Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Review: Generation UCAN energy drinks

A little over a month ago, I was participating in the #fitblog chat on twitter when I saw an energy drink company Generation UCAN that's located here in New England advertising their product and giving out samples. They were kind enough to send 2 packets each of their 3 flavors of energy drinks, and 2 packets each of their 2 flavors of their recovery drink. When Rach and I visited the expo for the Patriot Place 10k on the 3rd, we talked to the Gen UCAN folks on hand, and they provided me with a couple samples of their Cranberry-Raspberry product.

What it is: drink mixes sold in powder form designed to be used in 16-20 ounces of water modified according to taste.

How it works: From their science page, Gen UCAN uses a complex carbohydrate that provides a less of an initial sugar spike than sugar based energy drinks but also burns slower to provide longer lasting energy.

How it feels: While it's not the same chemically, I liken the effects I got from the Gen UCAN drinks to that of what I got from Chocolate #9 energy gel, but with even less of that initial "energy spike", and not feeling a need to reuse as quickly. 45 minute runs in average heat (70 to 80 degrees) were sufficiently fueled by one packet of the energy drink, and anything between 1-3 hours on the bike were sufficiently recovered by the recovery drinks.

How it tastes: I'm going to approach this flavor by flavor, but the consistency of the drinks, a key component, I'll address seperately.

Energy Drinks:

  • Plain - This essentially has no flavor, but there is a hint of sweetness to it. I mixed blueberries in to provide flavor after drinking some of the it plain. Definitely the flavor choice for someone looking to make smoothies out of the drink.
  • Lemonade - While I wasn't expecting much from the lemonade flavor, I actually liked it a good bit more than I thought. It's tangy/tart though, so if you don't like tart, you may want to steer clear
  • Pomegranate/Blueberry - This was the one I was expecting to like the best, and while I thought it was good, the blueberry felt overpowered by the pomegranate. I admit I am a die hard blueberry fan though, and my response to this flavor was "this would have been better as blueberry/blueberry". Definitely the flavor for you if you like POM Wonderful.
  • Cranberry/Raspberry - You may not know this about me, but I pretty much loathe raspberry. There are occasional times where it's ok, such as in mild amounts in cake filling or other such dessert uses. In general though, it is my least favorite fruit, and the reason why I approached this flavor with much trepidation. To my utter shock and surprise, it was VERY good. Unlike to the Pom-Blue which did not reach the balance I had hoped for, this flavor had just the right mix of the mild flavor of cranberry with just the slightest zing of the raspberry in the aftertaste. I found this to be my favorite of all the flavors.
Recovery Drinks:
  • Vanilla - The vanilla tasted exactly like I expected, except a bit richer. Some of that was due to the thickness, which I'll get to, but in general it was quite good.
  • Chocolate - I have to say when mixed with water, I was disappointed in the chocolate flavor. It just didn't stand up. Not that this is terribly surprising; I've tried several different powder based drinks mixed in water and somehow it just never comes across tasting the way you'd think it should. Part of that I'm guessing is the use of very small amounts of Sucralose (think Splenda) as the sweetener across the entire line. Chocolate needs sugar to taste like the chocolate we're all used to.
Consistency/Thickness: This is the one area that may take some getting used to. When you think of a product like Gatorade or other energy drinks on the market, you think about how they're kind of syrupy. It's sugar or a sugar-like substance which dissolves fairly easily into water. The SuperStarch of Gen UCAN doesn't dissolve quite the same way and what you wind up with is closer in consistency to a frappe, which is the slightly runnier New England version of a milkshake. My wife took a while to get over this, and the consistency tends to lighten if you drink it slowly over the course of a workout where it continues to mix (a la in the bottle holder on a bicycle). My wife also found it to have a slightly chalky taste, but that was resolved through use of a blender instead of just mixing or shaking.

Conclusion: There are a great many drink choices on the market today, and with all of the different dietary/food lifestyles taking place in the endurance sports world, it's hard to say any given drink is the right fit for all of them. The unique thing that Gen UCAN brings to the table is that they offer a non-sugar sweetened alternative to Gatorade that still provides ample energy without going down the road to a lot of caffeine or other stimulants. Further it's gluten free which will definitely appeal to many folks looking to avoid both sugar and gluten. I personally found it an enjoyable experience to drink and will continue to use specifically the vanilla recovery drink (likely mixed with a little fruit) as one of my primary means of recovery from hot workouts.


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