Thursday, March 30, 2023

UCAN Edge Gel Review

UCAN Edge energy gels. When I last did a review of UCAN vs. Maurten, I did not include my thoughts on the UCAN Edge gel because it was so new. In this blog post, I will give my thoughts on UCAN Edge, what I like about it, what I don't like about it, and how I use it in my training.

UCAN Edge Energy Gel
Before UCAN released this Edge gel, I used to make my own gels out of the UCAN Energy Powder. For years I would mix the powder with water in a bowl and scoop it into a disposable baby food squeeze pouch.  This approach worked well for me. My marathon PR (3:15:35) was set using my own UCAN gel back in 2018. I even made a YouTube video on this because so many people asked me about it! 

When the UCAN Edge Gel was released in 2020, I was excited to try it. The first flavor was orange. My excitement dwindled when I read the ingredient list. Erythritol, a sugar alcohol, was the third ingredient. I am allergic to sugar alcohols so this was a non-started for me. But when the Strawberry Banana Edge was released, I noticed it did not contain any sugar alcohols. Hooray!

The Benefits of UCAN Edge Gels
My favorite thing about the Edge gels is that they prevent your blood sugar from spiking. Just like the energy powder, the energy source is "LIVSTEADY" corn starch. It's their slow-release energy which means you don't have to fuel as often. From a physiological standpoint, the LIVSTEADY energy allows your body to use fat as fuel instead of pumping it with a ton of easy-to-use sugar all at once. For endurance athletes, consuming sugar every 30-45 minutes doesn't allow the body to get the message that it should be burning fat for fuel. 

To quote my coach, Greg McMillan, from his book Run Faster Marathons,  "I personally use UCAN in my Marathons. This carbohydrate has been manipulated by heat and water so that it is absorbed more slowly to avoid the spike and crash. . . because you feed less frequently and it's easier on the GI tract, you avoid the GI upset that can occur late in the race."

Here are the main reasons why I use UCAN Edge Energy Gels:

  • Fuel less often
  • Train the body to burn fat for fuel
  • Easy on the digestive system
  • Tastes good (the strawberry banana ones tastes like a watery smoothie)
  • Does not need to be consumed with water
The Drawbacks of UCAN Edge Gels
As much as I love these gels, there are a few drawbacks. I don't always use UCAN gels; I sometimes use Maurten ones. I will explain in more detail later in this post. The drawbacks of these gels are:
  • The orange flavor contains erythritol, which can bother sensitive stomachs
  • They are messy; they have a watery consistency and I have sometimes gotten it all over my face, hands, clothes, etc.
  • They are larger than most gels and may not fit into traditionally sized pockets
  • There is no caffeine (which I find to be beneficial during a race)
How I use these gels
My primary use of UCAN Edge gels is for long runs during marathon training. For a 20 miler, I drink the energy powder before hand, and then consume 2 gels during the run.

UCAN Gel fits in larger pockets
Again quoting my coach Greg McMillan, "No-Fuel/Slow-Fuel training, also called low glycogen training, results in greater fat burning, more muscle fiber recruitment, a boost to the aerobic system, a lot of mental toughness training and greater storage of muscle glycogen post-run. All of these adaptions are extremely helpful for a faster marathon." I attribute my use of UCAN to the endurance gains I made around 2015-2016 when I got significantly faster. 

However, when it's time to perform on race day, I turn to Maurten as my primary fuel source. I drink the UCAN energy powder before the race, but I find that the Maurten gels give me that sugar high burst that I need. Maurten gels come in both caffeinated and caffeinated, so I switch between them. They are much more compact and less messy than the UCAN gels, so I can easily stash 4-5 of them in my shorts. 

Because it's important to practice fueling before race day, I do some of my harder long runs (the ones with speed) using Maurten so my digestive system knows what to expect on race day.

That said, I do think the Edge energy gels are a great choice for marathon fueling, and it's what Greg (husband Greg, not coach Greg), used for his most recent marathon PR last spring. Because he didn't need to fuel as often, he went from his typical 6 Gus down to 4 Edge gels. According the the UCAN Website, each gel provides up to 75 minutes of steady energy. I have found this to be true, whereas traditional gels need to be taken every 30-45 minutes. 

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Saturday, March 18, 2023

Spring Break

I have not updated my blog in over a month! That is a long time for me to go without blogging. That's because my running life has been pretty uneventful. I haven't run any races and I am not training for anything at the moment. I'm fully recovered from Covid and I am not injured; but I have decided it would be a good idea to take an "off" season. 

Even though I only ran one marathon, I trained for two marathons, starting in August of last year. This meant way more long runs than I ever want to do again in a 5-month period! I was only doing 1-2 hard workouts a week and the mileage was low for me. But the long runs gave me a bit of mental burn out. Maybe if I had been running my normal 65-75 mile weeks, the long runs would have felt shorter because they would have been a smaller percentage of overall volume. Because I was averaging 55-65 miles a week, the 20s really started to take their toll. Toward the end of the cycle I was starting to dread them and I usually look forward to my long runs!

Strength training in my home gym
I had been registered for the One City Half Marathon the first weekend in March, but I didn't have enough time to train given marathon recovery followed by Covid. I am sure I could have finished the race, but I didn't want to do it without proper training. Of course the weather that day was perfect! 

After One City, I didn't have anything on the schedule so I kept it that way and decided to prioritize strength training. Instead of doing 1-2 sessions a week, I am now doing 3. One of those sessions is an hour-long workout with my strength coach Angela, and the other two are about 25 minutes each on my own. I think I have reached the limit of how much running I am able to do in a training cycle, so the gains I make in the fall will come from being stronger. 

I had planned on taking up swimming again to change things up, but it's difficult to motivate to drive to the pool, change, swim, shower, change, and drive back. If it weren't so logistically involved, I would do it every day. But now that I have a gym in my basement, it's so much easier to work out there. 

This spring break has been nice. I've been keeping most of my runs easy, throwing in a few strides here and there just so my legs remember how to turn over quickly. It's a good mental break and it's freed me up to focus on other areas of my life that I typically de-prioritize. 

The good thing about having had so many bouts of mono is that I know I can quickly ramp up training and get into race shape. I only need about 6-8 weeks to get myself to a good place and a few more to be in "race shape". 

Right now the plan is to focus on strength training, mobility and stability. And then I will begin training for my annual July 4th 5K. I might do a few tune-up 5Ks before then. I suspect that this break from racing will leave me super hungry to get out there and grind when the time comes. 

In the meantime, I will continue to blog. I have a few ideas of posts that I have been meaning to write!