Guinness or other kind of stout beer and I am not a fan of those types of drinks.  I much prefer a crisp, sharp taste and at that point in the race that is what I wanted, so opted for the water and electrolytes.  The next 8 miles were painful for other reasons, but when I did decide to end my race, it wasn’t because i thought I wouldn’t finish and it certainly wasn’t because of a bonk.  A bonk usually appears due to grastro intestinal issues, the runner isn’t getting the energy they need from the gut/digestion process and in turn this causes the runner to slow and sometimes walk.  Only when the digestion system processes some food and distributes the energy to the muscles does the runner feel like running again, or running at the speed they were when the bonk happened.

The texture alone will not make me stop using it as I think the benefits far outweight my texture preferences.  In longer ultra races I may have to alternate between UCAN and water/electrolyte.  Time will tell.  I will be using the UCAN product again next week at London Marathon.  This time I am planning on taking it an hour before the race starts.  I want to see if it will last me for the duration of the race.  I will take a couple of honey stinger gels with me too, just in case I start to fall apart in those last 6 miles!!!!

 

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