UCAN markets their products as “smarter energy provided by SuperStarch®, a slow-release complex carbohydrate that uniquely steadies your blood sugar.”
In addition to this review, you may want to take a look at the questions I’ve asked UCAN along with other nutrition brands. I ask them all the same questions so as to be able to understand the differences between the various products better. Check it out here.
The idea is that you don’t experience the spike and crash in your blood glucose that you get from sugary carbs. As a result, it seems to me that you would need fewer calories.
To me, this is a pretty big deal, especially for half and full Ironman races where you’re not able to replace the calories you burn.
That threshold of how many you can replace becomes less of an issue.
Normally, I might be trying to consume 300 calories per hour, but if I can get my nutritional needs on say, 200, I’ll have less chances of any GI issues, have less product to have to mix up, and will have a simpler nutrition plan.
You don’t need to cram as much of the product into your bottles as you may need to with other brands. For example, for a three-hour ride, I would only need two UCAN servings of 37g in one bottle (74g) vs the 207g of Hammer (three scoops), which I’m used to.
Consider that for a full Ironman, I have to jam 414g of Hammer into one bottle; with UCAN it’ll be a cinch as I’ll only need 148g.
UCAN also mentions that another area the product really shines is in longer efforts where many of us experience GI issues. So athletes who typically suffer with stomach issues in the run may want to test out UCAN.
UCAN sent me a pack of products:
- UCAN Performance energy powder
- In a variety of flavours, including unflavoured
- UCAN energy bars
- UCAN hydration powder
Oh, yeah, and they threw in some nice almond cookies – that was appropriate as this was a few days after Christmas.
Test #1: 3-Hour Ride
I wanted to get started with the powder. Depending on flavour, they’re around 110-130 calories, 26-31g of carbs, (a wider range of sodium) 15-240 mg, and not much else.
The unflavoured packs are more basic: Just 110 calories, 26g of carbs, and 15mg of sodium. That’s it.
The consistency is super fine, like powdered sugar. This made it super easy to dissolve. I much prefer this to something like Hammer or SiS.
I had never tried any unflavoured product, and wasn’t sure if it was meant to be consumed on its own or mixed with other ingredients (like in a shake). I emptied two sachets into a bottle and threw it in the fridge overnight.
The next morning I was going to do a 90km social ride on the road bike.
Before the ride, I ate what I normally eat – a small bowl of cereal. In addition, I mixed a vanilla flavoured UCAN packet into another bottle and drank that.
The taste was excellent – almost exactly like the GNC vanilla protein powder I have, but easier to mix due to its super fine powdery-ness.
I didn’t think of it at the time, but UCAN later informed me that the vanilla and chocolate proteins go well with milk, especially unsweetened vanilla almond milk.
In total, the two unflavored sachets (110 calories each) plus the one vanilla (180) would amount to 400 calories for three hours. And 82 carbs (26+26+30) along with 250mg of sodium (15+15+220).
For a three-hour ride, I’d normally consume three scoops of Hammer Perpetuem, amounting to 405 calories, and 81 carbs, and 315 mg of sodium.
Once I got rolling and tried a sip of the unflavoured drink I was kind of pleasantly surprised. There was really no taste at first. It was kind of like chalky water – not good but not bad. I liked the idea of just having the raw energy that you could mix with something else and not have the flavours clash.
But then I soon realised this wasn’t how it was supposed to be done and it kind of got old. The blandness didn’t exactly make me look forward to the next sip.
But I was looking forward to one of the bars I brought along. This was the cinnamon energy bar: 170 calories, 13g SuperStarch®, 5g whey protein, 4g fiber, and 6g sugar.
The thing was downright delicious.
It had the same consistency as a Unicity LC Snap protein bar – hard to explain. Totally unlike any candy bar, grain/granola bar, or even Cliff Bar.
Now my calorie intake was up to 570, 95g of carbs, and 250mg of sodium.
Throughout the three hours, I never felt hungry, full, or anything at all. This is pretty much the same experience I have with Hammer, so I can see this as being a suitable replacement for it.
Test #2: 14km Run
The next day I had a 14km easy run and decided to try the UCAN Hydrate Electrolyte product.
A 3g stick has 300mg sodium, 150mg chloride, 100mg potassium, 50mg magnesium, and 15mg calcium per serving.
I can see that this somewhat different than some other such products, which don’t usually have all five electrolytes. That said, the sodium content is quite low for my extreme needs (1,400+mg per litre of sweat) in my extreme climate (Singapore).
However, the sodium content was high for its size of only 2.93g: 102mg of sodium per gram of product. This is considerably more that of Precision Hydration’s strongest product (PH1500) and more than four times that of their weakest one (PH500).
I added the packet of berry flavoured UCAN Hydrate to a glass. It tasted great and was milder than I expected. This is good news for somebody that may want to mix a few of them in one glass for a higher concentration.
After my run, I had to rush to take my kids to their soccer practice and I didn’t have time to eat. So I mixed up a glass of chocolate flavoured UCAN Performance Energy + Protein Powder and downed it fast.
It didn’t seem to mix as well as the vanilla or unflavoured powders did, but maybe I was in too much of a rush and it was more of a user problem (me) than a product problem.
It tasted pretty much how I expected, which is to say chocolate-y but not too intense. My preference is for the vanilla; both in UCAN incarnates and ice cream. 😂
This held me over for a while, but a few hours later I was still hungry, despite the great eggs and toast my wife made. So I secretly polished off another flavour of UCAN, this time orange.
My 11 year-old son demanded a drink as he though it was milk. We were both happy with the again-mild taste: Clearly orange but toned down to allow for higher concentration. This one mixed up a lot better.
After that, I ate another one of the bars – a chocolate peanut butter. Again, the taste was great, almost like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, but not nearly as rich.
However, unlike the cinnamon bar, this one had a chocolate coating on the outside which had previously melted (I am in Singapore). This would not be something you could carry on a ride, and certainly not appropriate for a race (save for Noresman or some other insane arctic competition).
Oh yeah, I meant to take a picture of it but I ate it so fast I only have the wrapper left.
The chocolate peanut butter bar contained 190 calories, 10g SuperStarch®, 6g whey protein, 5g fiber, and 6g sugar per bar.
At US $2.75 each for only 42g, however, they aren’t cheap. For comparison, a 68g Clif Bar is only US $1.79.
Test #3: 4:15 Ride
I still hadn’t tested the flavoured Performance Energy mixes, so the next Friday night I mixed up two sachets of cranberry raspberry into a bottle.
Like the others, it was easy to mix. The powder is super fine and never lumped up.
As usual, I had my light cereal breakfast and nothing else. The ride was a fairly easy social ride, but it went on for an extra hour and 15 min for a total of 4:15.
Nevertheless, I didn’t bonk or come close to it. I felt great the entire time. No lightheadedness, no feeling of low blood sugar, no hunger whatsoever.
All on a mere 240 calories.
Furthermore, it tasted great. And the consistency of it felt fairly thick for only two servings, which seems to create a greater sensation of satiation. It feels a bit more like food then just flavoured water, which it wasn’t.
There’s more substance despite the small volume. It was much closer to a milkshake than any flavoured drink.
It was so good that at the end of my ride I opened the bottle and drank the warm puddle at the bottom, and still wanted more.
The following chart shows what I normally take with Hammer for a four-hour ride, and what I did with UCAN over 4:15.
In conclusion, SuperStarch does what UCAN promises: Allows you to perform with level blood sugar on fewer calories and carbs.
Also, the products are very versatile. The unflavoured Performance Energy Powder is a brilliant way of letting the athlete add his own flavouring such as fruit, UCAN Hydrate, or anything else.
The fact that the powder is only calories, carbs, and a tiny sprinkle of sodium makes it easy to concoct and combine with other products. See, you only have to sum up the calories and carbs. When you need sodium, you add sodium. When you need other electrolytes, you add those.
And because the electrolyte powder contains 300mg of sodium (plus all of the other four electrolytes) its volume, when mixed into other products, is negligible. I’m used to mixing big 20g sachets into my endurance base fuel, and after 6-7 of them the bottle starts filling up. So I like these 2.83g servings!
Additionally, I only needed two small 37g packets for my 4:15 ride when normally I’d use 276g of Hammer for four hours. It’s way easier to fit 37g into a bottle than 276g.
In my opinion, the unflavoured Performance Energy Powder is a great base to customise your own solution.
Or, of course, if you’re lazy, you just use the Ironmanhacks calculator here, which will sum up any and all products (shameless plug).
The bars tasted great; however I really prefer gels and liquids while racing. That said, there are instructions in the packaging on how to whip up the powder into a gel, which could be a good option.
As with all my reviews, the bottom line is whether or not this product could replace the incumbent, and what it would take. Here we go:
- ✔️ The flavours and range of flavours are great – no issues here.
- ✔️ I’d want it in a tub – no issues there – it’s available that way, just not how I received my samples.
- The cost would have to be competitive
- ✔️ The electrolytes seem to be most cost-effective
- ✔️ At first, the powders seem to be expensive, but you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck.
- ❌The bars are a bit on the high side
- ❌Finally, it would have to be available locally, but it appears to be only available in the US, and through distributors in Canada, Australia, UK, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain. They said it may come to China soon – stay tuned.
|What I liked||What I didn’t like|
|SuperStarch®. It works.||Limited usage instructions on the packaging|
|Super fine, non-clumping powder||The sludge at the bottom of the bottle (other products have this too, though)|
|Versatility (no flavouring)||The non-flavoured powder isn’t great on its own|
|All the flavoured products were delicious||The chocolate coating on the chocolate peanut butter bar melted|
|The electrolyte servings are a mere 2.93g, packing 300mg of sodium|
Would I buy it and use it as my default endurance fuel?
100%. My choice would be to use the unflavorued powder plus the electrolytes.
If you’re in the US, get 15% off your first order here.