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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  1. Good post Zebra on an always dynamic subject - fueling. Your spot on that it is the complex carbohydrates (like starch) that you want in your long distance fueling, as it is slower absorbing and takes longer time to metabolize the longer chain compounds into glucose. I am not so convinced that alone promotes increased fat burning capacity, mostly because all my Coaching training and references indicated it was the long duration runs run at slower than race pace speed that nurtures increased metabolism of fat. No one can run fast marathon performance relying entirely on metabolism of fat, and metabolism of fat always requires some degree of glucose in the mix. But the mix of LR training, especially those that operate at the easier LR speed and/or those running at those easier LR speeds wo fueling with carb until late stage can increase metabolism of fat. That's how I was taught and the simple mantra was "fat burns in the shadow of glucose flame" or something to that effect.

    Actually I do use UCAN Edge in the marathon race and I find it has its advantages, certainly far easier to ingest and absorb than the thicker, traditional gels. Of course I no longer can run marathon speed at the intensity you and a lot of others of Boston caliber do, so I don't really need to carry much Edge with me when I racing and rarely use it on LR's, except the mega long ones.

    In the past I used to rely a lot on Crank Sports gels, and later in my hey-day of Boston caliber running I was pre-mixing those gels into a 16 or 20-oz bottle at approximate isotonic solution. But past several years I did shift to UCAN, based on what I heard other runners I ran with saying about, sometimes on your posts too, and these days I have the powder mix canister and I use those Edge in the race or in the mega long LR's I pushing the intensity a lot more.

    Great subject, as always a stellar post by Zebra!

  2. Really good subject, Elizabeth! I am a UCAN Edge convert due to the fact that they are easier on the stomach. I use them for long runs and also for marathons. I don't mind that they are a larger size, as I find that I don't need to take as many as I used to with other gels. I also like the fairly bland taste which doesn't linger. Would be good if UCAN made a caffinated gel (a non-subtle hint for Greg McMillan :)) as like you, I need a caffeine hit towards the back end of a marathon and Maurten is good for that. Great post, as always. AV

  3. I'm not sure if I ever told you this, but UCAN was how I found your blog! I'd heard that people made gels from UCAN so I took it to google and you were the first hit that came up.

    I really liked the UCAN unflavored mix before my long runs and races, but the orange gel was a miss for me. The flavor and the thin consistency were not nice, and I didn't feel like I was getting enough energy from it. But now they've got other flavors and I'm sure that over time they come out with new products with the gels.

    1. Oh I did not know that! How cool. The consistency is quite watery, which makes it messy, but it also helps it go down easier! I like not having to have water with it.

  4. I rarely ever use GELS and never in training and so hard to comment. I have occasionally tried them in a marathon when on the course but I don't think it ever made a difference and that could be because I used them too late or who knows. When I'm doing a marathon and I'm shot that day it's over and it doesn't come back to me. Fortunately there hasn't been too many of those