After suffering GI distress and bonking, I searched for a powerful on-the-run fueling alternative. Generation Ucan bars deliver on the most important test.
By Henry Howard
Gels. Energy bars. Protein bars. I can’t honestly say that I have tried all of them, but I have tried many varieties and have experimented with a combination of gels and energy bars during my long training runs and races.
I had GI issues from time to time, and wanted something that would give me a boost without side stitches or other dilemmas.
It wasn’t until earlier this summer that I took a closer look at what I was taking for endurance fuel and how a handful of those options affected my gut and performance. My testing and research has definitely paid off, not only for my health but my race times as well.
The right fueling solution for endurance runs
Like many newbie runners, I used Gu Energy gels for my initial half marathons and marathons. After all, that’s what the aid stations provided. When my body needed a boost and a cheerful volunteer offered up a free packet of energy in an easy-to-open package, who was I to argue?
I used Gu gels, and later Hammer Nutrition’s versions, for my long-distance runs and races. I had some stomach discomfort but I knew that the carbs would do me good. Or so I thought.
Earlier this summer, I started sampling Generation Ucan’s energy bars. I absolutely love the Ucan mixes for drinks, which I use for any run 10 miles or longer. The bars did not disappoint. It did not take me long to figure out that I could cut them into easily manageable bite-sized pieces that were easy to transport — and easier to chew on the run.
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The taste test
I don’t recall ever really liking the taste of gels. The flavors — Hammer’s apple cinnamon was my favorite — did make them palatable, if nothing else.
I tried two of Ucan’s five flavors — chocolate and cinnamon swirl. The others are chocolate peanut butter (sounds amazing), peach passion (worth a try) and coffee bean (yuck, I am not a fan of coffee).
The chocolate Ucan bar is delicious and provides a good boost of energy, thanks to its combination of protein and carbs. In fact, I have even gobbled up one of these from time to time when I am need of a snack during the day.
As for the cinnamon swirl option, it has a similar amount of protein and carbs — and other measureable nutritional elements — but lacks the flavor of the chocolate bars. The bar is dense and doesn’t have a real distinct cinnamon flavor.
But after all, I am not using these for a flavorful sensation. I am using these for a powerful but healthful boost during a training run or competition.
Tale of the (nutritional) table
So let’s take a look at how the Ucan bars stack up against the Gu Energy gels and Hammer gels when it comes to ingredients and nutritional value.
I was quickly struck by how the nutritional value overwhelmingly pointed to Ucan as a better option. None of the gels deliver any protein, fat or fiber while there are very similar amounts of carbs and sugar. Some may not consider fat a nutritional value but being able to burn fat makes it worthwhile.
The bars do have roughly twice the number of calories — but after all, during these long runs, I need to replenish calories. And I would much rather do so without constantly stuffing gels in my pie hole.
A close look at the wrappers
I pored deeper into my look at these fueling options and was further emboldened with what I discovered. In examining the labels, this is what I found:
- The top three ingredients for all of the Gu Energy gel options were maltodextrin, water and fructose.
- For Hammer gels, the top three were maltodextrin, water, apple juice concentrate (apple cinnamon) or tapioca syrup (for the chocolate variety).
Maltodextrin, of course, is an artificial sugar.
The top three ingredients in the Ucan bars are SuperStarch (hydrothermally cooked non-GMO corn starch), protein blend (whey protein isolate, milk protein concentrate) and isomaltooligosaccharide.
At first glance, I was concerned with isomaltooligosaccharide — one of those long ingredient names that falls into the “if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it” trap. But upon further review, isomaltooligosaccharide is found naturally in some foods. It is a mixture of short-chain carbohydrates with a digestion-resistant property.
First and foremost, every endurance athlete must practice with various nutrition options before race day. For some, the gels available at most aid stations will suit their needs.
But for those still sorting out GI distress, bonks and other issues, I would recommend experimenting beyond the go-to gels. For me, I will be cutting, carrying and chomping on Ucan energy bars in my upcoming races and long practice runs, as I have been for the past several months.
For me, Ucan bars deliver taste (notably chocolate), a powerful fix of fuel and ingredients I feel comfortable with.
Thanks for the write-up of UCAN bars. I use the UCAN powder before long runs and carry a bar along the way. I too struggled with the gus and hammer gels for my first 3 marathons. So glad I found UCAN! My running buddies use it too!
Thanks, Deena! Ucan is definitely the way to go for me.
I introduced a co-worked to it recently, and she says it has totally made her long runs better and recovery more easy. The secret is out!
Hi Henry have you tried the bars during races? Or only in training runs?
Hey Carmen, I used bars only at the Flying Pig Marathon. I took 2 bars before the race and 2 during the race. Keep them frozen as long as you can because they will melt, especially the chocolate/peanut butter bars (which are my fav)!
Thanks Trevor, sorry I missed your reply! I am practising with UCAN bars before and UCAN homemade gel during my race, off to Berlin Marathon in 2 weeks. P..S. loved your Belin race recap, I am a huge fan of your podcast, keep up the good work!
Thanks for reading the blog and your question. I have used the bars during both training runs and races. Agree with what Trevor said about the Ucan bars — including chocolate/peanut butter being my favorite too. I have used them effectively during races, as well as runs. As long as you practice with bars during training runs, you should have no problem using them as fuel during races.
Hope that helps!