Generation UCAN Alternative You Can Make For Pennies

After a disappointing DNF at the Richmond Marathon due to nutrition issues, I’m going back to the drawing board.

Several runners I know, some at the elite level, swear by Generation UCAN, a modified cornstarch and flavoring mix that you add to water.  I’ve thought about trying it, but the $60 price tag (around $2 per serving) has always struck me as excessive.

ucanMy inner skeptic alarm goes off every time I go to the UCAN website (and so does this guy’s in a surprisingly funny and geeky post about the UCAN hype). We are talking about cornstarch, right?  The cheap-as-dirt thickener for gravy that can be found at any grocery store for pennies?

Well, yes and no.

First a little background on UCAN.  It was developed initially to treat people with a rare condition called glycogen storage disease (GDS).  People with this life-threatening condition cannot properly store glycogen and their blood glucose levels fall to dangerous levels while they sleep.

In 1984, it was discovered that ingesting uncooked cornstarch before bed kept patients’ glucose levels in the desired range and dramatically improved their lives, many of them children.

Cornstarch is cheap, simple, and effective.

argo

The only problem with uncooked cornstarch therapy?  After about 4.5 hours, glucose levels start to fall and a second dose is required.  Parents still had to wake up their children in the middle of the night to feed them.

So the scientists came up with a modified form of cornstarch that kept glucose levels stable for 8-10 hours and patients could finally sleep through the night.

Then someone had the bright idea to apply the technology to another group of people who struggle with maintaining steady glycogen levels: endurance athletes.

And UCAN was born.

You can dive deep into the rabbit hole of the science if you like to learn why starch might be better than glucose, fructose, or maltodextrin and you can learn about carbohydrate and fat-burning until your eyes glaze over.

But what I’m after is a solution that is easy on my stomach.  And starch could be the answer.  UCAN claims that because starch empties the stomach quickly and is slowly but completely absorbed into the bloodstream that it is very gentle on the stomach.

THAT IS WHAT I WANT!  Any source of carbohydrate can give me enough fuel to get to the finish line fast, but if I can do it without my stomach revolting the entire time, I’m in.

But do I really need super-expensive UCAN?  Wouldn’t regular cornstarch work?  After all, UCAN was developed because cornstarch “only” keeps blood glucose levels steady 4.5 hours.  I’m certainly not running longer than that and even if I were, I’m wide awake and could take a second dose.

What does the research say?  Well, UCAN’s own researchers compared Argo brand cornstarch to UCAN and glucose levels with Argo were only 9% lower after SEVEN hours versus UCAN.  They didn’t test (or didn’t publish) results after shorter duration, probably because they are likely to be quite similar until the four to five hour point.

Cheap cornstarch from the baking aisle probably works just as well as UCAN!  The only difference is the duration of the effects which can be solved by taking another dose.

So of course, I had to experiment and come up with my own recipe.

Cornstarch and water mixed together is pretty gross tasting, so you need to flavor it somehow.  At first I tried a teaspoon of lemon juice with a couple of tablespoons of corn syrup and a few drops of vanilla stevia liquid.  It was fine, but I was hoping to come up with something that is all powdered so it’s easy to transport to any race.

Then I found an awesome, all-natural drink mix called True Lemon.  It’s made up of crystallized lemon, lemon oil, a tiny bit of sugar, and a little stevia.  And it’s less than 13 cents for an 8 ounce serving!  Perfect!

lemon

I’ve taken it on a few runs so far this week and so far so good.  No tummy troubles at all, but I’ll keep experimenting with it, especially at race pace.

How does my homemade version compare to lemon UCAN?  A single-serving packet of lemon UCAN (not the scoop) contains 28 grams of carbohydrate, 110 calories, 230mg sodium, and 140mg potassium.

My version is 30 grams of carbohydrate, 136 calories, 219mg sodium, and 87mg potassium plus a small amount of magnesium and calcium.  I’m not going to pretend it’s as delicious as a fresh-squeezed lemonade (neither is UCAN), but it is not bad at all, just a slight chalkiness.

Let me know what you think!

Serves two (8 ounce servings)

DIY Generation UCAN

A homemade version of Generation UCAN SuperStarch for pennies!

5 minTotal Time

Save RecipeSave Recipe

Ingredients

  • 70 grams (8 2/3 tablespoons) cornstarch
  • 1 True Lemon packet
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon Morton's Lite Salt
  • 16 ounces of water

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients and pour into two 8 ounce water bottles.

Notes

136 calories 30.6 grams of carbohydrate 219 mg sodium 87 mg potassium

7.6.4
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http://theplantedrunner.com/generation-ucan-alternative-you-can-make-for-pennies/

 

 

 

33 Replies to “Generation UCAN Alternative You Can Make For Pennies”

  1. Hi Claire! So, I've been doing some research and testing of my own and think I've come up with a hack (due to not being able to find True Lemon here) which is to mix plain cornstarch with a UCan hydrate electrolyte powder packet (these were an accidental purchase and relatively cheap for a 12 pack). I'm thinking about maybe, possibly doing a 100km race in June and need to get this nutrition stuff sorted way before then!
  2. Nice idea, Jo! I had a thought to mix it with Nuun. Haven't tried it yet though. I've really been liking this way better than gels on my runs. So far, no tummy issues at all!
    1. Hi Claire, I am trying the recipe with true lemon out sat. I was tired of paying ucan . My question is if I consume one 8 oz. Bottle is that equal to one scoop of ucan.(scoop is supposed to last around 1 1/2 hrs? I get a serving and a scoop confused. Thanks for your advice, Mike from Dallas
      1. Glad you are trying it, Mike. Let me know how it goes. It looks like a scoop from a tub of Lemonade UCAN is 80 calories and a serving from a packet is 110. My recipe has 136 calories, so a bit more than both. Does that help?
  3. […] experimenting more with my DIY UCAN recipes, I came up with a brand new flavor that just might be “the […]
  4. Came across your article while researching UCAN. Greatly appreciate your research into this. So before I make an over priced UCAN purchase, I will give the basic Argo cornstarch a try. I am going to make a 5oz gel flask with it. But I am going to mix it with some of the Peanut Butter powder that is available and some of the iced coffee concentrates, found in the coffee isle at my local grocery store. So I will be getting the cornstarch for fuel with the protein and flavor from the PB powder, and some caffeine and flavor from the coffee concentrate.
    1. Great idea! I have tried it with PB Fit and cocoa powder for a peanut butter chocolate flavor and that works well. I also have a chocolate "milk" recipe on the site that is awesome. Please write back and let me know what you come up with!
  5. Martin W Thorne says: Reply
    Tried the Cornstarch Ucan recipe on a hot 10-miler midday. Used only 6 tablespoons instead of 8 per your recipe. Worked really well. Did not finished the 20oz bottle because of feeling full & hydrated. Will try it again with 2 bottles for a 30-mile trail training run on Saturday. If Saturday goes well, I will use it for a 50-miler nite race in June. Keep the recipes coming. No energy crashes. Got a 100 miler planned in October. Below is my strava address https://www.strava.com/athletes/5462994
    1. So glad you tried it and liked it! It's a game changer for me. Keep me posted on how it works for even longer runs.
  6. Thanks for sharing your experience Claire. I'm curious though, when running a marathon, do you use this in place of (your natural gels)? Do you also hydrate with water? Thx :)
    1. Yes, Marta. I used this instead of gels at the Charleston Marathon this past January and it worked so well. It is not a substitute for water, so you still need to hydrate!
  7. Chris Stout says: Reply
    Claire THANKS for your recipe. Several years ago I changed my diet to fats vs carbs and felt good on longer runs and rides. Still I wanted a boost after 3 or hours. I researched the web and found Dr. Peter Attia would introduced me to super starch and I can. I keep some on hand ever since but it's pricey. I will try your recipe. I've gotten into body building and they use a product called Waxy Maize. Cheaper than ucan. I'm still researching it and insulin affect but potentially it could be an alternative. I thought I'd mention it in case you weren't aware of it. Maybe you are and can give your opinion. Thanks again for trying something and posting it.
    1. Thanks, Chris! I did do some research on waxy maize and as I recall, there were several arguments against using it, so I never tried it. This recipe has worked so beautifully that I'm not sure I need to try anything else! Let me know if you try it.
  8. I am questioning your math (136 calories). According to a google search (and the back of the container), there are about 30 calories per tablespoon cornstarch. 30 x 8 = 240 calories, just for the cornstarch. Anyway, I have experimented with the idea, and tried it out a couple times now. I am still dialing in the "recipe", but I'm pretty happy with it so far. A bit chalky as others have noted, but no stomach problems, compact and light to carry as powder, and mixes pretty easily. Figured I would share: Tbsp=tablespoon tsp=teaspoon 12 Tbsp corn starch (360 Cal) 4 Tbsp powdered peanut butter (90 cal) 8 Tbsp Nestle Quick (chocolate milk powder) (200 Cal) 1 Tbsp instant coffee 1/4 tsp salt 16 ounces water (650 calories)
    1. Sorry, the site clobbered my formatting. The recipe had line breaks when I typed it...
    2. My recipe makes 2 servings so the entire recipe would be 272 calories. Thanks for sharing your recipe! I have a chocolate version on the site: http://theplantedrunner.com/sugar-free-chocolate-milk-race-fuel/ and I've also experimented with PB powder, but haven't used instant coffee yet. I'll have to try that! Thanks, Colin.
      1. I took a look at the other recipe. Thanks. I have never found a sugar alternative that I liked. If stevia works for you, great. I like the idea one commenter mentioned about using molasses. I'll try that one of these times, but I worry that it may be sticky and harder to mix. Not sure how easily that digests either. The reason I don't worry about the sugar is that it actually makes this a hybrid drink where the sugar calories will be available quickly and the starch calories will digest more slowly. The peanut butter calories will likely come even more slowly. I have mixed up 4 x 16oz bottles to fuel a 38 mile run I'll be doing to pace a friend at the Western States 100 race next week. Will just throw them (dry) in the backpack and add water as I use them. It worked great in training so I have high hopes. Thanks for sparking these ideas.
        1. Can't wait to hear how it turns out, Colin. Be sure to write back. I'm not anti-sugar and might experiment a little more with a hybrid as well. Although the mix worked so well for me, I'm starting to get superstitious about changing it! Have fun at Western States!
          1. To get a little graphic, I did not have any problems with the "trots" that I sometimes do, but I did have a lot of gas during the run at WS. Next time I use the concoction, I will reduce or eliminate the peanut butter powder. I suspect that is the most difficult item to digest. As for fueling, it did the trick. I had enough energy and it wasn't too difficult to mix on the fly.
          2. Good to know! Keep experimenting and let me know how it goes, Colin.
  9. I have been using Generation UCAN and very interested in your recipe. I wondered if anyone had tried a recipe for the chocolate protein version. Very interested in your thoughts!
    1. Thanks, Lori! I do have a chocolate version here: Sugar Free Chocolate Milk Race Fuel but it does not have protein. I have mixed in some PB Fit peanut butter powder with good success, but you've inspired me to get back to the kitchen! I'll post a recipe soon.
    2. Just came up with a chocolate protein version! Thanks for the inspiration! http://theplantedrunner.com/make-your-own-pb-chocolate-protein-ucan/
  10. […] far the most popular thing I have ever posted is my recipe for DIY Generation UCAN, a sugar-free race fuel made with slow-release carbohydrates that you can mix up in you kitchen for […]
  11. Thank you for sharing your recipes! I've been looking for an alternative to gatorade/ucan/gels/etc... This certainly looks like it's worth a try. One question -- I seem to be able to tolerate sugar pretty well (at least up to 6-7 hours). So I'm wondering if using glucose/fructose as the sweetener would allow me to pack some more calories into each serving? Or, would doing so negate some of "slow release" properties that you're going for? I see "Colin" had a similar idea to use molasses for a "hybrid" recipe... Maybe he'll post his results. I have some 12-hour and 24-hour events coming up next year, so want to find something I can tolerate for longer periods of time. My first 12-hour event was challenging because I got to the point where I just couldn't force the sugar down anymore. Fortunately, there were salty snacks at the aid stations, but I want something I can carry with me (easily).
    1. Nutrition is so individual, so it's hard to predict what will work for you, Mark. Please experiment in training and let me know how it goes!
  12. Merida Miller says: Reply
    Hi! Im so excited to try this. Ive been working on becoming fat adapted for the past 6 weeks now and have a half marathon mid October. Ive been trying to figure out what to take with me on my longer runs. Right now Im just using an electrolyte tab like NUUN (or a version there of I can find, im based in Amsterdam). I was wondering if I used one of those tabs instead of the lemon packet, would I still need to add the salts in your recipe? Thanks!
    1. I think NUUN would work great and you might not need to add anything else. Try it and let me know!
  13. […] http://theplantedrunner.com/generation-ucan-alternative-you-can-make-for-pennies/#comment-1465 […]
  14. I just made my own version this weekend. My second batch tasted a lot better than the first! :-) I added some whey protein to mine (which is what I had on hand). Batch #1 actually used PB2 (similar to PB Fit), but I wasn't crazy about the peanut butter flavor. Basically, I started with your PB Chocolate Protein recipe and went from there. I added some caffeine to mine as well. The current recipe is also scaled-up to make the equivalent of 10 gels (~ 1000 calories). If you're curious, I posted my recipe here: http://marksibert.blogspot.com/2017/09/diy-energy-drinkgels.html Thanks again for the great article!
    1. Glad to hear that you are experimenting with it, Mark! I also find that if I concentrate it too much that it's tough to get out of the bottle. It's more of an issue with the chocolate flavors than the lemon. Perhaps there's some kind of interaction between the cocoa and the starch that clogs the bottles? Not sure. Keep me posted on your lemon experiments!
  15. Just got to say thanks for this. Recently switch to a low carb diet and was looking at how to fuel my cycling rides and races as I was struggling after around 90 mins with mental focus (not good when you are smashing through the trails on a mtb), ucaan kept coming up as the best approach, but was not willing to fork out all that cash. This is brilliant, very easy on the stomach and for the early morning rides, just drink 1 bottle and I am good to go for a brisk 2 hour ride. Cracking stuff!
    1. So great to hear that it works for you, Phil! Thanks for sharing!

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