Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Preliminary Experiment with UCAN

Getting ready for Xterra Lory next week and starting to thing about race nutrition.  Last year I got some pretty debilitating cramps after having GU early after the swim in my last 2 races which were on the long side (Xterra Nationals and Xterra Buffalo Creek).  Up until then I'd tolerated GU pretty well.  One theory I have is that I've finally lost my ability to tolerate any sugar whatsoever during a hard athletic effort.  I'd barely used any commercial bars or gels during my training last summer, either using nothing or sometimes taking bars that Jonny had made that had some sugar but probably not nearly as much as a typical energy bar.  I'm not a fan of these commercial products which are full of sugar (because, duh, that's the point) but also other chemicals.  I hate the artificial taste they have and sometimes even the smell of them, mostly the sports drinks, barfs me out.  SO gross. 

With the tweaks to my diet (less carbs, more fats but so far not to the level of ketosis) I've been able to go up to 2 hours with no fueling.  Easily.  Sometimes even in a nearly fasted state.  Lory may take me 2:15-2:30 hours and I'll be going at a hard race effort so I'm on the fence about whether I'll need something and if so, what?  Last year I took 2 GU's and I tolerated them o.k. but do I need anything this time around?

Enter UCAN which is a waxy maize that's been run through a 40 hour hydrothermal process (don't ask me what's the advantage of that).  In short it's a carbohydrate that releases slowly, doesn't stimulate insulin (and thus block ability to burn fat over carbs) and is easily absorbed.  And of course does not contain any sugar.  In long, well, if you want to know the gory details, Dr. Peter Attia, who is not compensated by the company nor is he a shareholder (at least he wasn't at the time this video was filmed) has a nice science-y explanation of it.  If you want to skip the long biochemistry lesson in how muscle tissue absorbs fuel you can go to the 40 minute mark for more info. about UCAN.

UCAN Presentation from Peter Attia on Vimeo.

There are a number of ways that the product can be used and believe me I'm going to experiment with them but in the interest of my upcoming race I started off my first experiment today using it in between 2 high intensity workouts.  I had an early morning 1 1/4 hour run that consisted of 12 high intensity 30 second hill repeats and then after  some recovery, ten 1:00 minute intervals with high foot turnover.  And I had taken the dogs for a 1/2 hour walk previous.  No food except a bulletproof mocha before the dog walk.

When I got home after my run my stomach was queasy, not hungry at all, so I waited about 15 minutes then had a packet of plain UCAN mixed with 14 oz of water.  My stomach was still queasy but my swim workout was in 45 minutes and I wanted to get something down.  It was pretty much tasteless but had a chalky texture, not too bad but definitely chalky.  My stomach was still queasy after having it and for a brief time almost seemed like it might get worse but then after about 5 minutes or so I actually started to feel better.  This was unexpected, nothing I'd read about the stuff made any claims about settling a queasy stomach.  I was going to be happy enough with things not getting worse, I was incredulous that the stuff seemed to be making my stomach better.

And my workout?  An hour long masters swim workout with some hard sprint intervals.  Normally simply getting through a workout like that after a hard run workout would be a daunting task.  But I was fine, made it through the hard intervals with some of the best times I've ever especially since I was leading the lane so no drafting.  I was hungry when I got home at around 12:15 but was not dizzy, bonky or raiding the container of almond butter for a small snack before I started making lunch like I normally might do.

This is just one trial and of course I need to do many more.  I'll try a few more test runs but so far I'm excited about using it at least before my race if not during.  I wonder as well if it could be a good thing to try at an all day agility trial.  I did pretty well at Regionals, didn't have breakfast other than bulletproof mocha one day (didn't have any one day to see if there was a difference and I can't say that there was much) and wasn't even thinking about food until around 11:00.  I've not been limiting carbs strictly enough to go into ketosis but I do think the reductions I've made have allowed for a greater percentage of fat burning, not as good as someone in ketosis but better than your average person who eats lots of carbs/sugar and better than I was before.  I love not feeling hungry and having to eat snacks all the time.  And I love going to an agility trial and not feeling tired/bonky from not getting enough food.  And I wonder if the UCAN could further help regulate energy, especially on a long hot outdoor trial day.  Maybe if I go to DOCNA Nationals I'll try it out there if not before.

I don't typically promote STUFF and I really don't like nutrition 'products' as opposed to real food.  Like Peter, I don't get any compensation for writing about this stuff.  But I'm happy to have found out about it and thankful for the other folks who wrote about it in blogs and on forum posts.  There simply aren't many fueling options for people who don't want to use or can't tolerate sugary sports products and I'm so happy to have discovered this option and I'm just passing it along.  I'll be posting updates about my experiences with it.  If anyone has questions you can post them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer.  Peter Attia's blog is a good place to start.

A couple of caveats/warnings.  I bought the plain, unflavored UCAN.  It also comes in flavors and with whey protein.  All the flavored stuff has sweeteners, either Splenda or Stevia or something called Monk Fruit Extract, and I'm not o.k. with any of that so I just got plain.  The jury is out on these sweeteners and I'm taking no chances with them, especially not for a race/training.  I'll experiment with adding my own flavors, some unsweetened cocoa and maybe even making a smoothie with some yogurt and/or coconut milk and almond butter.  Should be an interesting summer of experimenting.

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