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. Dr. Attia. My name is Kevin Purvis and I prefer racing long course triathlons. After 4 years of chasing symptoms I was diagnosed with candidiasis in 2011 and started antifungal medication. I can’t claim total purity in the diet department but I’m pretty tight with it. I’ve had to back out of Ironman Florida twice due to this issue. I’ve tried every conceivable way to approach this from simple fast acting sugars only during workouts to a half ironman on brown rice as my fuel substrate. About mile 5 on the run I knew I wasn’t converting the rice into glucose fast enough and started to bonk. 4 cups of coke and I was clear in 5 minutes. I finished the last 8 strong on coke and water. The problem is after 3 weeks of these types of sugars the yeast overgrowth shuts me down. Generally takes 2 weeks to get the system back to normal. I tried Optimum Nutrition’s Glyco-Maize over UCAN due to price point. I may have just been wrecked in general but after 6 straight weekends of GI issues to the point of bonking I threw in the towel. My new grand scheme is ultra training because the low HR allows me to metabolize more fat and use things like quinoa. Saturday I ran a slow pace, average 13 min/mi with combined run walk strategy averaging 133 HR, workout on h2o, electrolytes, and Masters Aminos. I ate a serving of quinoa at the 4 hr mark. The quinoa actually caused a 5 beat increase in HR for an hour so I need to play with serving size. In all a 6.5 hr walk/jog on 1 serving of quinoa at the 4 hr mark.

    All that and here’s the question. Is there a difference between UCAN and ON brand of super starch? Second is SS low enough glycemic index not to feed the yeast? Even Dr. Alan Lieberman of COEM in Charleston SC who specializes in this field doesn’t really have an answer. In good faith and desire to help me he suggested MCT which I did exclusively on a long bike and by the 3 hr mark my gut was jacked. He gets a kick out of the training and racing I do but doesn’t understand it well enough to help me develop a plan to work within my situation. Any input from you would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    • Not sure I know the answer to #2, but to #1, UCAN is hydrothermally treated, so the chemical structure is different than waxy maize or other similar compounds. Only direct comparison we have is vs. maltodextrin, though.

  2. Thank you for your input Dr. Attia. I’m going to give UCAN a shot and see how the old gut handles it!

  3. Sir,
    Thank you for this amazing blog.. I appreciate your willingness and dedication to explaining complex concepts to average folks like us. I find myself wishing I could find a Dr. like you for my Type1 Diabetic boy 😉

    Anyway, curious about the glycogen stores in muscles. Forgive the stupid questions if this is widely understood… I understand that these glycogen stores are held “captive” by the muscular system due to the muscles inability to break the glycogen down to glucose… Is it accurate to say that these glycogen stores are held “captive” to their respective muscles? Or can this glycogen be shared throughout the muscular system???

    i.e. If I exhaust the glycogen stores in my glut’s, for instance, can my gluts leverage existing stores of glycogen in other muscles?

    Kind regards,
    Kelly T
    Ft. Collins, CO

  4. Great work. Great organization, and knowing about your life, great time efficiency!
    I think I looked around enough to make sure this questions are not redundant. I apologize if they are.

    For reference, I eat 75/20/15//fat/protein/carb and 90% of those carbs are fruits & vegetables and never added sugar, never gluten, and never corn products. That has been my diet for 15 months.
    I just ran my first marathon (first run over 18 miles actually) fully fasted (a little coconut oil 2 hours prior). I completed in 4.2 hours and found it quite easy to do with nothing more than a sip of water every 3 miles. I have been running 2 – 2.5 hours every Sunday for a year, so at that slow pace I assume I had a low RQ. From what you have taught me, it makes sense I did not need to ingest any carbohydrate. I was still surprised that I was using so little glycogen in 4.2 hours. You have mentioned we store only about 1400 kcal in our muscles. I did not “bonk”. I did not “carb load” either so my glycogen stores are likely lower than the average person’s given my normal diet. Next time I’ll try the Super Starch and see if I have more energy at the end of the race.

    My current goal is to run a 40.0 minute 10K by April 19: a completely different ballgame than the slow marathon. Training for this includes frequent all out sprint intervals and running nearly every day. The intensity is so high, I often wonder if the lactic acid is going to kill me. Clearly I have a high RQ during these trainings. But, back of the envelop calculations indicate that even if I would be at 1.0 RQ, I have enough glycogen capacity to get through these workouts (~ 1 hour, <5 miles total) in a fully fasted state.

    I have been disappointed however at my ability to improve my performance week to week as measured by how long I can sustain my desired race pace. I worry about under-recovery between sessions but I don't know enough about it. My questions to you relate to fuel storage recovery but I'll gratefully accept any general overtraining comments as well.

    1) How can I go into a workout confidently knowing that I have fully replenished my glycogen reserves?
    2) How long does it take (more than 24 hours?) to fully replenish glycogen reserves if I do not eat carbohydrates? How long if I ingest a fixed dose (say 1000 kcal) of glucose after the workout? How long with SS? I ask because I want to maintain my baseline no/low carb diet for overall health reasons but want to make sure I am not headed into the next workout session glycogen depleted. I assumed that 24 hours is plenty of time for glycogens levels to be fully refilled even in ketosis but perhaps that is a bad assumption.
    3) Is there any point is Super Starch for this athletic goal? Even if you think 24 hours is not enough time to replenish glycogen reserves from fat reserves or from gluconeogenesis, is Super Starch any more helpful than pure glucose if taken at a fixed dose after the workout (when an insulin spike would be tolerable since you don't need the fat metabolism to feed the workout)?

    • Matthew, I think I have addressed all of your concerns in the “co-exist” post from about 6 or 7 months ago. You may need more glycogen for the 10K, but if used appropriately, should not impeded fat oxidation significantly.

  5. Dr. Attia

    I sincerely appreciate your work and your approach to teaching others about your discoveries. You are an excellent educator. I recently purchased UCAN and I was wondering if there are any data regarding the absorption of the product in the GI tract. It seems such a large molecule would have a lot of difficulty reaching the blood.


    • Yes, the molecule is fully absorbed, just very slowly in part due to its size. I think there is a slide or two in the presentation I gave showing the kinetics.

  6. I ordered superstarch and told them I learned of them through your website and asked for a coupon code, but they did not give me one. Would you please tell me the code so I can call and give it to them and try to get it applied to my order?

    Also, this might sound paranoid, but the Chocolate is so sweet that I feel like I’m cheating on my ketogenic diet. I have worked VERY hard to maintain this awesome keto-adaptive state – I average 10-40 grams of carbs a day, with about 70-80% of calories from fat, with blood ketones consistently between 2 & 3. My pain level is dramatically decreased, and my daughter has no more seizures on the diet, just at one month. SO, are you really really sure I won’t lose it by eating superstarch? I use it for very long mountain hikes.

    Thank you very much.

  7. Dr. Attia – I’m 41 years old 6′ 3″ and 177lbs. I’m a cyclist (Tour wannabe) and now getting into triathlons (i’ve done two sprints). I can’t image swimming to Catalina. On my last triathlon after about 3 gels and sports drink, my stomach was mess (gas). I completed it but started to question what I was doing as far as food goes. I’ve always done high carbs (simple carbs) during long rides but do have stomach issues on long rides. I’m thin but I still have plenty of fat to get rid of and yes I’ve bonked several times. Anyway, you mentioned you vomited during your long swim. Since using SS how has that changed? Was the vomiting from salt water or other factors (long distance)? I struggle like you with nutrition etc and workout as if I’m trying out for a cycling team or at least I think I a.m but nutrition is so hard and those guys in the Tour eat simple sugars and carbs during the ride and they too bonk. They are close to VO2 max too so I get it. I’ve tried fruits and vegies and electrolytes/carbs during excersice but getting close to their level is a dream. I’ll try the Keto diet. I like bacon! I’m from the school of low fat, good carbs (fruits and veggies, some rice, sweet potatoes, quinoa), and some protein. Also how do you get 4700mg of Potassium on the Keto diet? Sorry for all the questions. Keep up the work on nutrition. Your effort and knowledge is greatly appreciated. I know your searching for truth versus trying t defend a conclusion so keep that up because we all want to know whats the appropriate diet or some formula based on body type etc.
    We can put a man on the moon but we can’t figure out the best or most appropriate diet for humans.

  8. Dr. Attia–I am totally new to the idea of a ketogenic diet. I watched a presentation you gave, and it piqued my interest. From the perspective of traditional bodybuilder and power lifter, carbohydrates with protein after a workout was desired to produce an insulin response, insulin binds to insulin receptors, allows the cells to open up etc etc, increase protein synthesis etc etc, return glycogen as fast as possible back to the liver and muscles.

    I emailed famed powerlifter Dr. Hafield, aka Dr. Squat, who I kinda know because I used to work for his company, and he referenced Dr. D’agostino who has been on a strictly ketogenic diet for years, and accomplished a Guinness world record feat of most weight lifted in a day, weight 250lbs looking like a bodybuilder…..because he was there and watched it. So basically he said its possible.

    My question is this: If I am in a ketogenic diet, can I eat carbs that spike insulin after intense weight lifting in a way that doesnt knock me out of ketosis? Or, will the same response happen within the body consuming fat and burning ketones, so I don’t really need to worry about the insulin response?

    The appeal of the ketogenic diet for me is that fact that I often suffer from excessive fatigue and energy swings despite doing “everything right” And for me, it is worth it to try it….but I still want to keep pursuing my fitness, strength and size goals as effectively as possible.

  9. Dr. Attia…Thank you up front for this website and the fascinating information that you provide. I am 51 years old and in pretty good shape. Been working really hard the past year cutting out sugars and processed foods. I have gone from about 230 to about 195, which is close to my fighting weight. Anyway, I started out all of this health stuff because for my 50th birthday I decided to do something wild and I signed up to climb Mt Rainier. Needless to say, it kicked my ass. I made it to 11,000 ft and then had to turn back (weather and fatigue). I have set the goal of making it to the top this year (14000+ ft) and I am going back at the end of July for another try. I have ordered some UCAN to help me through my hard workouts pre trip. But here is my question: On the climb, there will be two straight days of climbing almost 5000 ft carrying a heavy pack, maybe in snow. So obviously, I will be burning thousands of calories each day. I will use the UCAN before, during, and after each climb. But what else should I be eating along the way? Of course, they (the guide company) recommend all the candy bars, protein bars, trail mix…anything to give you needed energy. But should I stay away for anything that has sugars? Keep in mind that weight is very critical, and so I can’t carry a dozen avocados. Any suggestions? Should I look for stuff with lots of fat…? Protein? Of course, I will also be drinking lots of water. Think you for any guidance you might give!

  10. Dear Dr. Attia,

    I discovered your blog very recently and I am amazed with everything I learned. Thank you so much for debunking my false ideas !

    I would have a question about Superstarch: it seems clear that this product is full of benefits. But for us folks not living in the U.S., it is hard to our hands on this product. Ergo, I am searching for an equivalent product.

    My question is: what is the difference between waxy maize and SS? You addressed this question by stating: the SS has been hydrothermically treated. But what does it mean regarding its chemical structure? Does this process just make it a bigger molecule? or does it affect the amylopectin and/or amylose content?

    Thank you so much for all the time and efforts you spend educating us!

  11. Peter, like you I’m a swimmer (collegiate and now in triathlons), hyper-educated (BA, BS, MD, MD, triple boarded) and love to think about problems outside of the box and use myself and my experiences to better understand the world. I have used UCAN in the past more as a treatment for the GI distress that I was experiencing during competition as I got back into athletics a few years ago. I found that I’ve accumulated enough training time at high-intensity I no longer get GI distress using non-UCAN products and so have moved to a nutritional strategy of using the nutrition that is available on the course of my races so that I do not have to over think how much to bring or worry about losing bottles, forgetting nutrition when packing or creating gel-like formulations to be transferred into little bottles on the run. But a friend who is a doc and nutritionist recently pointed me to your website and so I have begun to think about using UCAN again. But I get stuck on one major questions:
    If all of the biochemistry you so eloquently explain is true (ie. limitations of maximum glucose uptake from the GI track vs caloric expenditure during high-output endurance activities), how do so many long-course triathletes use the traditional method of nutrition without developing Gut Rot or bonking? You can say they’d have better performances changing strategies, but the science that you are suggesting makes it sound like glucose/maltodextrin–>insulin spike–>no fatty acid utilization–>inadequate calories available to sustain aerobic metabolism. And yet they do.

    Thanks for pushing the limits of our understanding of sports (and general nutrition).

    • For the most elite out there, they are very insulin sensitive to begin with. They operate at a very low RQ, so they are naturally partitioning fuel to access FFA more than a “regular” person. Second, many people (myself included) just figure out a way to grit through it. When I was doing 12-14 swims on pure maltodextrin, I sucked up. I’d puke, and go back to it and my performance simply wasn’t what it could have been. Without consciously realizing it, I was likely reducing my output, not because of “fatigue,” but because of metabolic failure.

  12. Thank you for your quick response. That makes sense. I can’t becoming uncomfortable when information is presented in seeming absolutes when in fact there is a large degree of context needed to understand a complex problem (which I think you nicely explain in your entry on Ketones and Carbs co-existing). I think for my brain it makes the most sense to think about these issues by realizing that in the context of sports nutrition:
    Energy requirements are met by exogenous energy intake (simple sugars, complex carbs, SS, protein fat) as well as the availability of endogenous energy availability (FA and glycogen/glucose) which is undeniably linked to the type of exogenous nutrition consumed (and its effect on insulin secretion).

    Keep up the good fight. Adam

  13. Thank you, thank you! I just purchased some today and can’t wait to try it for marathon training. I ditched the dreaded GU cycle last year and have never felt better.

  14. Hi Peter. I hope you are well.

    In the graph that shows serum NEFA, why is there an increase in serum NEFA immediately after ingestion in the recovery period (cf the decrease after ingestion in the pre-exercise period)?

    Thank you.


  15. Hi peter,

    I am a new viewer of the blog. I do high jump and pole vault in college (I’m also a dietetics major, thinking of switching to biochem). I have a question about the use of super starch regarding anaerobic training (all of my workouts).

    I have always been told that an insulin spike immediately post-workout (weight training) is the best way to replenish glycogen levels in the muscles as well as (and most important to me) give the muscles all of the proteins (and amino acids) necessary for growth. With the use of Ucan, obviously the point is to limit the insulin spike. Does this hinder the effectiveness of protein supplementation? Or are the benefits of an insulin spike post-workout wrong?

    • I think that is viewed as pretty common wisdom, but I’m not away of any evidence that says a we need a huge spike of insulin to replenish glycogen. Post workout, the metabolic priority for ingested CHO is always going to be glycogen replacement before anything else (e.g., DNL). So keeping insulin low while replacement glycogen low is a good idea, because it enables continued fat oxidation.

  16. Peter – any experience with ucan for very high intensity efforts such as a 60 min cyclocross race. I want to switch over to a lower carb paleo/primal blueprint diet fully because i have had good GI results using this diet in past but i always move away from it during cyclocross season because of fear that I won’t have the energy for such a high intense effort.

    • I will sometimes take a half package of UNCAN before a short (20 km) race, but for any training under 3 hours I use only Biosteel, regardless of the intensity.

  17. Peter,

    I watched the video and see the logic of the product. My question is with the study you mention, they ingested the superstarch 30min before exercise all at once. The problem is sports drinks aren’t typically used this way. Normally they are sipped a few ounces at a time over an hour or so. This way the amount of sugar or starch consumed from a typical sports drink at one time will be quite low, and I would think would not be enough to create an insulin or glucose spike, especially while exercising when glucose is rapidly taken up and insulin is suppressed. (If I remember right, the muscles don’t even need insulin to uptake glucose during exercise.) So assuming you are using an hypotonic sports drink, wouldn’t this create the same desired effect of keeping the glucose and insulin levels low? I’d say gels and blocks would cause more of an issue with this.

  18. Hi Peter I am a fan of your website and have checked out a lot of what you have written on. I am an amateur boxer, and have been low carb for awhile. I have just recently started using UCan superstarch before and after practices. Is boxing primarily glycolytic? If so, is a packet out superstarch enough to get someone through a two hour practice? I am looking to drop a weight class and I am looking to utilize superstarch to maximize fat loss while maintaining lean mass. Will my performance be compromised being low carb, or can the superstarch be enough to get me through practices and competitions? Thanks, I know you used to box so maybe you have some insight.

    • Yes, boxing like wrestling or MA is probably mostly glycolytic. But remember, you have a lot of glycogen in your liver and muscles when you start practice. When I used to box seriously (aged 13 to 19), I would typically train 6 hours/day, of which 2-3 was in the gym (e.g., bag, skipping, sparring). I needed nothing beyond water. If I were doing that again I would probably add Biosteel (BCAA) to the mix.

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class='gform_hidden' name='gform_target_page_number_1' id='gform_target_page_number_1' value='0' /> <input type='hidden' class='gform_hidden' name='gform_source_page_number_1' id='gform_source_page_number_1' value='1' /> <input type='hidden' name='gform_field_values' value='' /> </div> <p style="display: none !important;"><label>&#916;<textarea name="ak_hp_textarea" cols="45" rows="8" maxlength="100"></textarea></label><input type="hidden" id="ak_js_4" name="ak_js" value="217"/><script>document.getElementById( "ak_js_4" ).setAttribute( "value", ( new Date() ).getTime() );</script></p></form> </div>
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