Generation UCAN: Will It Benefit Your Running Performance?
Traditional sports drinks are pretty simple: sugar, water, some electrolytes, and a bit of flavoring is all you need to make one.
Since sports performance is a big market, there’s no shortage of companies with their own unique take on sports drinks. One company that’s attracted a lot of attention recently is Generation UCAN, which claims that its “SuperStarch” formulation can lead to better performance and better fueling, especially in longer events.
Could this unique starch really outperform a traditional sports drink?
We’ll take a look at a few scientific studies that examined precisely that question.
What is SuperStarch?
Generation UCAN’s “SuperStarch” is a commercialized version of a processed form of corn starch that was originally developed to treat a rare genetic disorder called glycogen storage disease type 1.
People who have this condition can store glycogen in their liver, but can’t release it as free glucose in their bloodstream. As a result, they have chronically low blood sugar. One avenue for treatment is frequent intake of corn starch, which provides a steady influx of glucose into the bloodstream.
As you might imagine, snacking on corn starch every few hours isn’t the most appealing medical treatment, which led researchers to seek out carbohydrate preparations that could provide glucose at a slower, steadier rate. These research efforts led to “waxy maize heat modified starch”—the research-grade form of SuperStarch (1).
By using SuperStarch in a sports drink, UCAN aims to apply the same advantages of this corn starch derivative to sports performance.
The hope is that you’ll get a steadier supply of carbohydrates, instead of the sharp spike in blood sugar that you get from a traditional sports drink.
Evaluating the research on UCAN vs. traditional sports drinks
The first scientific study on the carbohydrate formulation used in UCAN was published in 2011 in the journal Nutrition (2).
The study compared UCAN with a sports drink containing an equivalent caloric amount of maltodextrin in nine cyclists who completed 2.5 hours of cycling with an all-out sprint at the end. All of the subjects in the study completed the experiment twice: once using UCAN, and once using the traditional sports drink.
As expected, UCAN led to a blunted increase in blood glucose, and an increase in fat oxidation. This means the athletes relied more on fat, and less on carbohydrates.
Despite these changes, cycling time trial performance was unchanged.
A follow-up study presented at the 2019 American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting used a similar approach, this time comparing UCAN to maltodextrin in runners completing a three-hour run (3).
Again, blood glucose levels rose more slowly and hit a lower peak when the runners took UCAN compared to when they took a maltodextrin-based sports drink, but as with the cycling study, overall performance did not improve.
Some researchers have raised questions about whether the primary strength of UCAN—its slow rate of absorption—could also be a weakness.
One of the reasons that traditional sports drinks like Gatorade use a combination of fructose and glucose is that these sugars get absorbed very quickly. When carbohydrates sit in your stomach for a long time, they can cause nausea, gas, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal problems.
A 2016 study in cyclists used a three-hour exercise protocol, comparing UCAN to a traditional sports drink (4). In keeping with the research reviewed earlier, this study found that UCAN increased fat oxidation and decreased blood glucose levels, but led to no improvement in performance.
A final study published in 2019 demonstrated that UCAN prevented a decline in soccer-related skills in the second half of a simulated soccer game, but the applicability of this study to running is questionable—you’re not likely going to be dribbling a soccer ball at the end of a marathon (6).
The bottom line on Generation UCAN
Based on the research done so far, a few things are clear…
- UCAN’s SuperStarch is absorbed more slowly in your stomach.
- Your blood glucose levels will rise more slowly when you drink UCAN compared to if you’d taken a traditional sports drink.
- Your fat oxidation will increase compared to using traditional drinks and gels.
- The physiological changes associated with UCAN suggest that it should help even more during ultra events than it does in the marathon since ultra events rely primarily on fat oxidation.
The bottom line is that while UCAN isn’t a miracle worker (i.e. you’re not automatically going to perform better when you use it), it has been proven to improve fat oxidation, meaning you burn a greater percentage of fat versus carbohydrates at race pace.
If you’re someone who has hit the wall or constantly struggles with staying properly fueled during races, UCAN is perhaps the best scientifically-proven product on the market to help.
How to implement in your fueling plan
First, you want to make sure UCAN sits well in your stomach (as you should with any product you try).
So, if you are training for the marathon, you can try swapping out your usual sports drink for UCAN on a day when you’re doing a long, strong run and see how your body reacts.
If you want to give it a try, here’s a link you can use to save 20%. It should be auto applied, but if not use code RTTT.
Second, you’ll want to modify your fueling plan to account for needing less calories from carbohydrates.
Given the percentage change in carbohydrate and fat oxidation when using UCAN, you can expect to need about 30% less calories from carbohydrate during the race.
If you’re not exactly sure how many calories from carbohydrate you need already, you can nab our Marathon Nutrition Blueprint here. It comes with our revolutionary glycogen calculator that tells you exactly how much glycogen you to avoid hitting the wall.
Even better, if you use UCAN, we have a separate calculator to make the adjustment easy. All you’ll need is your weight, gender and goal time and you’ll have an exact fueling plan for the race based on whatever product you want to use.
If you’re not interested in the Nutrition Blueprint, you can watch this video to see how to calculate your own glycogen use.
Let us know if you have any questions!