What’s the deal with Maltodextrin?
There has been some recent discussion in the community about maltodextrin and its potential benefits for building muscle mass and improving athletic performance in young athletes. Although Maltodextrin is considered safe for consumption, we should really try to understand what Maltodextrin is, what effect it has on our bodies, and whether it is actually beneficial for young athletes in the context of exercise and sports nutrition. I would like to take this opportunity to debunk some of the misinformation out there and offer some scientific clarity on this topic
What is Maltodextrin?
Maltodextrin is a partially hydrolyzed polysaccharide (a complex carbohydrate) made from corn, potato or rice starch that frequently used as a sugar substitute, filler or thickening agent in many different food products including, desserts, gelatins, sauces and salad dressing, many processed foods, coffees and teas, powdered soft drinks, and various sports drinks.
What effect does Maltodextrin have on the body?
Because it is mostly made from cooking down corn (a genetically modified product) or potato starch the final product is basically an easily digestible form of carbohydrate comparable to sugar – it comes in the form of a white powder and has a sweet taste like sugar. Although it is a complex carbohydrate and contains about the same amount calories as table sugar, it has an even higher glycemic index effect on the body than table sugar (Maltodextrin: 106 – 136 vs table sugar (sucrose): 65), meaning it will be broken down into sugars very quickly by the body, causing spikes in your blood sugar level and insulin response.
Hence Maltodextrin should be regarded in the same category as sugar (ie. glucose, fructose). As with all sugars and carbohydrates, Maltodextrin will mainly provide fuel and energy for the body. Similarly, over-consumption of carbohydrates will provide excess energy, which will be stored as fat rather than muscle in the body.
What does Maltodextrin have on athletic performance?
In the athletic world, Maltodextrin is often found as an ingredient in sports drinks to help deliver some extra carbohydrates and fluid to allow athletes to refuel and rehydrate simultaneously during exercise. Although research has shown that the addition of easily digestible carbohydrates like glucose, fructose and Maltodextrin can help improve the body’s absorption and use of proteins to enhance muscle recovery, muscle growth and reduce exhaustion in specific exercise situations (ie. intense or prolonged exercise), these extra carbohydrates will only be helpful if you consume optimal amounts of protein in your pre-game and post-game recovery meal, and also throughout the day, everyday. So if the focus is on building muscle mass, Maltodextrin may assist the process, but optimal protein intake is really the star player! Hence individualized science-based sports nutrition is extremely important for all athletes, however this can be unique to the individual as well as the sport. It is important to consult with an experienced professional regarding your personal nutritional needs.
Athletes also need to consider their physique goals when deciding whether consuming sports drinks is beneficial for them. For those who are working towards a leaner physique, overusing energy (carbohydrate)-dense products like sports drinks may disrupt energy balance in the body and add excess fat storage rather than muscle growth. Additionally, some athletes may not tolerate the excess carbohydrates in sports drinks well, and can cause stomach
discomfort or make them feel unwell.
Bottom line on Maltodextrin:
• Maltodextrin is an easily digestible carbohydrate that is metabolized in the body like a sugar – it will cause spikes in your blood sugar level and increase fat storage (not muscle) when overused.
• Sports drinks (extra carbohydrates like maltodextrin & electrolytes) may be beneficial for supporting athletic performance and hydration, but they are only necessary when you participate in very intense or endurance based
activities for 60 minutes or longer, or activities performed in hot and/or humid climates, and water for moderate activities (most non-elite level sports).
• Sports-focused supplementation can help you reach specific athletic goals, however I always tell all of my patients that supplements can only enhance the foundation that you have already established with proper nutrition (balanced diet) and healthy lifestyle.
It would be most important to first educate an individual on the essentials of nutrition and diet before trying to integrate supplements.
Article written by: Dr. Freda Tam, BScH, ND (Naturopathic Doctor)