Did you know that some sports nutrition products marketed at endurance athletes are no healthier than eating a bag of gummy bears?
Manufacturers are aware that we’ve become wiser to the dangers of consuming high amounts of sugar and well-known artificial sweeteners. So to counter this they’ve started to ‘hide’ sugar, in various guises, in their ingredient lists.
In this first blog post on sugars we highlight one of the most common ‘hidden sugars’ used in commercial sports food products:
MALTODEXTRINOften found in:
Sports gels, powders and drinks
What is maltodextrin anyway?
Maltodextrin is an artificial, highly processed, white powder formed through a procedure called partial hydrolysis where water and enzymes are added to a starch, such as, corn, wheat, rice or potato. This starch is then refined.
Why is it used?
Cheap and easy to produce, maltodextrin is often used as a stabiliser (used to prevent ingredients from separating), thickener and sweetener. In a sporting context it is mostly used post-workout to restore depleted glycogen and glucose levels.
Is it safe?
While it’s generally considered to be a safe food additive by food governing authorities in the US, EU and other parts of the world, maltodextrin is as far from a natural wholefood as you’re likely to find. It’s completely devoid of all nutrients and nutritional value. In fact, it’s most closely related to high fructose corn syrup, albeit with a lower sugar content.
Sky high GI!
Don’t be fooled into thinking this means maltodextrin is a healthy, slow release carbohydrate. It isn’t! It has an extremely high glycemic index (GI) of 106-136. To put this into context, table sugar has a GI of 65, while a banana has a GI of 48.
This means that soon after eating a product containing maltodextrin, sugar will quickly surge into your blood stream. But what goes up must come down .As a response to this high blood sugar, the body will release the hormone insulin. Insulin’s job is to take hold of any excess blood sugar and transport it to the fat cells to be stored away from where it can do harm.. This process results in a sugar crash leading to fatigue, hunger and vicious cycles of sugar cravings.
The dangers of too much sugar
The risks of high sugar consumption have been well documented in various research papers linking it to a variety of chronic diseases including diabetes; obesity; cardiovascular disease; non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, as well as certain cancers.
The effect of excess sugar on endurance athletes
Whilst it’s true that endurance athletes are better able to utilize sugar than the average sedentary individual, consuming the high amounts of it as found in maltodextrin is still unwise.
When exercising, some excess sugar will be absorbed by the muscles to replenish depleted glycogen stores. But you’d have to be exercising at an unachievable intensity to use it all up and stop the spike in blood sugar. And that’s when the insulin kicks in, starting the whole demanding process that diverts energy away from your performance, leaving you feeling depleted.
Runs when you’re running!
And if that’s not enough, you should also be wary of the impact that maltodextrin has on the digestive system. A 2013 research paper found that maltodextrin consumption, especially at higher doses, can cause the gastrointestinal symptoms that we endurance athletes dread: a gurgling stomach, gas and diarrhea.
A reason for this could be its negative impact on gut bacteria. Several studies have shown that maltodextrin can change the composition of gut bacteria, promoting the survival of bacteria such as salmonella, which inflames the digestive system and suppresses the intestinal immune system. Additionally, allergic reactions have also been linked to maltodextrin consumption, including breathing difficulties such as asthma.
How much is too much?
Current guidelines suggest that you can avoid gastro-intestinal distress by consuming less than 1.0g of maltodextrin/kg body weight for men and 1.1g/kg body weight for women. Although even at this dosage athletes are known to experience gurgling and gas.
Dates and honey are natural endurance fuels and are far healthier than maltodextrin. These provide a slow and steady, nutrient-dense source of carbohydrates to help you perform at your best.
The question is: do your sports nutrition products contain maltodextrin? Ours don’t!