A sports drink that boasts an intriguing new kind of long lasting carbohydrate could also give diabetics options for better blood glucose control.
Generation UCAN is a powdered sports drink mix that features a proprietary component the company calls “SuperStarch.” As hyperbolic as the name sounds, it is a genuinely significant improvement in sports nutrition with potential applications in many other areas, such as health nutrition and nutrition for diabetics, according to Peter Kaufman, a co-founder of Generation UCAN who is in charge of sales and marketing for the company. “In the last 20 to 25 years there hasn’t been a breakthrough or improvement in carbohydrate technology,” Kaufman says. “But SuperStarch is a real breakthrough.”
The breakthrough rests in the fact that Generation UCAN is a long acting, time-released carbohydrate. Unlike most sugar-based sports drinks, gels, and bars, Generation UCAN does not cause a spike in blood sugar when it’s taken. Avoiding that spike means avoiding the blood sugar crash that generally comes less than an hour or so later. “Maltodextrine, which is used in energy gels, is a more complex form of carbohydrate than the kinds of sugars you find in Gatorade,” Kaufman says about the polymer derived from corn syrup in products like Cytomax. “But even with that you need to ingest a dose every 30 minutes to avoid an energy crash from the release of insulin that it triggers.” Kaufman says one serving of UCAN provides a consistent stream of complex carbohydrate energy that keeps blood glucose levels relatively even for as little as two hours and as long as eight hours.
For United States Olympic marathoner Meb Keflezighi and scores of athletes on professional and college teams in football, baseball, hockey, swimming, cycling, judo and other sports Generation UCAN is being touted as a nutritional improvement that allows them to perform at their peak for longer periods of time than existing nutritional options. For diabetics the applications might be more dramatic. Because Generation UCAN doesn’t produce a dreaded sugar high, diabetics who use it before exercise or as a meal or snack replacement, won’t have to suffer through a high blood sugar spike before it comes down, or they won’t need to take as much, or any, insulin after they ingest UCAN and risk having their sugar crash as a result of the dose. Kaufman says diabetic athletes and non-athletes are using Generation UCAN as a nighttime snack because it helps eliminate overnight hypoglycemia attacks. And the drink mix has significantly improved the lives of one diabetic child and his mother.
“I have a type one diabetic two-year-old that was diagnosed over a year ago. We have been fighting extremely low sugars every time he naps or sleeps. He is a skinny little dude and metabolizes through the insulin and food so quickly that dosing has become a stress and fear filled headache for me,” Randi McMyn posted on Facebook last November about how she had to wake her son up every few hours to test and give him food throughout the night and day. A friend said Generation UCAN might be a long-acting solution to combating the frequent low blood sugar episodes. She tried it “in his milk, I bolus only for the milk and nothing more… He sleeps for three times as long as usual and got to wake up by himself rather than by his crazed mother force feeding him glucose! He is so happy and smiley, but the best part was he started, tested the entire time, and woke up at the same blood glucose!!”
Generation UCAN was released in April 2010 after being developed privately by David Feldman as a treatment for his son Jonah, who suffers from a rare disease called Glycogen Storage Disease (GSD). Because of a genetic defect, people with GSD cannot convert glycogen to glucose and, as a result have to eat every couple of hours to prevent hypoglycemia. Feldman’s quest for a cure led him to a company in Scotland that, working with another client studying GSD in London, had developed an all-natural, slow release starch that is a corn-based food and not a supplement, according to Kaufman. The chief ingredient, listed under the Nutrition Facts on each envelope of Generation UCAN, is “Modified Corn Starch.” The modification includes adding heat and water in a proprietary process that takes 40 hours; no chemicals are used, Kaufman says.
Thanks to Generation UCAN, Jonah not only was able to sleep through the night without having to be woken up and fed every couple of hours, but his condition and health improved. After that success Feldman and his partners considered commercial applications for Generation UCAN. They spoke to sports nutritionists, including one at the University of Florida where Gatorade was developed, who informed them that they had a product that could be a fantastic energy source for athletes. They also learned Generation UCAN did more than deliver hours of steady energy without sugar spikes and crashes. Because insulin inhibits fat burning and Generation UCAN does not spur increased insulin production because it’s not a fast acting sugar, it was discovered that people who drank UCAN instead of eating complex carbohydrates or sugary sports supplements increased their fat burning capacity and lost weight. (Kaufman cautions that Generation UCAN is not being marketed as a weight loss supplement, and that any claims about weight loss are anecdotal and not clinically proven. Ditto for diabetes claims.) Also, Generation UCAN does not cause gastric distress, according to Kaufman. “The molecule that comprises Generation UCAN is so large it passes through the stomach quickly and intact so it doesn’t upset the stomach.”
Kaufman says beyond the energy/sports drink market, Generation UCAN is examining applications for their product in the areas of fitness, weight management, and diabetes. Their forays into the diabetes market include independent studies on diabetes prevention through weight management and a clinical examination into the precise extent that Generation UCAN might curb overnight hypoglycemia episodes.
“We are very, very excited about what the future holds for Generation UCAN and for how we might be able to improve the lives of diabetics,” says Kaufman.
Next Week: I test Generation UCAN as a meal and snack replacement and as an energy source for exercise.
Alex O’Meara is the author of the book, Chasing Medical Miracles: The Promise and Perils of Clinical Trials. He writes the blog The Other Side of Diabetes.