While you plow your way through seven-layer dip and a pile of wings this Super Bowl Sunday, you can bet that the Patriots will be fueling up, too. Only they'll be taking a far more scientific approach. You might even say they have a secret weapon. Its name: Superstarch.
Turns out, a slew of New England players -- including Vince Wilfork, Ron Brace and Mike Wright -- have been using this powdery, slow-digesting carbohydrate to up their games all season. And by all accounts, it's working pretty darn well.
New England defensive tackle Ron Brace has been taking the supplement since the off-season, and says it's been his key to giving his all at every practice. "A lot of energy supplements I've used in the past would give me an immediate jolt, but then a crash afterward,” Brace told Men's Health. "With this I feel neither -- just sustained energy and I’m able to keep going through my training day." He says he plans to chug the product before Sunday’s game. (As for you: Make sure you’re eating The Perfect Diet.)
So what is it? The raw material is the same cornstarch sitting in your cupboard, says Jeff Volek, Ph.D., R.D., associate professor in the department of kinesiology at the University of Connecticut. “The difference is that it’s been through a proprietary heat-moisture treatment, which changes the way the starch gets absorbed.”
Essentially, superstarch is digested more slowly than both regular starch and sugar. As a result, it’s absorbed into your bloodstream at a steady and much slower rate than the sugars in popular sports drinks. The result: sustained energy throughout 4 hours of battle with the Giants. “Consuming a regular carb drink that is rapidly absorbed is like emptying your entire gas tank into your engine at once,” says Volek. “It’s overkill.” (Is your workout overkill? Discover how you can blast fat -- in almost no time -- with The Ultimate Two-Exercise Workout.)
One performance benefit of superstarch: Volek says that using it provides a steady source of blood sugar as opposed to the highs and lows that can occur with rapidly absorbed sports drinks. “This more sustained fuel flow has many advantages such as promoting greater use of fat and potentially sparing muscle glycogen,” explains Volek. Glycogen refers to the carbohydrate that’s stored in your muscles. These carb stores are a finite resource -- your carb intake and activity the day before will determine how loaded-up they are. “Most sports like football, basketball, tennis, and hockey, require short bursts of high intensity effort that draw on glycogen,” says Volek. “So anything that spares their use could translate into performance gains.” (If you want to perform your best, you also need a strong core. Take our test to Find Out If Your Abs Are Weak.)
And that's where superstarch comes in. Sports drinks trigger a release of the hormone insulin, which inhibits your body from breaking down fat and using it for fuel. But superstarch avoids that insulin spike. “This makes it easier for your body to access fat stores, which is a much larger fuel tank compared to carbohydrates stored in the body,” Volek says. The more fuel you have from other sources, the less you need to rely on glycogen.
Then there's the practical aspect. Logistically, fueling up with superstarch just makes more sense, Volek says. “An athlete will take 30 grams of carbs in the form of superstarch and they’re good to go for several hours as opposed to continually guzzling sports drinks every 15 to 30 minutes throughout a game.”
"Plus, energy drinks are unreliable and not as effective at maintaining steady blood sugar," Volek adds. When your blood sugar is low, your brain is in a fuel crisis and you put yourself at risk for hitting a wall. "Better maintenance of blood sugar and improved fuel flow translate into better performance, both mentally and physically," Volek says. (Speaking of mental performance, find out How Energy Drinks Could Be Making You Stupid.)
"Without sounding too grandiose, it's really been the missing piece in the energy supplement market," says Joel Totoro, R.D., a nutrition expert who works with pro football players.
Sure it can help power elite athletes, but can it help you? "It definitely has a place for the average athlete and weekend warriors," Totoro says. He suggests using it as a pre-workout snack if your activity lasts longer than 60 minutes.
One important point: Superstarch -- which you can buy online at generationucan.com -- doesn't taste like a classic sports drink. One Men's Health editor described it as "chalky" and another said it was "sort of like Pepto-Bismol." But after all, it's not a "sugary" drink -- that's the whole point, remember? -- so don't expect it to taste like a Kool-Aid.
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