Occasionally, I have alluded to a product I use to improve my athletic performance. This product, derived from corn starch, is called Superstarch and is produced by Generation UCAN. Many of you have asked a lot of questions about it, and so at last I’d like to take the time to really explain this technology to you.
If you’ve been reading this blog at all, you probably already know one thing about me: I don’t do bumper stickers. I tend to leave that to the really smart folks who can take complex topics and turn them into slogans. Instead, I tend to like the nuanced explanations. In keeping with that spirit, I decided to create a presentation to formally introduce you to Superstarch.
In reality, if you want to understand why you’re better off consuming Superstarch instead of Gatorade, Powerade, goo, gel, or other “sports nutrition” products out there, you need to know how they work. I know, I know, most people don’t want to understand this sort of stuff. And they certainly don’t want to read a 10,000 word post on the topic. But if you really want to understand the remarkable evolution in sports nutrition, you sort of have to understand the whole evolution of these products, which is why I put this video together.
Jeff Volek introduced me to Superstarch. After using it for a few months, and being completely blown away by it, I wanted to know more. I was introduced to the co-founder, Peter Kaufman, and soon I was poring over their patents in an effort to understand how in the heck they made this stuff. Once I understood this, I never looked back. Today I simply refer to Superstarch as “superior technology.” If Superstarch is the latest iPhone, all other sports nutrition products are rotary phones. They simply don’t belong in the same sentence.
But to understand why I would make such a strong statement, you should not just take my word for it. In Part I of this post (i.e., the video, below) I’ll walk you through the nuances of how our bodies use stored energy (i.e., food and internal stored sources) to generate motion (and life, actually). Once you understand the basics I’ll explain why Superstarch is a step-function improvement over all existing products.
In Part II, I will share an interview with one of the most prolific trainers of professional athletes, who has not only transformed his training with Superstarch, but also that of some of the highest profile athletes in the country.
In the end I believe you’ll come to appreciate that this technology, while originally developed to save the lives of children with a very rare genetic disorder, is going to revolutionize sports nutrition as we know it.
The link to this video can also be found here, for those reading this post on email or those wishing to view it in a larger format.
Downloading now! I’m swearing by this stuff for my triathlons, and now recommending to most of my athletes. Not a fan of artificial sweeteners, so I go with plain or Cran-razz, but UCAN rocks.
Yes, I know the company is now working on formulations that don’t use them. I personally love the plain flavor for all my rides.
Hi Peter I found below on a health insurance company website – any thoughts? Is this nonsense?
The saturated fats you eat have the biggest impact on cholesterol levels in your body. Saturated fats cause levels of LDL cholesterol to rise in your blood, in proportion to HDL cholesterol. This raises your risk of heart disease and stroke. It’s important to limit the amount of saturated fats you eat. Saturated fats are found in foods such as meat, cheese, butter, cream and pastries.
Dave, please watch my presentation (post) How did we come to believe saturated fat is harmful?
Peter, I’m worried about an aspect of this. As far as I can tell, insulin provides us protection against Advanced Glication End-products / excessive protein oxidation overall. How safe is it to have in your circulation during a prolonged time and in high amount a sugar molecule that does not trigger insulin response? Is SS not as oxidative as glucose? Doesn’t it bind to blood and artery cells just as much as the other sugars? Because if it does, people taking SS would be putting themselves at a higher risk for cell damage. In my view, the only safe sugar molecule is the one that has been turned into a fatty acid. 😉
SS does get fully metabolized, but it does so much slower, without the spike in insulin. Contrast with fiber, which can pass right through you without raising insulin levels (but provide no oxidative or glycolytic substrate).
Sorry Peter, you’ve just lost me at some curve.
I can’t see any parallel between SuperStarch (which gets into the blood) and fibre (which does not).
Are you saying that it doesn’t matter how much of it floats around in the blood, or for how long it does, because it doesn’t glycate proteins at all (unlike glucose)?
I think the rate of glycation is proportional to several things, including the osmotic load of glucose in the blood. 100 gm of ingested glucose causes a higher serum level than 100 gm of SS.
Apparently the role of sugar in AGE formation and the impact of AGEs on the body are a lot more complex than one would think. it’s not dose-dependent, there’s all sorts of clean-up mechanisms that seem to work rather well, and the effects vary greatly.
And yet again we end up with endotoxins as the suspects found on the crime scene of metabolic, cellular, and immune disease.
Good to know, and at least in part downplays the seriousness of glycation, which is starting to look like it’s really a red herring. Damned bacteria… we’re just a game board for them. 🙂
I read on Ben’s blog that he “bonked” during one of his recent Ironman competitions… He said that you had helped him analyze what had happened. I’m trying to understand it myself. Have you asked Ben if you can write an essay up on what your findings were? I think it’d be fascinating for those of us who enjoy geeking out on this stuff.
I’m still kinda putting all these pieces together to get a full understanding of what’s going on during a very long, taxing race (ultra or ironman, etc.) If I understand things properly, keto-adapted athletes have glycogen stores about 50% of a carb-adapted athlete. Those stores get tapped into during anaerobic stretches of a long race, right? Being keto-adapted doesn’t negate the need to replenish those stores, does it? Also, if you DO deplete these stores by remaining anaerobic for too long… Do you or don’t you experience a “bonk”??? I keep hearing that keto-adapted = bonkproof, but Ben said he bonked…
Shouldn’t a depletion of glycogen just result in the athlete having to back it down into the aerobic zone???
Hi Peter, is there a possibilty to order Ucan prducts to Switzerland?
Cinnamon Delite and Plain are my go to flavors. A real game changer that fueled me for my first Ironman with many more to come. I make a gel and put it in a flask for easy delivery and no sticky mess because there is no sugar!!
I lost approximately 50-60 pounds on low carb and then plateaued. I started an exercise program, but haven’t lost any weight. (I have gained strength and stamina.) I gained about 5 pounds since starting, but I’m assuming it’s partially due to muscle growth. I still remain low carb (approx 50g of carbs or less) even while working out 5-6 days a week – 3 days weight training and 3 days cardio for 8 months pretty consistently. I work out usually within an hour of dinner. Is Super Starch useful for someone like me? I’m still considered obese and I would gladly trade further weight loss for muscle gain, but neither seems to be happening for me.
Many people have experienced weight loss using Superstarch, so I think it’s worth a chance — probably consuming it as a post-workout meal.
I have a follow-up to the question about supplementing with SuperStarch for modest exercise, I had a couple of questions. I bought some of the stuff a few weeks back (the plain, non-protein variety) after reading about it on your blog—I had been mulling it over for awhile, and your coupon code sort of pushed me over the edge on it.
I’ve only used it a couple times since I got it—once after a run and once before a run. The post-workout run was excellent for me (I was previously well-fueled), and consuming it afterwards and checking my serum glucose and ketone levels showed that my ketone levels were, if anything, enhanced by the SS supplementation (ketones went 2.1 mmol/L before to 4.1 just after the run and immediately prior to the SS drink, and then up to 5.5 mmol/L an hour later—the highest ketone concentration I have recorded in myself. My BG went 86 mg/dL (pre) -> 81 (post) -> 71 (+1 hr). So that went phenomenally. But supplementing 30 minutes prior to a (slightly shorter) run of just over an hour, I observed my ketones went from 4 mmol/L prior to ingestion to just over 3 when I returned from the run (I was out of glucose strips for that test, so no numbers there). I also subjectively had a lot of trouble on that run, which I believe was probably due to some degree of undernutrition in the days prior.
So I know that the stuff is safe for preserving my nutritional ketosis, at least taken close to a hard run. But I’m curious about the probable benefit of taking it after a ~30-40 minute HITT-type exercise? I don’t do anything that’s P90X exactly; I just strap on a heart rate monitor and do circuit weights with the goal of keeping my average heart rate at 145-160 bpm (my max HR is 200 bpm) for the duration of the exercise. It seems like using SS prior to this tiny workout would be silly. But, would it be worthwhile after these exercises to replenish glycogen and perhaps even help in recovery? I’m curious if you use SuperStarch this way or have any experience with that. My main reservation at this point is that I’ve noticed that my post-workout serum glucose after a ~30 minute run or lifting session absolutely skyrockets from my usual 65-85 mg/dL up to 130-140 mg/dL—I assume that is from hepatic glycogen release?
Also, I wanted to post a huge thanks to you for what you do on this blog. I’ve been trying to lose weight and get in great shape for a year now, and while I did lose a lot of weight with a conventional diet and exercise (I’ve gone from couch potato to managing 8+ mile runs easily), I basically went from 210 lbs. to 170 lbs. over several months and then found my weight tracking back up from running injuries, laziness, and overeating. I found Gary Taubes through my dad in August and you through Taubes, and I became totally motivated to adopt a ketogenic diet. I’ve never felt so good in my life, and I broke through into the 160s on my weight in about a month of the diet, and I’ve been steady on the low-end of that weight for the last month and a half or two, steadily growing stronger and still losing body fat, at least according to the mirror. I feel like I found the ideal diet for myself—pure, unadulterated magic. It’s so much fun, and the food is absolutely delicious. So, thanks so much for everything, and thanks in advance for any pointers you have on using SuperStarch with HITT/weight lifting.
A lot of confounding variables there. HIIT is almost always going to LOWER your B-OHB levels because of the uptick in hepatic glucose output, so I’m not sure if SS will retard this process. It might, but we don’t know because this hasn’t been thoroughly studied. Bottom line, Nicholas, try your best to control for different variables and experiment under reasonably reproducible conditions.
Thanks for the advice! You’re right, I haven’t done anything like controlled testing, even on myself. I only bought the blood glucose/ketone testing stuff (the Precision Xtra that I believe you recommend) about 3 weeks ago, and I’ve mostly been tracking my levels in the morning and evening a la Jimmy Moore’s current n=1 experiment—I’ve only made a few forays into monitoring my ketones and glucose around exercise. You can really burn through these test strips in a hurry!
I was kind of hoping for some guidance on areas to test based on your experiments, but like you say—this stuff is so under-explored. I’m probably probably best off letting my fitness interests and goals guide what I test. That will be of the most use to me in any case. I’ll be sure and report back if I find anything interesting during my testing.
Nicholas, check out the posts (2 parts) about the interplay of ketosis and exercise. You’ll see, at least in my case, how varying intensities of exercise increased or decreased B-OHB and glucose levels (with and without Superstarch).
Nicely done, Peter!
Already finding my own success with Generation UCAN, and it’s great to hear your detailed analysis.
“I know, I know, most people don’t want to understand this sort of stuff. And they certainly don’t want to read a 10,000 word post on the topic.”
I LIKE YOUR 10,000 WORD POSTS! The long, nuanced, and technical explanations is precisely why I and the rest of your audience loves you.
Victoria… you and maybe a handful of other folks…
Actually, I think there are a lot of people who like them. I’m certainly one.
Basically, anyone who reads this blog regularly probably is quite happy with the comprehensive detail you provide. Don’t ever think that it’s not appreciated!
Its way more than a handful Peter. While I won’t pretend to understand everything you write, I love the long detailed posts. Your series on cholesterol was a classic example. I need to go back regularly to review those as I tend to forget much of the detail, but those posts are absolutely awesome.
At least for some of us Peter, you make an enormous difference and we are very grateful.
I certainly hope your blog’s popularity skyrockets as you have a fantastic message that needs to be out there. Great stuff and thank you.
Mario, thanks so much for the kind words. Definitely keeps me motivated to work at this “side project” knowing that it helps people.
Peter, I’m not even an athlete, let alone an endurance athlete, and I adore your long posts. Your approach is unique; you don’t talk down to your readers, you back up everything you say, and your writing is clean, direct, and free of gimmicks. With all the misinformation published about nutrition, your blog is a breath of fresh air. I share it with my fitness community every chance I get. Thank you for your latest post, it was fascinating.
Very kind of you to say, Laura. Thank you.
My favorite part of the longer explanations is that you’ll casually mention things ‘we all obviously know’ that I may have forgotten. This reinforces knowledge, and it doesn’t happen in shorter posts that cut to the chase. Talking in depth about comprehensive topics connects all the dots.
I agree with you, Victoria. The ten thousand word posts are very helpful for a complete understanding of the concepts presented here. They are a big reason why I can trust what is presented here.
There are many points in your talk where you refer to “glycogen” when I believe you mean glucose.
Yes, that’s my point in one of the slides. I refer to them almost interchangeably. To be rigorous, glycogen is the storage form (in muscle or liver tissue); glucose is the form that moves throughout the bloodstream and is taken up by tissues.
what does this all mean for a Type 1 Diabetic? we can control the insulin levels released by shot or pump, can we then max how well we use the conventional products like G-raid? I know Superstarch is the best pick but just wondering how T1 fits in? – thanks for all the information, love your site I think i have read just about everything you have out so far
Great question, and one of current investigation. Preliminary data suggest Superstarch may be almost a miracle food for diabetics, including T1D. But more study is necessary to be definitively sure. That said, if you’re going to use it, just be as diligent as you would ingesting any form of starch until you learn your own body’s kinetics.
Without wanting to sound like some lazy person off the internet (*cough*) – can I just listen to this or do I need to watch and pay attention to? Am doing some drawing and would like to play it at the same time, but if I need to watch the screen I will save it for later.
I think you’ll get more if you wait until you have time to watch, too.
You said there’s no reason to supplement fat during exercise, is this true of pure MCT oil too?
Great point. During pure fasting workouts, ingesting MCT prior to the workout may generate some extra B-OHB, but I’d be pretty hesitant to ingest any MCT during a workout, given its potential impact on the GI system.
Why is a low carb diet with Superstarch better than just a low carb diet?
I meant to ask, “Why is a low carb diet with Superstarch better than just a low carb diet, in particular for someone who is not trying to maximize athletic performance. I have dropped 30 pounds on a low carb diet but have now plateaued, even though I have at least another 30 pounds to go. Is this product useful if I’m not an athlete?
Not really clear, to be honest, John. All testing to date has been done in either kids with GSD or athletes. That said, lots of anecdotal evidence of people (non-athletes) losing weight using the product, perhaps a substitute for normal carb eating. So I don’t really know the answer to your question about an already-low-carb-eater adding it in. But there’s one way to find out…
Peter, nice talk. Currently I can only do about 30 mins of Cardio and 45 mins of weight training. Is there a benefit of the Ucan product for this short of exercise duration? Will it help with food cravings and low blood sugar feelings I sometimes get after cardio? Would I only need if during recover, if at all? Thanks, Dave
I believe so, but keep in mind the exact nature of the research to date. I certainly think it is worth the effort to try it out and determine if you achieve a benefit in this setting.
Is superstarch primary for atheletes, or does it have merit in maintaining a ketonic life style, outside of high physical demands?
Just addressed this in a previous comment. Short answer: I think there is merit beyond just high-end performance.
Thank for the short reply Peter. In response to Petie’s commment, I found the following on the Ucan website concerning superstarch use for purposes other than atheticism:
“UCAN USE IT ::
Before and after workouts or athletic competitions
For everyday energy and steady blood sugar
As a meal replacement or healthy snack (check out our UCAN recipes)”
Thanks for the video, looking forward to it.
I am an ultrarunner and switched to a ketogenic diet 6 months ago. My endurance just keeps improving while being ‘”bonk proof”.
The one thing I am not clear on is exactly why we need an external source of glucose (such as UCAN) during endurance events. Let us say I stay aerobic for a 12 hour race/run, then what does an external source of glucose (UCAN) do for me ? Is the idea that the body needs more glucose than fat oxidation and gluconeogenesis can provide ? I tried UCAN for one race and took one packet every 3 hrs or so and it seemed to “work” but I could not tell if I would have been fine without it as well (I am not yet a ‘high intensity’ runner during these ultra events).
I would really appreciate any input any one has to this as this would answer a fundamental issue for me. The winner of Western States this year is a low carb guy but even he apparently did gels during the run. What is this for ?
Thanks so much,
If you can completely control your tempo and stay outside of an anaerobic zone, you may be able to get by 100% of internal fat stores. The reason I don’t do this on the bike is that cycling has too many pick-ups in tempo where it’s necessary to go to 90-95% VO2 max, which always requires some glycogen.
Thank you Dr. Attia for taking the time to answer my question.
So basically anaerobic = requirement for external glucose.
Can the muscles burn fat and glucose at the same time ? They are not mutually exclusive ? Or is the external glucose for the tissues in the body that are always glucose dependent (not able to use ffas/ketones)
What about protein intake during extended exercise since the body does not “store” amino acids in fat. Do you just let your body canabalize some muscle or should supplemental protein be taken in? These questions are still in a etogenic context of course).
It’s definitely not mutually exclusive and more of a sliding scale, highly dependent on diet. Take a look at my pre- and post- RQ data with substrate utilization in this post: http://eatingacademy.com/how-a-low-carb-diet-affected-my-athletic-performance
You’ll note that even above threshold in the post state, I was still able to utilize 30% fat (vs. 100% in the pre). The differences were even more stark below threshold.
As for protein, during most of aerobic work I, at most, utilize some BCAA and/or some nuts. With weights, I always use BCAA + glutamine.
Yes of course thank you, you are the man. I keep thinking of not having to eat as “pure” fat burning and forgetting the internal glucose generation/usage from fat oxidation and gluconeogenesis.
So I guess the million dollar question for each person is how much external glucose supplementation is necessary based on diet and exertion in order to optimize the activity. Knowing one’s RQ would help.
The last ultra I did Ucan every 3 hrs as the instructions recommended and it worked great, no energy problems. Now does that mean I can do every 4 hrs ? Or not at all ? I guess that is why you have to experiment.
I one of those people that would prefer to just be able to calculate it beforehand and know I am not underdoing it or overdoing it 🙂
Thanks again for your responses,
Finally got a chance to watch the whole video. Very nice and thanks for the overview of how the different body’s energy systems work, very clear and easy to follow.
Glad it wasn’t too boring with just my voice droning on and on…
Jason, thanks for pointing this out. I’m working on the same question regarding long distance swimming, whereby usually one is remaining aerobic…and perhaps less need for glucose replenishment…?
I am just starting to adopt a Ketogenic diet and am wondering how you count using UCan in your diet/target numbers. Also, do you find you need less UCan now on Keto than before? For example, I have been using 3 scoops for a 3.5-4 hour bike ride (not eating anything for breakfast, this was my nutrition for my workout).
Any info you have that you can share would be greatly appreciated.
What about adding BCAAs in with the Ucan? Any need? Will it help assure muscle doesn’t get used in case one is not quite adapted yet?
I do this on occasion. I’ll add 6-8 gm of BCAA to the plain (no flavor) variant for in-workout use.
Interesting…its not new BSM has had it for several years in the product Volumaize and both Modified Corn Starch, whats the catch guys, thought you were against GMO!!?? Free product right??
No so, Thomas. Many other companies have sold waxy maize, but that’s just it, and offers no real advantage over just maltrodextrin. What UCAN does — via a completely novel technique — is hydrothermally treat the high-content amylopectin to generate Superstarch.
Not sure about the GMO comment and I don’t even want to get into that discussion, as I know too much about this topic to even begin to engage on it right now. As for your smart remark about free product…Yes, you’ve figured me out. This whole thing is one big game to get free product. From anyone! Apparently, someone is sending me free samples of cyanide tomorrow. Can’t wait to try it. Maybe that can be next week’s post? Of course, it better be non-GM cyanide, right?
Thomas, did you watch the video? Peter bends over backwards to explain the nuances of how and why the product was developed and then why the company subsequently entered the sports market. Peter states upfront he is a chronic self experimenter and after educating himself he tested it and liked the results. If you’ve read this blog at all you might find some apt criticisms of Peter (getting his in-laws to buy a Lactate meter as a Christmas present comes to mind), but attention to detail and thorough research wouldn’t be areas of concern. If you have a question or concern put as much thought into it as he will in answering it and you’ll probably get an answer that helps you and others. This site doesn’t need trolls or a lot of snarky comments. Not saying this specifically to you but just as a general rule.
Thanks, Dave. I like it when my readers can say it better than I can. By the way, if I never post again after tonight, you’ll know the non-GM cyanide worked 🙂
Mistake, that’s BSN
Interesting stuff. Question about the Roberts et al paper (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20951003), since its not publicly available I can’t read it myself. Was there any discussion about serum NEFA and what it may have looked like in the absence of SuperStartch, i.e. water only? The graph you showed was notably lacking that control, and it would be compelling to see that serum NEFA was statistically the same as a water control, or informative if not…
Great question. No, there was no water-only control, though that would have been a good idea. The goal of this study was to test SS against the “gold standard” (i.e., maltodextran).
I would really like to see some head-to-head performance outcome clinical trials of super starch vs. Multiple transportable carbohydrates maximized to deliver an optimal dose as Jeukendrup has demonstrated.
Additionally, the I would argue that the insulin response to CHO feeding independent of source ‘during’ the exercise bout is not an issue since insulin release is blunted and contraction induced GLUT4 is responsible for the bulk of the glucose uptake.
I cannot recall the specific paper right now, but there are data that rebound hypoglycemia in the pre-exercise period is not detrimental to performance for exercise bouts lasting up to 2 – 2.5 hours. While fat oxidation was blunted in those trial, Jeukendrup’s data suggests that mazimizing carbohydrate oxidation is key to performance (assuming a mixed diet in training).
All that being said, I do think that super-starch has some potential applications for athletes who are using periodized nutrition, ‘training low’, and for those who have gut issues with higher carbohydrate feedings. As we know there is not a one size fits all approach.
Roberts et al FYI: http://generationucan.com/pdf/nutrition_Journal_Article.pdf
Brian, I think this is a fair point, but it’s important to keep in mind that most of these studies are done in highly trained and highly insulin sensitive subjects, suggesting the results are actually less (relatively) impressive than if they were done in “regular” folks who my not actually blunt insulin response as much. In fact, this may partially explain some of the anecdotal weight loss experienced by many folks using Superstarch as a meal replacement.
Hi Peter, Any thoughts on below quote I pulled from another website discussing hi protein low carb diets :
“In addition, research from Beth Israel Medical Center indicates that a similar type of rapid weight-loss diet low in carbohydrates and high in protein may lead to clogged arteries.”
1. Who knows what they are talking about and what kind of “research” they are referring to. I can’t comment without specifics.
2. Who’s talking about a high protein diet?
I would like to follow on from Brian’s comments, as he basically asked what I was thinking – That pre-exercise, superstarch might be beneficial in providing a glucose source without spiking insulin and maintaining fat burning as you start. But during exercise, insulin response is still blunted to a large degree, hence, simpler sugars which are more quickly digested and absorbed are often considered better…. The trouble is, the studies on superstarch have only been done on ingestion pre- or post- exercise, not during (for instance, on feedings during an Ironman/TDF?). So its difficult to know whether using superstarch during exercise, as ben greenfield has been trialing, would be superior to normal sports products for any other reason than its osmolality.
Hence, would it be possible in your opinion, as the product is slow to be absorbed, to calculate your glucose needs over an event (eg ironman over 10 hours burning 50% CHO 50% fat, 400kcal = 100g CHO per hour) = 1000g of superstarch and pre-load, or even half at 500g (10 servings) and then 500g at 50g/hr or more simple CHO during exercise to reduce GI load? Has anyone tried it in this way? Or are you forced to use it like standard CHO titrated across an event?
I understand, but keep in mind the GI distress issue. I don’t know if I mentioned this during the presentation, but almost every single “failure” I have witnessed in endurance competition has not been due to cardiovascular “failure” — it’s almost always due to metabolic “failure,” often the result of GI distress preventing adequate replenishment of glycogen. Don’t under estimate the value of ingesting a molecule with a molecular weight of 500,000!!
Yes! Generation Ucan has provided me a way to take in glucose supplementation during events in a way that does not interfere with my fat burning (no/minimal insulin response) and (finally) allows me to have a stable stomach the entire event. Pre-low carb I would always either bonk or be slowed down/stopped by stomach problems from eating all the carbs.
The osmolality is one of the main reasons I jumped on Ucan when I first read about it since I had also gone ketogenic.
This question also popped up for me… Is the insulin really an issue during a workout? Would be interesting to see the insulin response from the same source in a rest state and during heavy activity, both simple sugars and super starch. With good planning pre workout carbs isn’t a problem as I see it.
Probably depends a lot on the intensity of exercise (in this study there were working out really hard) and the conditioning of the athlete (these guys were really fit).