Maltodextrin – Source of Energy for Endurance Sports

Maltodextrin – Source of Energy for Endurance Sports

Maltodextrin is a very popular carbohydrate among athletes. It has a high glycemic index, which is ideal when we run out of glycogen and we need to recharge it as fat as possible. For instance, this happens after the workout or when we do physical exercise for a long period of time.

Moreover, maltodextrin also has a higher molecular weight than other high glycemic index carbohydrates. Consequently, it will have a lower osmolarity, which results in a quick transit through the stomach. Therefore, the glucose will reach the bloodstream really fast in order to be used as energy. Like we said, this is very useful for athletes, so we will need to take this into account if we do not plan on using this energy supply.

What is Maltodextrin?

Maltodextrin is a type of carbohydrate that results from hydrolyzing starch.

It is present in most sport drinks, since it is safe and well tolerated by most athletes. In fact, it helps to enhance the performance during high intensity sports and even improve the recovery after an exhausting workout.

According to a study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, maltodextrin is safe for young and healthy athletes. As long as they are used to resynthesize glycogen after the workout, supposing that they have a proper glucose metabolism.

What is its molecular structure?

If we classify it according to its degree of polymerization, its molecular structure is that of a polysaccharide. That is, a group of glucose units that make up branched chains.

In any case, we will see that it is not a simple carbohydrate like dextrose (made up directly of glucose). Quite the opposite, since it would belong to the group of complex carbohydrates.

Maltodextrin is obtained by hydrolyzing starch with acids and/or enzymes. These can come from different sources, such as corn, potato, rice or wheat, resulting in a pure white powder.

The starch hydrolysis consists of dividing or breaking down the chains that make its original molecular structure. Consequently, we will obtain a new product with a more segmented molecular structure, meaning that there will more unitary elements (glucose).

We will use the Dextrose Equivalent in order to assess the degree of hydrolysis. This will indicate the percentage of glucose units obtained after this procedure. Another way of seeing this would be the conversion degree of starch into dextrose.

One person passing a drink to another

One of the main objectives when we obtain maltodextrin consists of having a dextrose equivalent under 20. This is done to ensure that its molecular weight is relatively low, which will result in a series of benefits: like a fast gastric emptying after going through the stomach.

Properties of Maltodextrin

It is a carbohydrate with a series of interesting properties which are ideal for different uses.

In fact, this molecule is used by the food industry as a soluble additive. Although it is also an ingredient for many sport supplements. It is almost insipid, it only has a slight sweet flavor. Moreover, it is colorless and, most importantly, very easy to digest.

This carbohydrate is made up of several carbohydrate chains, but they are easy to break down. That is why our gastrointestinal tract can immediately digest it.

Maltodextrin as such is gluten-free, particularly if it comes from corn or potatoes. But even the one from wheat has a specific processing that completely eliminates the gluten. That is why it those who suffer celiac disease can also use it.

The calorie supply from maltodextrin comes from the carbohydrates it supplies (4kcals per gram), so 400kcals per 100g of product. For athletes, the most common dose tends to be between 25 and 100g. Moreover, it will depend on the person, objective and activity.

What is its glycemic index?

The glycemic index or GI of maltodextrin is between 85-105. Therefore, it has a high glycemic index. However, as we have seen, its molecular structure is made up of branched chain glucose. This means that we will have to break them down in order to obtain absorbable monosaccharides.

What is Maltodextrin used for?

Maltodextrin has many uses within the food industry, for instance, as an additive in many foods and drinks.

Due to its solubility in water, as well as the fact that is easy to digest, colorless and almost insipid, it is mainly used for: seasonings, coating and sauces, as well as to increase the amount of a product without altering its features or properties.

It is also used as a bulking agent in capsules or pills.

Maltodextrin has a special use among athletes and/or active people who have high energy demands. Thanks to its easy energy conversion, they can use it as energy to:

  • Recharge the energy deposits (muscle glycogen) to face sport activities
  • Keep the intensity throughout the effort until we finish the workout
  • Contribute to recovering the energy spent during the workout

Other features

  • Easy to digest
  • High molecular weight for a fast stomach transit
  • Low osmolarity, it does not cause stomach discomfort in athletes
  • Fast energy supply to recharge the reserves
  • Better performance during prolonged efforts and high intensity activities
  • Compatible with other sport supplements
  • Easy to use
  • Clean energy source, it does not provide other nutrients

When to take Maltodextrin?

  • During the peri-workout
  • For a carbohydrate loading phase

The peri-workout refers to a period of time that includes the time before training, during the workout and after training.

Some athletes perform a carbohydrate loading for several days before a competition in order to increase the muscle glycogen reserves. Thus, we will have as much energy as possible available in order to succeed.

A parent doing exercise with his child

This nutrition protocol is based on the “supercompensation” principle. Therefore, the first step will be to empty the energy reserves by removing those products that supply glycogen from our diet. Therefore, we will not eat carbohydrates for 2-3 days at most. Then, we will take carbohydrates every day until the day of the competition. Consequently we will have more carbohydrates than what we usually do.

In order to make this supercompensation easier, we can take maltodextrin, specially if we have problems to eat a lot of food. So we can take maltodextrin between meals to meet the requirements while avoiding stomach discomfort of bloating.

How can we combine Maltodextrin?

It is a very versatile supplement when it comes to combining it with other products:

With another carbohydrate:

Using these supplements will specially benefit those athletes who perform activities that produce a high wear. Or they can also help to keep the intensity throughout the whole exercise. It is a delicate task, and the performance and our success depends on it.

Therefore, combining different sources of energy is something that most professionals do. It consists of providing different types of carbohydrates, with different absorption rates. This will result in different energy stages in order to have as much energy as possible throughout the workout.

These are some of the carbohydrates that you can combine with maltodextrin:

  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Palatinose
With these many sources, we can combine them in a single shake. In fact, you can mix the common dose you would take for each supplement alone.

With proteins:

One of the pillars of sport supplementation are proteins. This is due to their properties and features when it comes to providing essential nutrients to our diet. In this instance, it will help to meet the daily protein requirements.

Those who want to gain weight and muscle mass must know that one of the ways to achieve this will be following a hypercaloric diet. In other words, our aim is producing a calorie surplus in order to have enough energy to perform the physiological processes to create tissues.

One of the best choices to do so will be combining protein with maltodextrin. Taking a number of servings a day that will supply extra calories will be enough to reach a calorie surplus.

Evidently, we can take a protein shake with a dose of maltodextrin before and/or after the workouts in order to obtain energy and amino acids.

With pre-workout supplements:

Usually, these supplements tend to be used before training in order to boost our performance, concentration, recovery and muscle growth. Therefore, we can combine maltodextrin with any other product and take advantage of the stimulation and energy from this polysaccharide.

With intra-workout supplements:

During an activity that demands a lot of energy due to its intensity and duration, it will be useful to combine maltodextrin and intra-workout supplements.

Another of the best options would be combining maltodextrin supplements with branched chain amino acids (BCAA's) and electrolytes. A serving should last around 45 minutes of physical activity.

Use of Maltodextrin outside sports

It is used as thickener, filler or preservative in many processed products. We can obtain this artificial white powder from any starch. Although we commonly use corn, rice, potato or wheat starch, like we saw previously.

Even though maltodextrin comes from natural products, it is highly processed. Starch goes through a process called partial hydrolysis that uses water, enzymes and acids to break down the starch and produce the white powder. When we add this product to food, it thickens the product, prevents its crystallization and helps to blend the ingredients. The difference between maltodextrin and corn syrup solids is that the former has a 20% less sugar after the hydrolysis. On the contrary, corn syrup solids have more than a 20 per cent of sugar content.

Maltodextrin is a polysaccharide that works as a thickener or filler to increase the volume processed foods. For instance, you can find it in puddings, instant gelatin, sauces and seasonings, fried chips, yogurt, bars, meal replacement shakes and sugar-free sweeteners (like splenda). The maltodextrin from tapioca is used to make powder because it absorbs and thickens fats. In fact, it encapsulates the oil and keeps it inside the powder until we mix it with water.

A man standing on top of a mountain

Side effects of Maltodextrin

Some of the possible side effects of this type of carbohydrate are:

  • It produces a high sugar peak in the blood due to its high glycemic index. This index is even higher than table top sugar, between 106 and 136 (while table top sugar is 65).
  • The carbohydrates that it produces have a fast absorption rate. So, if we do not used them as energy, our body will store them as fat.
  • Maltodextrin can change the composition of intestinal bacteria by inhibiting the growth of beneficial probiotics. Polysaccharides like maltodextrin are related to intestinal diseases associated with bacteria. According to the researchers, the growing interest in polysaccharides is parallel to a higher onset of Crohn’s disease at the end of the 20th century.
  • A study from 2013 published in the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology found out that taking maltodextrin, specially higher doses: could cause gastrointestinal problems, like abdominal sounds (gurgling), gases and even diarrhea. Moreover, maltodextrin can cause allergic reactions such as skin irritation, cramps and swelling.
  • One tablespoon of maltodextrin has 15 calories and 3.8 grams, that’s all. It is so highly processed that it lacks all the nutrients. Even though it can increase the blood sugar levels and stimulate the growth of harmful bacteria in the bowel. This carbohydrate does not provide any benefit for our health.

Who should not take Maltodextrin?

  • Diabetic people, due to the high sugar peaks and its high glycemic index
  • People with intestinal problems
  • Those who suffer allergies


  1. Stewart P, Renney CM, Mooibroek TJ, Ferheen S, Davis AP. Maltodextrin recognition by a macrocyclic synthetic lectin. 2018 Jul 19. doi: 10.1039/c8cc05074k.
  2. Beldengrün Y, Aragon J, Prazeres S, Montalvo G, Miras J, Esquena J. Gelatin-Maltodextrin Water-in-Water (W/W) Emulsions for the Preparation of Crosslinked Enzyme-Loaded Microgels. 2018 Jun 28. doi: 10.1021/acs.langmuir.8b01599.
  3. Fisher-Wellman KH, Bloomer RJ. Lack of effect of a high-calorie dextrose or maltodextrin meal on postprandial oxidative stress in healthy young men. 2010 Oct;20(5):393-400.
  4. Nickerson KP, McDonald C. Crohn’s disease-associated adherent-invasive Escherichia coli adhesion is enhanced by exposure to the ubiquitous dietary polysaccharide maltodextrin. 2012;7(12):e52132. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0052132. Epub 2012 Dec 12.
  5. Nickerson KP, Homer CR, Kessler SP, Dixon LJ, Kabi A, Gordon IO, Johnson EE, de la Motte CA, McDonald C. The dietary polysaccharide maltodextrin promotes Salmonella survival and mucosal colonization in mice. 2014 Jul 7;9(7):e101789. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0101789.
  6. ECollection 2014.Kishimoto Y, Kanahori S, Sakano K, Ebihara S. The maximum single dose of resistant maltodextrin that does not cause diarrhea in humans. 2013;59(4):352-7.
  7. Shelburne SA, Sumby P, Sitkiewicz I, Okorafor N, Granville C, Patel P, Voyich J, Hull R, DeLeo FR, Musser JM. Maltodextrin utilization plays a key role in the ability of group A Streptococcus to colonize the oropharynx. 2006 Aug;74(8):4605-14.

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About Carlos Sánchez
Carlos Sánchez
Carlos Sánchez has a degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics, and therefore all his actions are rigorously backed by science.
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