Maltodextrin – What Good is it?
Maltodextrin – What Good is it?
I’ve had a lot of emails asking me about maltodextrin and not so much whether or not to use it but mostly when and how much to use. Even though I updated my article last week on the use of carbs post exercise, and the jest of the info in this article in one form or another has been around for over a few decades, I still get lots of questions on the use of maltodextrin in particular and carbs in general in and around training and at other times.
This article is my answer to mostly the maltodextrin inquiries and is basically an extension of the article I updated last week on post exercise nutrition (see link below).
Maltodextrin is usually made from corn or wheat starch, but any starch can be used. The starch is broken down into units consisting of chains of glucose units that that vary in length but is mostly from three and up to seventeen glucose units long.
Maltodextrin is everywhere and is hard to avoid since it’s found in many prepared and junk foods and nutritional supplements. It’s cheap, adds bulk and mouth feel, and because it’s not a simple sugar (such as dextrose, glucose, fructose and sucrose), it is passed off as complex carbohydrate and as such doesn’t have to appear on the label as sugar.
Simple sugars are just bad news. They offer virtually no benefits, but do a lot of harm. It’s important to reduce sugar intake because of its harmful metabolic effects. And it’s not just the empty calories that can lead to weight and especially body fat gain. A recent study found that for fructose, there are harmful effects independent of weight gain.[i] After just nine days that blood pressure was lower, cholesterol levels and liver function improved, blood glucose and insulin were significantly lower.
But it’s not just simple sugars that are bad for you. Maltodextrin and other high glycemic carbs, are just as bad. Maltodextrin is a high glycemic simple carbohydrate that is absorbed quickly, perhaps even faster than simple sugars, and spikes insulin levels in your body just as much if not more than simple sugars. As such, it’s just as bad for you as any sugar, including sucrose table sugar), glucose and fructose.
It’s bad enough that it’s hard to avoid in foods, but maltodextrin is found in many nutritional supplements that falsely advertise its benefits for body composition and exercise/athletic performance.
But is maltodextrin really good for anyone or anything? Actually No.
Maltodextrin and simple sugars are absorbed fast and induce high levels of insulin secretion. There is a rapid and high level of insulin, which inhibits the production of not only the anabolic and fat burning growth hormone and IGF-1 but also testosterone. The use of maltodextrin also short circuits the use of body fat for fuel and thus decreases fat loss.
So using it any time is bad for you and is especially counter productive if it’s used before, during or after exercise.
Using it before and during training it decreases the important anabolic hormones that are needed to keep or increase muscle mass, and decreases the use of body fat for energy.
Used after training is just as bad if what your goal is to improve body composition and strength. And as I’ll explain below it’s not even good for endurance athletes, even though the general consensus is that it is.
First of all using any high glycemic carb after working out is a no-no. That’s because taking in carbs after a workout doesn’t increase protein synthesis or decrease protein breakdown over the short term as many people think. In fact adding carbs post exercise doesn’t add anything to just taking in protein after training.[ii][iii][iv][v] It does however decrease the use of body fat as a fuel for protein synthesis after exercise.
The worst carbohydrates are the simple sugars including dextrose, glucose, fructose and sucrose, and high glycemic complex carbs especially maltodextrin.
Even more important, because of the rapid effects of the combination of high insulin levels and maltodextrin (I’m excluding all the other simple sugars and high glycemic carbs since this article is targeting maltodextrin) on increasing glycogen levels, this process actually short circuits longer term protein synthesis and fat loss for 24 to 48 hours after training.
So the almost universal “expert” advice you find everywhere that you need carbs after training to maximize the training effects on body composition and performance is just not true.
For more information on this subject of carbs in general and specifically after exercise see my more detailed article Post Exercise Nutrition for Maximizing the-Anabolic Effects of Exercise (look in the info under education, articles). BTW this article was originally written almost two decades ago and updated just the other day since research during that time substantiated much of what I said. And all of my recommendations have in the last few years or so been spouted by many so called fitness/bodybuilding/health “gurus” who call the info their own.
Bottom Line: simple sugars and high glycemic carbs, and again I’m picking on maltodextrin, should be avoided as much as possible at all times (not just for the purpose of body composition and performance but for their deleterious effects on health and increases in cancer and cardiovascular disease) and especially in and around exercise.
The end result of using maltodextrin at any time by anyone is an increase in body fat and a decrease in muscle, the exact opposite of what we all want to achieve.
And just to round things off, don’t think that whey is the best nutrient to take after training, the usual and repeated ad nauseum advice on almost all websites, articles, blogs, etc. because taking in too much whey alone also significantly increases insulin levels in the short term leaving you with little post exercise anabolic effects for the longer term. Much more on this in the link to my article on post exercise nutrition.
[i] Lustig RH, Mulligan K, Noworolski SM, Tai VW, Wen MJ, Erkin-Cakmak A, Gugliucci A, Schwarz JM. Isocaloric fructose restriction and metabolic improvement in children with obesity and metabolic syndrome. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2015 Oct 26. doi: 10.1002/oby.21371. [Epub ahead of print]
[ii] Hamer HM, Wall BT, Kiskini A, de Lange A, Groen BB, Bakker JA, Gijsen AP, Verdijk LB, van Loon LJ. Carbohydrate co-ingestion with protein does not further augment post-prandial muscle protein accretion in older men. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2013 Jan 25;10(1):15.
[iii] Koopman R, Beelen M, Stellingwerff T, Pennings B, Saris WH, Kies AK, Kuipers H, van Loon LJ. Coingestion of carbohydrate with protein does not further augment postexercise muscle protein synthesis. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2007 Sep;293(3):E833-42.
[iv] Staples AW, Burd NA, West DW, Currie KD, Atherton PJ, Moore DR, Rennie MJ, Macdonald MJ, Baker SK, Phillips SM. Carbohydrate does not augment exercise-induced protein accretion versus protein alone. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011 Jul;43(7):1154-61.
[v] Pasiakos SM1, McLellan TM, Lieberman HR. The effects of protein supplements on muscle mass, strength, and aerobic and anaerobic power in healthy adults: a systematic review. Sports Med. 2015;45(1):111-31.