When it comes to maximizing the results of your training, optimising your recovery through nutrition is one of the most important factors. And one of the most effective ways to do this is through a carbohydrate powder.
Now, two of the most popular carb powders on the market are dextrose and maltodextrin.
But how do they work? And more importantly, is one better than the other?
Dextrose and Maltodextrin
As I have already alluded to, both dextrose and maltodextrin are carbohydrate powders -- but that does not mean they are exactly the same.
Dextrose is the most commonly occurring natural form of glucose on the planet. It is made during photosynthesis by plants, which provides them with an immediate source of energy that they can use to perform their many physiological functions.
As a supplement, dextrose is a “monosaccharide” (meaning it is made up of a single sugar molecule). Because of this it is what many would consider a “simple sugar”, in which it is very easily digested by humans.
On the other hand, we have maltodextrin.
While maltodextrin is still a type of carbohydrate powder, it is what is known as a “polysaccharide”. This means that it is made up of multiple glucose molecules stuck together, rather than just a single sugar molecule like dextrose.
Dextrose VS Maltodextrin: Nutritional Information
It should come as no surprise that both dextrose and maltodextrin powders are relatively high in carbohydrates -- I mean, that is literally what they are made from.
But they do have one primary point of difference.
Using the Amino Z dextrose powder as an example, it contains a whopping 27.3 grams of carbohydrates per 30 gram serving, all of which are derived from the simple sugar glucose. As a result, it contains no complex carbs, no fat, and no protein.
On the other hand, while the Amino Z maltodextrin powder also contains 27.3 grams of carbohydrates per 30 gram serving, all of it is derived from complex carbohydrates. This means it contains no simple sugars, no fat, and no protein.
Dextrose VS Maltodextrin: Absorption
After consuming a complex carbohydrate like maltodextrin, they need to be broken down in your digestive tract into individual glucose molecules. These glucose molecules then need to pass through the wall of your intestine through specific glucose transporters, before entering your bloodstream.
This same process of absorption still needs to occur to dextrose, but it does not need to be broken down because it is already as small as it can get.
The key difference in carbohydrate types between dextrose and maltodextrin would make you think that both supplements have different absorption rates -- but this does not appear to be the case.
Or at least, not in a big way.
See, there are only so many Glucose Transporters found on the wall of your intestines. As a result, there is actually a ceiling on how fast they can transport glucose molecules into your bloodstream -- which sits at around 60 grams per hour.
Because of this bottleneck (so to speak), both dextrose and maltodextrin are absorbed at the maximum rate of 60 grams per hour -- even when maltodextrin needs to be broken down into individual glucose molecules first.
Dextrose, Maltodextrin, and their Associated Benefits
With all this in mind, you might be wondering whether they offer any unique benefits from one another, and I would argue they both offer the same benefits -- especially when it comes to optimising recovery and muscle growth.
Because both dextrose and maltodextrin are absorbed so rapidly, they both result in a rapid rise in blood sugar immediately after consumption. This increase in blood sugar causes a subsequent increase in the secretion of the hormone “insulin”.
Now this is important.
See, insulin is known as the energy storage hormone because it helps transport glucose and protein molecules from your blood and into your muscle tissue. This can increase the availability of these nutrients, enhancing muscle growth.
In fact, research has shown that, via this mechanism, the supplementation of a carbohydrate powder like dextrose or maltodextrin after exercise can lead to vast increases in muscle protein synthesis, even if protein is not present .
Amazingly, this effect is actually magnified when they are combined with a fast absorbing protein powder .
Taking all of this into consideration, it looks like both dextrose and maltodextrin cause an immediate increase in muscle protein synthesis after consumption. This can promote additional muscle growth, which is pretty important.
Moreover, this increase in muscle protein synthesis can also expedite the recovery process after training. This could enhance the quality of your next training session, leading to further improvements in muscle strength and size over the course of a training block.
Dextrose VS Maltodextrin: Taste
As far as their effects on the body go, there is no real difference between dextrose and maltodextrin. In fact, it is likely that their impact on recovery and muscle growth are actually exactly the same.
However, there is one area where they do differ slightly -- yep, taste.
Because dextrose is a monosaccharide, it is much sweeter than maltodextrin. In fact, I have heard some people go as far as to suggest that it is even sweeter than sugar.
While maltodextrin is certainly sweet, it is quite subtle compared to dextrose.
This means that if you want to obtain the benefits of one of these potent carbohydrate powders and don't have a real sweet tooth, then maltodextrin could be a great option. And if you love sweets, then dextrose is a no brainer.
Dextrose VS Maltodextrin: Mixability
Like taste, there is a little difference between the mixability of the two.
Because dextrose is a single sugar molecule, it is absorbed very easily into liquid. This means that it has very little chance of clumping together, and ultimately ensures a smooth shake every single time.
On the other hand maltodextrin can be more prone to clumping -- particularly if it is mixed in something other than water (i.e. milk).
While this is unlikely to have a huge impact on your choice, it could make a difference if you absolutely hate having clumps of powder in your post-workout shakes.
Dextrose and Maltodextrin: When and How Much?
If you are looking to maximise the benefits of dextrose or maltodextrin, then you could use it in a couple different ways.
You could have a small portion (~30g) of either carb powder with protein about 60 minutes before your workout. This would ensure that you have adequate glucose available to fuel your training session, while also providing your body with a steady stream of protein during your workout.
This could conceivably improve both performance and recovery -- which is integral for muscle growth.
You could also have a moderate portion (30-60g) within an hour after finishing your training session. This would maximize muscle protein synthesis and cause a meaningful contribution to muscle growth. As alluded to above, combining this with a fast absorbing protein powder would increase this effect significantly.
And if you wanted to be certain that you are optimizing the results of your training, you could do both.
Dextrose and maltodextrin are two of the most common carbohydrate supplements on the market -- and for very good reason too.
They are both absorbed incredibly fast, both cause a substantial increase in muscle protein synthesis, and can both promote increases in recovery and muscle growth. In fact, their only real difference relates to taste, where dextrose is much sweeter in flavour.
So, if you want to choose one, simply go with your flavour preference and reap the rewards.
- Roy, B. D., et al. "Effect of glucose supplement timing on protein metabolism after resistance training." Journal of applied physiology (1997).
- Tang, Jason E., et al. "Minimal whey protein with carbohydrate stimulates muscle protein synthesis following resistance exercise in trained young men." Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism 32.6 (2007): 1132-1138.