October 31, 2012

Exercise & Physical Health

Introduction to Superstarch – Part II

Read Time 7 minutes

In part II of this series, as promised, I interviewed one of the nations top trainers of professional athletes to provide a “real world” look at how athletes are using Superstarch.  As excited as I’ve been using Superstarch and sharing my experience with endurance athletes, I was really interested to know his experience was, both personally and professionally, using it with the type of athletes I don’t work with.

As you’ll see in this interview, he gets just as much joy working with and helping troubled high school athletes in disadvantaged schools as he does working with the best football players and track and field athletes in the world.  It’s been a huge honor for me getting to know him and learning about the conditioning and training of athletes in sports I can’t really relate to.  Most amazingly, I’ve come to realize that whether you’re a Heisman Trophy winner, an avid cyclist, or a weekend warrior, we all struggle with the same problems when trying to refuel our bodies.

Tell me a little bit about yourself, your athletic background, and what you do today?

My name is Ryan Flaherty and I am the founder of Prolific Athletes LLC, a sports performance training company based in Carlsbad, California, that specializes in teaching athletes of all levels to be fast and injury free. We train all types of athletes including professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, MLB, Olympic Track and Field athletes, NCAA All Americans, and high school athletes all the way down to middle school all-stars. Our facility is focused on two very important athletic principles, which are speed and injury prevention. As a kid growing up I was not considered fast. I vividly remember when I was playing in a Little League baseball game and I was thrown out at first base when I hit a line drive to center field. Those familiar with baseball know that should never happen. As I was jogging past my coach back to the dugout I asked him what happened and he told me, “well, apparently you forgot to unhitch the trailer from behind you.” Aside from my coach needing a lesson in coaching kids, he was right, I was slow. Shortly after my embarrassing experience in baseball my mom made me join a track and field club at my middle school. At the time I was so frustrated because I was the only one out of all my friends that had to run track. But, looking back on it today I can emphatically say it was the best ‘athletic’ decision my mom ever made for me. My youth track coach, Paul Clark, spent countless hours with me to develop proper sprint mechanics and running form. The hard work paid off and soon I was one of the fastest kids in my middle school, then high school, and then college. I played football at Utah State University and was one of the faster players on the team, despite my size (I weighed 255 pounds). My speed combined with my size was not common and I was fortunate to have a great college career. The competitive advantage I had was that I learned at a very young age a secret that not many people know: speed is not something you’re necessarily born with, it is actually a skill that can be learned.

I am fortunate to now teach the youth athletes I work with what I was able to learn at a young age so they can reach their full athletic potential. Along with speed training, our philosophy equally emphasizes injury prevention. At the end of my football career I suffered several knee injuries that forced me to retire prematurely. Because of the injuries I became very motivated to understand the reason why they happened. I educated myself on ACL injuries while I was in graduate school and realized the archaic training I was getting from collegiate and professional strength coaches is what led to my knee injuries. Their programs were based on getting bigger, lifting heavier, and training harder. Much like nutrition, these “experts” or coaches were indoctrinated in old-school science and methodology. Today, a big part of what I am passionate about is being able to deliver the latest and greatest in science and research to the athletes I work with and help them to avoid injuries. Every athlete I work with is given an in-depth biomechanic movement analysis, movement screen, and we review past injuries before I design their unique training program. The information we gather gives me what I need to know to ensure that we are going to pinpoint their imbalances and develop those weaknesses to build a strong, balanced athlete.

What type of athletes do you work with?

Athletes that I train range from a 12-year-old kid who plays for the local Pop Warner (youth football league) all the way to Pro Bowl NFL quarterbacks. We have multiple programs that we offer for youth athletes that teach them how to sprint properly, change-of-direction speed, stimulus response training, flexibility, and core strength. Our High School programs offer the same as the youth training and here we introduce weight training. We also have a large NFL combine training program that prepares future NFL stars for the NFL combine and draft. I work with over 100 NFL players including: Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Donovan McNabb, Vince Young, and Vincent Jackson. I also work with several Division 1 programs as a consultant to their strength staff.  And, we recently launched our Non-Profit that trains a local inner city high school that is nominated based on their need. We train their athletes for a year, train their coaches on our training programs, and we give their weight room a makeover. This past year, Kearny High School (San Diego) was chosen and it was an amazing experience for us. 

Prior to using Super Starch, what sort of products did you use yourself?  What about your athletes?

Over the course of my career I have tried a lot of supplements. I’ve used whey protein, casein protein, egg protein, branch chain amino acids, glutamine, creatine monohydrate, waxy maize, pre-workout supplements…the list goes on and on. I am not a big proponent of supplement use with my athletes because it’s a slippery slope with the lack of research associated with a majority of these products. I emphasize getting their nutrients from food as opposed to using supplements and I preach high fat, low carbs, and eliminating sugar from their diets. Most recently, however, I have become a huge fan of Super Starch.

How did you learn about Super Starch?

I was introduced to Generation UCAN by you, (Peter Attia). I had actually never heard of it prior to you giving me some to try on my own last year. At the time I was struggling in my own personal training after making the switch to a higher fat, low carb, no sugar lifestyle and it made a big difference for me personally.

What did you notice, personally, when you switched from other sports nutrition products to Super Starch?

I have always struggled figuring out when and what to eat prior to workouts. I became accustomed to either having an upset stomach while I was training or, to avoid a stomachache, I wouldn’t eat and would bonk in workouts. It was a constant struggle to figure out the right combination of certain foods or supplements and timing my digestion to optimize my own performance.  I never quite figured it out, until I found Super Starch. I take it about a hour prior to my workouts and it doesn’t upset my stomach, it gives me steady energy, and I get a carbohydrate source that allows me to keep burning fat stores.

What have your athletes been telling you about the changes they’ve noticed since switching to Super Starch?

I have about 20 NFL athletes that are currently using Super Starch. I train a NFL athlete for a total of 5 months throughout the year. Every workout is very important to their overall improvement and missing one of those workouts can be a major set back in their progress. I have had so many athletes over the years miss workouts because of getting nauseated or because they didn’t eat and they crash halfway through. So, for a lot of these athletes Super Starch is a big deal. I would say the overwhelming response I get from them is that they feel like they can make it through our workouts without getting nauseas, they feel like they are stronger at the end of the workout, and that they love the fact that it’s so convenient for them when they are on the road travelling or running short on time.

Have you or your athletes found any downside to using Super Starch?

The problem I experience most with Super Starch is the chalky taste. I usually have them try making a smoothie with Super Starch, almond butter, heavy cream, almond milk, and ice. It is so good that they usually all come back with rave reviews of the smoothie and that helps with the chalky taste issue.

A lot of the athletes you train seem to exercise so much – many of them are professional athletes – why do they even care about fat burning?

A big misconception is that elite athletes don’t struggle with weight issues. I have professional athletes I train who have struggled with their weight for years. Most of these guys have a target weight that they have to be when they report to the NFL team they play for and if they fail to meet the weight expectation, they can either get released or fail their physical. I have actually seen the biggest benefit of Super Starch with the 300+ pound NFL athletes because it gives them an energy source that will keep them burning body fat while they train. This past summer I had a defensive tackle from a NFL team go from 340 to 315 pounds just by using Super Starch and removing all other supplements that contained sugar from his diet.

Have you encountered athletes who do not benefit from Super Starch?

The athletes that have not benefited from taking it have been the ones who either haven’t enjoyed the taste and didn’t continue, or guys who didn’t give it a chance because they didn’t feel a more immediate effect. Supplements these days usually make the athletes feel the effects in their workout after taking it only one time. Whether it’s the caffeine or beta alanine, the effects are pretty immediate. The thing about Super Starch is the effects are not very noticeable unless you struggle with GI distress, which Super Starch immediately helps with.

What do you see as the most important factors necessary to give athletes and parents of youth athletes the best information possible to make an informed decision about what sports nutrition products they use?

Some products out there have incredible marketing and I see so many parents giving their kids crap and thinking because Michael Jordan is on the commercial it must be great. (Cough) Gatorade. I think educating parents on the truth behind other products and comparing them to Super Starch in a simple way is a start. In order to make a nutrition product something that athletes can’t live without, it needs to serve a purpose in their life or they won’t care about it. So, that’s where I think the benefits of no GI distress come in to play for a lot of my athletes. Once I was able to show the difference between eating a heavy meal or drinking a UCAN shake and how much better their stomach felt during the workout, that was a selling point for them. Now they can’t train without it and they are telling their teammates, family members, and so on.

What do you see as the benefit of Super Starch for average people and their relatively more moderate exercise regimen?

I think the benefits would be the exact same benefits as the athletes I work with: it’s convenience for people who don’t have the luxury of being able to time their meals with meetings, the fact that it will keep them burning fat and not spike insulin levels, and providing a steady carbohydrate energy source.

Photo by Kolleen Gladden on Unsplash

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  1. Peter,

    Yet another great post! My question concerning SS is for a person who follows a high fat, moderate protein and low carb diet as you and myself When consuming SS (being a pure carbohydrate) how does that effect your diet? Yes, I understand that it does not spike blood sugar levels but a carbohydrate is a carbohydrate. So 4g of carbohydrate equals 1 tsp of sugar in our body. As we know, excess sugar causes a hormonal imbalance, which leads to carbohydrate cravings and weight gain, literally turning your body into a fat-storing machine rather then a fat-burning machine. So how does SS not turn a fat burner into a sugar burner?

    • The only evidence we have to evaluate that question is the single external study suggesting SS does not impeded access to NEFA during exercise. I suspect there is a dose response at play, though. Perhaps in unlimited amounts it might do what you suggest. No data to be clear. However, for most of us, it’s not necessary to use it in such quantities.

    • That actually makes sense, LOL. So from a distance runner perspective, since I utilize BF rather then carbohydrates using SS can actually prolong my ATP supply by “dipping” into this SS carb as a “back-up” supply while it is supplying glucose to the brain and the body is using BF as fuel.

  2. Hi Peter,

    I was wondering if you could discribe the difference between SS and the WM-HDP resistant starch product that is making its way through the Bodybuilding and Physique world at the moment. It seems that the WM-HDP is linked to a similar concept yet I think it utilizes a different mode of action. Any thoughts/input?

    • Without a head-to-head clinical trial, we don’t know. Based on processing, though, SS is a much higher molecular weight, and therefore much lower osmolality. How much of a difference this makes in insulin response and fat oxidation, would only be speculation on my part, but there is reason to expect these products to behave with quite different kinetics.

  3. Thank you for the timely response. I personally have experimented with both products and feel that the SS better suits my needs. I was just wondering because there seems to be a tremendous lack of thurough explaination on the WM-HDP. I felt the same about the SS until I saw the video you recently put out. Hearing your breakdown of SS confirmed what I thought it was doing and knowing definitively what it does makes me feel more confident in using it.
    Love this site by the way. Top notch

  4. Hi Peter. I’ve been on a sub 150 carb diet for about a year now and a sub 50 carb high fat diet for about 4-5 months. I recently found out that my T3 (thyroid levels) are low…I’m not sure if this is due to low carbohydrates or to the fact that I have been consuming only about 1,200-1,400 calories a day (I am 6’2 185 pounds).

    I’ve done a lot of reading and found several studies that hint that low carb diets lower T3, but I suspect it’s actually the low calories – Have you had a chance to test your TSH and Free T4 Free T3 levels to see how your diet has affected you? Since you eat a lot of calories a day but are low carb you would be a good indicator (although not proof) of whether the lower T3 levels is due to low carb or low calories.
    As a side note I have recently increased my calories to around 2,400 a day.

  5. Hello Peter,

    First of all, thank you for this website and all the research that you have done and continue to do, it has been a great help to many of us.

    I am hoping to receive some guidance from you on a difficult issue with which I struggling, and perhaps SS is the answer. After starting a low-carb diet (<20gm Carb/Day and <75gm Protein/Day, eliminating Diet Soda) roughly two weeks ago, I have noticed that my energy levels are often extremely low, and I often become very tired in the afternoon. While I recognize that I am still very early in the process, I am wondering if my lack of energy and general fatigue in making the switch is due to a lack of keto-adaptation or something else. Assuming that I am still making the physiological switch, would SS be good to use as a source of Carbs in my diet to assist in my transition to nutritional ketosis, or would it simply cause the process to take longer?

    Finally, I am curious to know if the energy drop and fatigue experienced are normal aspects of a switch to nutritional ketosis or is this unusual? I don't see many (any) comments on this type of issue on the blog, so I am curious as to your and others' experience moving from high-carb, low-fat diet to low-carb/high-fat.

    Thank you, Peter

    • Nathan, hard to say without spending a while asking lots of questions. Adaptation takes a while and certainly trying SS might be a reasonable bridge or adjunct.

    • Hi
      I found that when one starts a keto diet make sure right from the beginning you are getting extra salt, potassium, calcium and magnesium every single day .
      It took me 21/2 months to really start to feel good on a keto diet. The biggest mistake everyone seems to make is underestimating the extra salt and potassium (and extra water one should drink) one needs to eat every single day .
      If your salt and potassium drop too low you will feel exhausted.
      I drink zipfizz in 32 ounces of water and add 1/4 of a teaspoon of salt (slightly heaped) to it.
      I am not an athlete so do not need as much salt as they do.
      Avocados are a great source of potassium as well and make a great addition to ketogenic smoothies.
      1/2 a medium avocado has 550 mg of potassium. Ones daily requirement for potassium is 3000 – 4000 mg per day.
      1/2 cup cooked spinach has 419 mg
      1 medium tomato has 273 mg potassium
      6 ounces tomato juice has 658 mg potassium
      Zipfizz is available at Walmart and I think Costco. It contains 60 mg sodium, 950 mg potassium, B vitamins, 500 mg vitamin C, zinc, calcium, magnesium, chromium, vitamin E etc.
      Try this smoothie : Blend a scoop vanilla protein power, coconut milk, avocado, spinach, some fresh mint and ice together.
      Best of luck on your transition. Be patient with your body and do not get too stressed about it. Your body will adapt it just can take some time.

  6. Hi Peter,
    I have read your blog with interest and I listened to your podcast with Jimmy Moore the other day.
    I am a Doctor from the UK, I also train as a long distance triathlete and timetrial/road race cyclist and over the past 3 years I have converted myself to be a fat burner. I live almost on fats alone and generally stay below 50g and although I don’t have a ketone monitor at the moment I believe I am living pretty ketogenic.
    I train 20-30 hours a week and train almost soley on a combination of coconut milk, a homemade bar made out of creamed coconut, cashew nut butter and 90% dark chocolate (yum!). And to be honest i’ve felt great.
    But I’ve always been worried (or thought I could be increasing my performance) with a bit of carbs on the fly, but I am wary of maltodextrin etc. as I don’t want to cause insulin spikes that will shut off my fatty acid oxidation which I believe my body heavily relies on.

    I have been fascinated by superstarch, but we can’t get it over here! I am currently speaking to a nutrition company over here regarding coconut based sports nutrition and also possibly bringing superstarch into the uk.

    I just wondered if you had found any information of the superstarch versus the only seemingly available alternative over here which would be waxy maize starch. This stuff is cheap over here, and I am not sure I have seen anything in the literature which would justify the effort and expense of importing superstarch.
    What do you think?


    • Tm, see previous response to this question. Very different molecular properties between WM and SS. How much of a difference this translates to in a clinical trial, I do not know. But big difference between SS and MAL. I suspect WM is closer to MAL, but would need to look at trials.

  7. Hi Peter,
    Not directly related to SS, but general bio-energetics:

    I’ve noticed that during a hard workout (~1000 Calories), my betahydroxybuterate (BHB) levels drop about 1.5 mM. So I thought I would calculate how many Calories that 1.5 mM drop corresponded to. 6.4 L(of blood) * 1.5 mmol/L = 9.6 mmol of BHB. I don’t have a good figure for the Caloric value of BHB. So I used 1/2 of glucose, or 343 kcal/mol.

    So only about 3.5 Calories! Even if you presume a similar amount from AcAc and glucose you still are looking at just over 10 Calories of these fuels available in my bloodstream at any given time.

    Do you think that means that most of my energy is coming from oxidizing other FFAs, or that there is just a steady flow of ketone bodies pouring into my bloodstream to feed me?

    • Based on the work of Richard Veech and Keiren Clark, the caloric value of B-OHB is actually greater than glucose — about 4.7 kcal/gm. 1 mole of glucose is about 180 gm, about 720 kcal. So based on this, ~10 mmol of B-OHB would amount to (4.7/4)*720*10/1000 = ~8.5 kcal.
      However, this calculation assumes no production of B-OHB. Think about this way, if your glucose is 85 mg/dL at the beginning of a workout and goes up to 90 (or down to 80), this trivial delta says nothing of the hepatic glucose output.

  8. Hi Peter,
    Yes, I get it, B-OHB levels in the blood just indicate the “diameter of the fuel lines” not the size of the “fuel tank”.

    Thanks, by googling Veech and Clark I found a related review article (doi: 10.131/ nr.2003.oct.327– 341) that says the turnover time for blood ketones was approximately 2 minutes. But I guess when exercising hepatic ketone body output could increase.

    But that is moot because the same review also mentions that after keto-adaptation muscles stop using ketone bodies and instead subsist on free fatty acids. Which I vaguely remember reading in various places previously.

    Great site, by the way. I read all your blog entries and many of the comments. Good luck with NuSI!

  9. Hi again, thanks for the reply Peter.
    I read with interest your article on the effect of a ketogenic diet on your performance and have told many many people about the changes seen on your physiological testing. You mentioned a way of keeping your top end, do you think this has been accomplished with superstarch?
    Is there a plan for more testing to see if you have re-gained your VO2max?
    Personally having reviewed your results with some sports physiology friends of mine we came to conclusion that we do not believe you ‘lost’ your top end/VO2max, we think its a function of your ability to produce energy so well at submaximal intensities that you no longer need or push your VO2max. We know that VO2max is very fickle and if you don’t push it it tends to drop. Well by looking at the kind of training you do we hypothesized that you no longer push your VO2max the same way you did before as you are not relying on your Oxygen delivery systems as much because of your ability to produce significantly more energy with fats over carbs.
    just our thoughts.

    • Very possible, Tom. Certainly, I became more substrate flexible at anything and everything below threshold without any loss in efficiency or time to exhaustion. The real question, once fully adapted, is how does having 50-60% of pre-existing glycogen stores impact glycolytic pathways? There is so much evidence suggesting that glycogen depletion improve all facets of beta-oxidation of fat, what’s not clear (to me, at least), is absent the quantity of glycogen issue, is there any change in function.

  10. I’m a low weight female (underweight) , not an athlete. 31 years old. Lots of back pain and digestive issues, etc. I’m confused now…can low carb be making me with all this intense low back pain? I’m not uber-low carb now ..trust me, I eat carbs…but not a lot (not in relation to fats and proteins)..

  11. Peter,
    That would be one of my worries. I have no problem with a significant reduction in glycogen as I don’t believe I use it much these days! But what I do worry about is whether my ability to use carbs when I need them has been diminished by down-regulation of glycolytic pathways due to the lack of carbohydrate ingestion/use in submaximal activity.
    I personally believe that my body is clever enough to retain its ability to metobolise carbohydrate if I continue to require it to do so on those occasions when I push the intensity. I have therefore made sure I include a little bit of hard effort in all of my rides, it seems to be doing the trick as despite being very low carb I can push the intensity of rides for long periods without any ill effect, I certainly do not feel that I have lost an ounce of my ‘top end’ as if anything my power at VO2max has increased.

  12. Oh and why do my comments say ‘awaiting moderation’ and take so long to be active on the site?

    • Comments sit in ‘awaiting moderation’ land so I can see them in one place and try to respond. Without that feature, I’d never respond to a single comment.

  13. No offense Mr. Hughes but, “So long in moderation ?” I think Dr. Attia’s responses are the fastest , most complete I have ever saw on a blog. By the way, Happy Thanksgiving Peter! May you and your family have a wonderful holiday. I so appreciate each and every post. Without this blog I would have never learned the tools I needed. This is my first holiday that I do not have to worry about how much I can eat. I can sit in front of endless desserts and not once have a twinge of a craving! I am truly grateful for your tireless dedication to helping those of us with overwhelming weight issues achieve such astounding success. Thank you for calmly deescalating my panic when the scale shows weight gain, for putting up with my frustration driven rants, and insipid puling.

    • Thanks so much for the kind wishes, Ellen. I’m actually using this slight break (back from Houston yesterday and don’t get on a plane again for a while week!) to work on what I hope will be a good summary and overview of ketosis for this week’s post.

  14. Hi Peter,
    Thanks for the response, that makes sense, sorry I wasn’t questioning your speed of replying I just thought I might be doing something wrong! I have never posted a comment on a blog before!
    I am really interested in what you are doing Peter, there is very little evidence on the performance side of this diet. Personally I believe it has the potential to not only match carb fueled performance but improve on it. I’m looking forward to the latest work from Volek and Phinney.
    Ellen I think you got the wrong end of the stick so to speak!
    Dr Tom Hughes

  15. Happy Thanksgiving Peter to you and your family! Enjoy precious time together!

    I can’t thank you enough for all you have taught me this year. Not only have I learned so much from you, and no doubt will improve my health and my husband’s health for the future…but you have gotten me over my fear of math and science 🙂 Thank you so much for your dedication and selfless hard work. Maryann

  16. Dr. Attia,

    I love your detailed blogs and am enthused by how you and Gary Taubes have started NuSI to test lo-carb theory.

    Having been on a ketogenic diet (as “confirmed”) by Ketostix for 5 months I have experienced some problems in my workouts. Mostly I am a long-distance cyclist ( having traversed America several times) and I did note most recently that I just did not need to stop & eat a burrito or chips or guzzle Gatorade every hour like my friends did. I could go without much food at all and felt I was constantly waiting for them outside 7-11 stores as they shopped for more carbs.

    When not cycling cross country, though, I favor 60- or 90 minute workouts on my gym’s stepmill ( escalator type) and have for years. When I began my low-carb diet I noticed that I seemed to get much hotter much sooner on the stepmill, and my heart rate would zoom. I start at about 90 bpm but by half an hour the heart rate reaches 160 or more. (Rather fast for a 61-year-old). Nonetheless I try to tough it out but it is really uncomfortable after 45 minutes. Using fans and drinking water forestalls this effect for a bit — 10 minutes or so. The thing is, I don’t remember experiencing these effects so dramatically before the ketogenic diet, nor getting so hot. I tried diluted SS recently and it may have helped slightly but not conclusively. Do you have any ideas why a low-carb diet would so raise heat production? ( I suspect heat is the underlying problem.) Your thoughts would be most welcome.

  17. Hi Peter
    I have been trying to cut carbs for a few weeks now and it has been working well for me. I’m doing my first marathon in 10 days’ time and I’m wondering what I should use for fuel during the race?
    I currently live in Thailand.
    Thanks very much.

    • Might be trough to try such a huge demand after a big shift in diet. Maybe look to low sugar carbs, like nuts if you can tolerate them, but make sure you test during training. If you can find some SS, that would probably be easier. Same caveat with training, though.

  18. Merry Christmas Peter!
    I love this site!
    Short Question, if I am keeping under 50carbs a day and eat SS – does that count to my 50g of carbs a day?
    Thank you,


  19. That makes sense, so today for example I ran my long run of 20K having one 25g servings of ss before and after.
    I tested my ketone levels and was at 1.3 Mm about 2 hours after the run.
    At this point I am running about an hour at a time on the week days (various intensity) and a long slow run each Saturday. I feel like I could “not count’ the carbs in the Superstarch when doing these types of runs, or is that not right, or only partly right.
    Thank you again, best blog ever!

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