Maltodextrin is a basic supplement in the food industry, although it is unknown to many people. Among other functions, it thickens some foods, stabilize those with high amounts of fat and is also important as a source of carbohydrates in energy drinks, such as Monster Energy.
In this article, we are going to talk about what is maltodextrin and where it comes from and its two main uses, as a food additive and as a sports supplement. Also, we will put an end to the contraindications that come with inappropriate consumption.
Maltodextrin can be defined as the substance produced by the hydrolysis of starch, i.e., the chemical reaction in which the bonds of the polysaccharides are broken by the action of acids, resulting in smaller chains which, in this case, are maltodextrins.
It is usually extracted from corn, as it is the least harmful to the body, although it may vary according to the location. In Europe, for example, the main source of starch is wheat, but this could be harmful to coeliacs if the process of obtaining maltodextrin fails to eliminate the gluten contained in this cereal.
Maltodextrins, therefore, are glucose chains, the most important source of energy for muscle fiber during physical activity. If there is excess glucose in the blood after eating, the body can store it in the form of glycogen in the liver and muscle. When blood glucose levels fall for various reasons, such as physical exercise or fasting, the glucose that had been stored is responsible for meeting the energy needs of that time.
As we have already said, maltodextrin is used as a basic substance in the food industry. It is famous as a sweetener, both in products found on the market and for food preparation. For example, this polysaccharide is a very important component in some chips.
It is also used to make convenience food, such as biscuits and flours. It can also be found as part of the composition of sweeteners.
But what makes it so special to be in so many products? Mainly because it is a simple carbohydrate that is absorbed much faster than others and is healthier for the digestive system. Although it is widely used as a sweetener, maltodextrin is not too sweet, and it is only potent when mixed with other substances.
Another characteristic that makes it interesting in food processing is that thanks to its composition, it can compress flavors and preserve them for a long period of time.
The world's most renowned chefs have also known how to benefit from its drying properties in the preparation of dishes, as maltodextrin can quickly transform a liquid or oil into a powder. This has allowed chefs to make very original and diverse creations.
Maltodextrin has become popular as a sports supplement due to its glucose chain properties. In general, this substance is used to give energy to the body in an alternative form to glucose, since it has less than 20 glucose molecules.
It is also part of simple carbohydrates, but with a very low glycemic index to that of the others, which is the capacity that the foods have to increase the glucose in the blood after its ingestion. That is to say, it has the capacity to contribute a great number of calories without generating digestive discomfort that causes the consumption of simple sugar in great quantities.
Maltodextrin is most commonly used by athletes who practice endurance-related disciplines, such as running, cycling, or Crossfit, as well as those who have to do with strength, such as weightlifting. This is because consuming maltodextrin increases the body's energy fastly and gives it more possibilities to resist high-intensity exercises while delaying the onset of muscle fatigue.
The consumption of this supplement is recommended by trainers around the world to maintain the pace during very long competitions, as it gives the body that energy needed to reach the end, especially in high endurance activities.
Maltodextrin use is allowed and popularized among athletes of all disciplines, and also among people who train at the gym, so it is easy to find it for sale both in sports supplement stores, as well as online stores. It can be found both as a powder to mix with water, as well as being part of other special products for energy recovery, such as energy gels or bars.
As we have already explained, maltodextrin consists mainly of glucose. Therefore, its consumption is usually not recommended for people with diabetes, as one of the maltodextrin side effects is sudden changes in blood glucose levels because the body doesn't produce enough insulin to regulate it properly.
Its use has become so widespread that maltodextrin can be found in products we consume on a daily basis, such as drinks, sweets, ice cream or beers. Sometimes it is not explained where the substance comes from and, as mentioned above, the maltodextrin side effects can be dangerous if it is derived from wheat and contains gluten. It can affect coeliacs without them being aware that they are consuming it.
Although so far there have been no proven maltodextrin dangers to the body that are related to its consumption, as with all substances, taking too much is not good. For example, in athletes, abusing this supplement will cause the body to release more insulin to combat glucose levels. Too much insulin in the circulation can cause momentary hypoglycemia, as well as nausea and vomiting.
D. L.(Denise) Hofman M.Sc., V. J.(Vincent) Van Buul M.Sc. & F.J.P.H.(Fred) Brouns Ph.D. Prof. (2015): Nutrition, Health, and Regulatory Aspects of Digestible Maltodextrins, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, DOI: 10.1080/10408398.2014.940415
Elisabet Børsheim, Melanie G. Cree, Kevin D. Tipton, Tabatha A. Elliott, Asle Aarsland, and Robert R. Wolfe (2003): Effect of carbohydrate intake on net muscle protein synthesis during recovery from resistance exercise; DOI: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00333.2003