October 22, 2012

Exercise & Physical Health

Introduction to Superstarch – Part I

Read Time 2 minutes

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.

Disclaimer: This blog is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute the practice of medicine, nursing or other professional health care services, including the giving of medical advice, and no doctor/patient relationship is formed. The use of information on this blog or materials linked from this blog is at the user's own risk. The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Users should not disregard, or delay in obtaining, medical advice for any medical condition they may have, and should seek the assistance of their health care professionals for any such conditions.


  1. “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.”

    I am interested in the insulin response during exercise comment as most of the papers I have looked into are in relatively fit ‘athletes’ and the insulin response is blunted to CHO feedings during the bout. Are you aware of any data from the non-athlete ‘regular’ folks with CHO feedings during exercise and their insulin response?

    Not that you speak for UCAN, but do they have any studies currently underway?


    (p.s. I really enjoyed your talk at AHS12 about cholesterol. I am still trying to get fully up to speed on that whole aspect of nutrition)

    • You should reach out to the directly (as should anyone with specific questions about UCAN or Superstarch). I know they’d love to hear from folks.

  2. Hi Peter,
    Great presentation, I already forwarded it to my skeptical friends.
    Do you have experience or anything to say on the product named VESPA, which suppose to help burning fat ?


    • I don’t and it’s not clear to me how good it is based on the ingredient list. Perhaps someone has some data they could share beyond marketing information.

  3. I can tell you I started using this on my longer runs. Anything over an hour. First run was only 8 miles and about 3-4 miles into it I could feel the difference. One data point among many variables but it held true over every run. I ran the La Jolla Half this year with one 16 ounce drink of water and half a packet, back then in the old days they only sold it by the packet… ;), and ran 5 minutes faster than the previous year with no other hydration until mile 12. Less training too. No more Gatorade or Cytomax for me…last marathon it made my sick to my stomach.

    I mentally committed to a half Ironman next year and a full Ironman in 2014 so this post comes at a good time to start getting my house in order regarding fuel, hydration, and performance. I’m in over my head but goal oriented so I can take it easy after the Ironman is checked off the list.

    Since this is a great forum for nutrition and endurance I’d be open to any resources or advice on training articles, sites, etc. I’ve done a few triathlons including LavaMan so I am not starting from scratch but am definitely an age grouper.

  4. Hey, Peter.

    I ordered the Superstarch, and have used it on my 2-hour or longer runs. It hasn’t affected my ketosis at all, and I can definitely tell a positive difference. One difference is, and I may just be imagining this, is a much easier recovery. I’m only using it pre-run. Are you aware of it helping with this?

  5. Great video, Peter. Thanks for the illumination on this topic. Looking forward to part two and beyond…

    I’m ripe and ready for refining my feeds for longer swims as I recently finished a 10 mile event but ‘bonked’ around mile 7-8 and slogged through the last couple miles. Not fun!
    And although I’m primarily using Ucan, I deviated a bit by sucking on some ‘sports drink’ for the electrolyte replenishment…but I think that screwed me and sent me for a ride on the “rollercoaster”!

    So, swim and learn…but still, my question for you here is, what about electrolyte replenishment for longer duration training/events?


    • Very important question, Dan, and one I didn’t really address in this talk. The nuance, of course, is that electrolyte replacement is highly dependent on diet and activity. For example, someone like me (in ketosis) has a greater sodium requirement. Someone like you, who is ocean swimming, actually has a lower sodium requirement (since you’re ingesting sodium while swimming). On a bike/run, a general rule (though, of course, it depends on humidity and other factors) is to replace between 250 and 500 mg of sodium per hour. My personal routine (good for me, but not necessarily for others, and derived from years of tweaking) is 2 gm of sodium pre-ride and about 100-200 mg/hour. I also keep loaded up on magnesium every day, and don’t supplement during riding. Also, I have found repeatedly that I do not need supplemental potassium if I keep sodium up, but some folks to require potassium to prevent cramping. I recommend MicroK at about 20 mEq pre and post workout, for long workouts (assuming your doctor gives you the “ok”).

  6. Is this substance similar – Vitargo?
    Its just that the Superstarch is not available in Australia and the Vitargo seems to be similar (and is available in Australia). They talk about the molecular weight being 500,000 to 700,000, which sounds similar to superstarch. They don’t have the clinical studies that superstarch do, but do suggest similar results to superstarch.

    • I am not familiar with their product, but unless they are violating UCAN’s intellectual property, they won’t be able to undergo the same hydrothermal processing. However, I can’t comment on the efficacy without seeing more details than I can glean form their website. It’s possible that it’s just a high content amylopectin, but I can’t be sure.

    • Greg – UCAN and Vitargo are quite different. I wasn’t sure at first because they are both high molecular weight starches as you said, but I heard Ben Greenfield cover this on one of his podcasts. If you look at Vitargo’s marketing, they say “Vitargo transports through the stomach faster than any other carbohydrate for an instant surge of energy” and in there clinical studies, they boast a 78% higher insulin response than other carbs (http://www.vitargo.com/clinical-studies/). Basically the exact opposite of what SuperStarch does. I’ve been an avid UCAN user for about 6 months and truly have never experienced anything like it for endurance training. Just a steady flow of energy that leaves me feeling good for several hours. I’ve been training in Spain and ordered UCAN through their international distributor in Spain. Appears they have one in Australia too (http://generationucan.com/international.html)

  7. Hi Doc,

    Wow. That was a great review. I felt like I was back in medical school. Thanks to you, I have spent the last several months becoming fat-adapted after suffering from severe GI issues at my last ultra (even though I never felt close to bonking) and I will be running my first 100-mile race on Saturday with UCAN in my armamentarium. I wish I could see Part II before that, but I truly appreciate all that I have absorbed from you, Ben Greenfield, Drs. Volek, Phinney, Noakes and more.

    With Gratitude,


    • Good luck, Claire! Jeff Volek and I had dinner tonight here in Jackson Hole. Amazing times and amazing discussions of how many questions we want to be able to answer. Tomorrow we are presenting to the DoD on the possibility of using dietary intervention to improve human performance. I think a 100 mile would classify.

  8. Fascinating content. Thank you.

    Whenever I encounter such an overwhelmingly positive promotion of any product, I instinctively look for the presence of a disclaimer addressing whether or not the author has any financial ties to the manufacturer or profits in any way from the sale of the product. I didn’t see anything like that here. Did I overlook it? I also haven’t read all the comments–you may have addressed this already. In any case, I do think it would be appropriate to have that kind of ethical statement displayed very prominently in a piece such as this one.

    • I did comment specifically on this in the oral part of my presentation. I have zero financial ties to the company producing this product. I agree, this is a very import component of presenting such information.

  9. Hi Peter — Why do you train? (I won’t mind if you want to come back to this at a later date. For me, Dan John’s “to become a better person” has been ringing true lately.)

    • Great question, and certainly worthy of its own post. Short answer, it makes me feel good. I’m not very good at anything and will never be world class at anything, but I love trying constantly find improvements — be it in flipping that tire a little bit faster, or swimming that 200 IM just a bit faster — and it makes me feel great. There are several other reasons. Some of them, perhaps, not healthy, but it’s what I love, I guess.

  10. Peter, I have been following you since I first head you on ben greenfield’s website. You are money!!! You and Ben have transformed my training and over all health. I started using Ucan and will not go back to the gels and other stuff I was using. I used it on an endurance event this summer…7 days of 80+ miles a day…in high heat and humidity..no muscle cramps…no bonk….but good sustained energy. The other thing about Ucan is fab customer service as well. You offer a wealth of info….and I love what you do…..keep it comming!!

  11. Hi again, Peter.

    I wanted to take some time to comment on my own experience utilizing the information I’ve learned (mostly) from this blog, since I stumbled upon here a few months ago. Not just in body transformation, but also in how it has impacted my physical health and performance.

    I’m 46-years old, and up until four years ago I was tipping the scales at close to 300 pounds. I had the standard North American fast food diet, as well as a habit of slamming down copious amounts of beer. After a visit to my doctor, which showed the expected health profile of someone in my physical condition, I decided to drop the weight and see if I couldn’t get my health improved. So I hit the gym, quit drinking and went on standard low-carb diet.

    With those changes, I dropped down to about 240, plateaued for bit, incorporated the principles in another of Jeff Volek’s books that I haven’t seen mentioned on this blog, “The TNT Diet Plan,” which is essentially a ketogenic diet and resistance training plan. It is a great book for someone like myself, who is largely ignorant of this stuff. Anyway, I dropped down to about 210, but gained roughly ten pounds of muscle over about eight months of using this plan. My diet was very similar to yours, only I consumed half of the calories and 150 grams of protein.

    I kept that weight off, and two years ago decided to start running and training to do a marathon, which I did. During that time, which was about eight months, I ate the standard “runners diet” of high carbs, sports drinks, energy bars, etc. I didn’t gain weight, and actually lost about five pounds, but considering the hours I was running, and the calories I burned, I was amazed that I didn’t drop down further (I’m six feet tall). Over the next couple of years I put in hundreds of miles, as well as a substantial amount of gym time, and I was still doughy. A lot like you (although I’m not a sadist, so I wasn’t putting in three-hour a day workouts!).

    I stumbled upon this blog in March, the same time the snow melted here in Atlantic Canada. I was wanting to improve my time this year, and was desperately looking for a way to drop the twenty or so pounds of flab I still had around my middle. My problem was that I knew I needed carbs to train (because this is what the experts said), but I also knew from experience that I could only lose weight in ketosis. My google search was “exercise + ketosis,” and I found you.

    I was highly skeptical that I could train for cardio in a low carb state, as my past experience was that I didn’t have the energy. A few key changes – sodium supplementation and taking the time to become fully keto adapted – were two changes I made that I know made the difference. A few tweaks to the diet, like adding fat and lowering protein, and my weight dropped down twenty pounds to 190 in three months. Some of that was muscle, but most of it was fat.

    I had my gallbladder yanked in July, which set both the diet and training back a bit. One thing I can about that experience is, it isn’t fun getting re-adapted to ketosis. It took me a month to fully get back to where I was, but now I’m good to go. I’m knocking out twenty-mile runs with nothing but water, and over the last couple of weeks, I’ve downed some superstarch pre-run. My running friends all think I’m crazy for going low-carb, or they did until they saw my improvement (from 10:45 a minute mile last year to 9:45 this week). That’s kind of a sad time for most runners, but considering where I was before, I’m really pleased. I could not have walked a marathon five years ago.

    Most importantly, and why I started exercising in the first place, is my bloodwork (from June) shows I’m good in every category, and my blood pressure is now normal. I feel much more energetic, and can think much more clearly than I ever did. Not just in comparison to my beer and wings diet, but also to my “healthy” high carb diet.

    I’m running the Dallas marathon in December, and the only thing I’ll be ingesting is water and few grams of superstarch. If you had told me last year that I could do that, I would said you were smoking crack. Now I’ve no doubt I’ll finish and beat my earlier times.

    The information you give in this blog is life changing. At least it was for me.

    Thanks, Peter

    • Mark, what an amazing story. Thanks for taking the time to share it with me and others. Please keep us posted on your training and what you learn about Superstarch.

  12. Thank you Peter. I have been using Ucan all summer. I started a low carb, ketogenic diet earlier this year. I lift weights pretty seriously and it was brutal at first on the low carb diet. But if I take the plain before I don’t have any signs of weakness during lifts. Also I can eat two eggs and two pieces of bacon and 1/2 a packet of plain superstarch and then go on a 6 hour hike up in the wilderness between 8000 and 12000 feet(no trails, just bushwacking) and never get weak. I believe in this stuff so much I have decided to train for a marathon(run, walk, run method). I am a 51 year old female who has never competed in anything and since finding this product I can’t stop pushing myself beyond my comfort zone. I ‘m glad you did this post because everyone I tell about Ucan really doesn’t believe me. It’s such a new concept. Now I have a place to send them for a real scientific explanation.

  13. Hi Peter,
    This is off topic, I know, but is there a reason the time stamp on your comments is set 4 or 5 hours (at least) ahead of San Diego?

  14. Peter:

    Fully researched, and well-thought out response to the Super Starch question. And I would echo what others have said re: preference for detailed, long, nuanced posts / presentations. In an ADD world where accuracy is often sacrificed for the sake of brevity, your approach is actually quite refreshing.

    Quick follow-up question. If I’m understanding all this correctly, of the three energy systems, creatine-phosphate, anaerobic, and aerobic, you really only need carbohydrates to fuel the anaerobic system. Given the anaerobic system tires out after 2-3 minutes, shouldn’t the existing glycogen in your muscles and liver be sufficient to meet the energy needs (I’m assuming that even in an extended period of ketosis, you still have some glycogen in your liver and muscles)? Even if you are repeatedly calling on your anaerobic system (as in an interval swim workout), shouldn’t the duration of each instance be short enough that you wouldn’t need an external source of glucose?

    • Yes, the real problem is when people use glycogen for the bulk of their aerobic needs, also. This is what I refer to as metabolic inflexibility.

    • “I’m assuming that even in an extended period of ketosis, you still have some glycogen in your liver and muscles”

      Peter, can you comment on this? Do long-term low-carbers actually still carry glycogen, or do they do without completely? If they have some, where does it come from?

      I’ve been curious about that for a while; it’s really not discussed much. There seems to be very little good info on ketosis and exercise outside of this blog ;’>.

      • Phinney, Volek and others have studied and documented this pretty well. In fact, I just reviewed some of this data last week at a meeting. In ketosis, subjects were found to have been 50 and 70% of baseline muscle glycogen. We don’t know the answer for liver glycogen because we can’t really justify doing liver biopsies they way we do muscle biopsies in healthy subjects. Ironically, someone in ketosis gets more out of less glycogen, because of the higher RQ.

  15. I think you said that the phone on the left tastes better 🙂

    This was another excellent post, Peter. I, too, llike the long posts. I think that you might consider them to be long because of the great care you take to explain the foundation and knowledge needed to understand the eventual points you intend to make. For someone like me, who has no science background, it is so very much appreciated. You have been able to take me with you as you explain so many amazing things (especially in the cholesterol series). I really appreciate it.

    • Wow, very kind compliment. As you can imagine, I *love* to talk about science. It’s my dream to be able to communicate it in a way that is as exciting to others, also.

  16. Similar to some of the commenters above, I am quite happy with strict a ketogenic diet (I regularly do blood B-ketone testing and I am consistantly >1mmol) and I don’t seem to have any problems with fueling my ‘sport activities’. What I do is trail running, MTB and bouldering. As I understand super starch might help me with the first 2 of the activities. I wonder, though, what effect it might have on my typical bouldering sessions: when I train indoors, I typically stay in for 1-2hrs and then do several very high intensity climbing rounds (<1min) with a few minutes of rest in between. When doing the actual climbing outdoors, a typical day would consist of a few periods of 2-5 hours each when I basically do the same: climb very hard for <1min, rest for several minutes (I rest longer when climbingf outdoors) and then do it again. There is no doubt that the effort is anarobic and the to be able to sustain it for up to 5 hours (climbing on and off) requires lots of stamina. So far I have felt pretty good on low-carb, supplementing with MCT and BCAA. Should I consider super starch as a supplement for my bouldering days as well? An important factor for me is the body weight (in climbing it's a decisive factor): I know I would gain weight if I eat starches coming from e.g. sweet potatoes, etc. Is there any risk that my body would react similarly to super starches?

  17. The bike on the right is still not as advanced as a recumbent. Recumbent riders have set every bicycle speed record longer than a sprint.

    Riding a recumbent alleviates neck pain, arm and shoulder distress, crotch problems (least of which is numbness) and opens up the lungs compared to a wedgie. The bike and body are in a much more streamlined position and it is safer in a crash.

    4 hours on a wedgie??? Ouch!

  18. Hi Peter,

    Another fascinating post – thanks so much! And, I also do love the long posts as well – they fly by, and I think it’s because of how much care you take to incrementally build up to your conclusions, in a language that’s accessible to people like myself, who know very little about this science.

    I do have one brief question. I’m sure it’s a bit basic, but here it is. In your talk, you mention a calorie requirement of approx 750kcal/hr for an athlete exercising at a given VO2 level. You also mention that standard glucose supplementation can only give you about 150kcal/hr, and further, that muscle glycogen stores have a finite storage capacity. So, there’s a ‘calorie gap’. Supposing that an individual is ‘out’ of muscle glycogen and completely ‘fat blocked’ (i.e. can’t access their fat stores for energy), how do they fill this gap? Do they break down muscle protein for energy, or do they just immediately ‘bonk’?


    • Great question, but a complicated one, so bear with me. SO first off, the relationship between VO2 and caloric requirement is pretty constant: every liter of oxygen processes requires about 5 kcal. So, for example, 2,500 ml/min of O2 (that’s about 60% of my max, or a pace I can hold for several hours), requires 12.5 kcal/min or about 750 kcal/hour. The process to bonking is, in fact, quite sudden as anyone who has experienced it will confirm (I have experienced it about 3 times very badly). The path to bonking, though, is not uniform and probably depends on factors like insulin levels, glucagon levels, and intensity of exercise. If exercise intensity is still low enough to access the Krebs cycle *and* if the individual can generate enough substrate *besides* pyruvate (e.g., oxaloacetate), they effect can be blunted, but typically not for long…

    • Thanks Peter – that’s very interesting!

      One quick follow up – what role does protein breakdown have during situations of extreme exertion? If it does play a role, does the presence of carbs like superstarch, or availability of fats for lipolysis (due to low resting levels of insulin), reduce this role?

      I guess the question I’m asking (in the context of my CrossFit workouts) – is, while I’m working out in a keto-adapted state, could I be cannibalizing my own muscle (while simultaneously trying to build muscle via my workouts!)?


      • I just spent a few days with Jeff Volek who shared data suggesting that ketoadapted athletes actually spare protein (AA) more during exercise, especially lysine.

  19. Hi Peter – thanks for the great material. One big question. I haven’t seen any studies directly addressing differences in performance between the raw amylopectin / waxy maize starch, and the super starch obtained after the proprietary UCAN treatment. You mention in the talk that amylopectin/waxy maize is only an incremental improvement, while super starch is on a different level. But the studies cited compare super starch only to maltodextrin. What I would like to see is a direct comparison to the starting point. Is there material on both the chemical differences and differences in physiological affect? Seems worth investigating, as waxy maize / high amylopectin starch sells for about 1/8th the cost.

    • It was effectively done in the internal study comparing argo starch to SS. Argo starch is about as complex a carb as you can find in nature. Based on molecular weight, the difference between amylopectin and SS is significant, but of course a head-to-head would need to confirm it. Keep in mind how complex malto is, though, and this has been tested.

Facebook icon Twitter icon Instagram icon Pinterest icon Google+ icon YouTube icon LinkedIn icon Contact icon