Maltodextrin is a type of carbohydrate synthesized from grain starch, corn, potatoes or rice that is commonly added to food to enhance sweetness and texture. As one of the main components of ‘weight gainer’ used by bodybuilders, maltodextrin has a thick, sweet taste that matches its dense caloric content.
Despite its classification as a complex carbohydrate, maltodextrin is quickly absorbed by the gut and can elevate blood sugar faster than glucose. On the glycemic index, a relative scale of how quickly a ingested carbohydrate affects blood sugar, maltodextrin ranges between 85-105, where the standard glucose is set at 100.
Sugars that induce a rapid rise in blood glucose content are typically considered poor sources of energy and nutritionally deficient. Though it is generally true that a diet comprised of mostly high glycemic carbohydrates would be unsatisfactory, they do have an important role in athletic performance and recovery.
Why You Need Carbs
During intense exercise, active muscle tissue relies heavily upon stored sugars in the form of glycogen for energy. Depending on the muscle type, exercise intensity and duration, the ability for glycogen stores to maintain the metabolic demand diminishes over time.
Many endurance athletes utilize energy gels whose main ingredient is maltodextrin. One study supplemented marathon runners with 60 grams of maltodextrin spaced throughout a race and compared it to runners who were free to consume their desired amount.
The runners who took 60 grams of maltodextrin averaged significantly shorter marathon completion times by more than 10 minutes compared to runners assigned to freely consume the carbohydrate supplement .
Maltodextrin & High Glycemic Carbs for Post-Workout Recovery
The post-workout period is a crucial time to refuel. Consuming high glycemic carbs will increase the release of insulin, an anabolic and glucose-regulating hormone that facilitates the influx of sugars and amino acids into muscle cells.
In an often cited study by Borsheim, post-workout supplementation with 100 grams of maltodextrin significantly improved the net protein balance by reducing muscle breakdown.
Further studies have shown that 30 grams of carbohydrates were comparable to 100 grams. The post exercise period has been studied using multi-ingredient post-workout formulas that contain various ratios of carbohydrates, protein and fat.
A 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein has been shown to benefit muscle recovery through a similar mechanism. Other studies using variations of carbohydrates to protein have proven beneficial, yet It is challenging to discern a single best ratio for recovery given the lack of direct comparison studies.
The bottom line is that large amounts of high glycemic carbohydrates like maltodextrin are appropriate in the post-workout phase to reduce muscle breakdown and aid recovery.
Consuming small quantities, such as 1-10 grams, of high GI carbohydrates that are added to food are unlikely to cause large changes in blood glucose and are essentially equivalent to other added sugars.
Low glycemic carbs, such those present in most fruits and vegetables, are better for long term energy storage and tend not to spike and crash blood sugar levels. Furthermore, despite its origin from grain, maltodextrin is synthesized using enzymes making it gluten free and safe for nearly all to consume.