Carbohydrates have proven to be a critical macronutrient amongst endurance athletes, for performance and recovery. Studies have shown for the past several decades, that glycogen replenishment is key to fuel endurance during prolonged periods of exercise performance. However, the vast majority of carb supplements such as waxy maize, dextrose, maltodextrin, and highly branched chain cluster dextrin are simple carbs (sugar) derived from cornstartch; a genetically modified ingredient with low to no nutritional value. So why would you take highly branched cluster dextrin, when you can eat real whole-foods, or supplement with real carbs, instead of modified cornstarch or simple carbs, otherwise known as sugar?
What Is Highly Branched Cluster Dextrin?
Cluster Dextrin also referred to, as Highly Branched Cluster Dextrin (HBCD) is a type of high-molecular-weight maltodextrin. Dextrins are produced from applying a branching enzyme to cornstarch. The branching enzyme works on the joint of the cluster structure of amylopectin and degrades it by cyclization [R]. In addition to being used as a sports performance product, HBCD is also used as a taste masking improver and a spray drying aid.
Cluster Dextrin, like other carb supplements such as dextrose and maltodextrin are meant to provide fast-acting energy, for prolonged periods of exercise. But why would you take a carb supplement that's just sugar as opposed to supplementing with real whole-foods, derived from complex carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes, yams, and oats? Let’s put this into perspective.
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The Problem With Dextrose, Maltodextrin and Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin (HBCD)
1. HBCD Will Lead To Unwanted Weight Gain And Energy Crash
Carbs are a macronutrient and one of the main nutrients in your daily diet which come in the form of sugars, starches, and fiber. Carbohydrates are broken down in the body by amylase, which is an enzyme that turns carbs into glucose, a fast-acting energy store. If Glycogen is not used as an energy source, it’s stored as body fat, for future energy reserves.
Simple carb supplements such as dextrose, maltodextrin, and HBCD are marketed to be ‘fast acting’ carbs, providing a rush of short-burst energy to help power endurance. The problem is that once your insulin levels are spiked, and the glycogen produced from the carbs sweep into your muscles, liver, and other organs, your body is left wiped out, tired, and lethargic. This effect is known as hypoglycemia or the roller-coaster effect.
Unlike simple carb supplements like HBCD and maltodextrin, complex carbs found in superfoods like sweet potatoes, yams, and oats provide long-lasting sustained energy to improve performance without the insulin spike, body fat gain, and energy crash.
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2. HBCD Is Made From Genetically Modified Cornstarch
Carb supplements such as HBCD, dextrose and maltodextin are made from modified cornstarch, also known simply as modified sugar. Let’s make a direct comparison and take a look at 1st phorm’s product Ignition, which is marketed to help restore glycogen levels, increase muscle growth, and increase nutrient delivery and Swolverine’s Clean Carbs
As you can clearly see from the supplement facts, Ignition has 43g of carbohydrates, 43g of total sugars, and 43g of added sugars. In addition to the sugar, there are some key added vitamins and minerals none which exceed or even meet your daily recommended value.
The key takeaway from this nutrition label is that this “carbohydrate product” is really just made with 43g of sugar, which you could just as easily get from a snickers bar.
Now, compare that nutrition label, with Swolverine’s Clean Carbs label. As you can see there are 24g of carbohydrates with 5g of naturally occurring sugars (not added sugars) made with complex carbohydrates from real food such as sweet potatoes, yams, oats, and blueberries, with less than 1g of stevia.
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The point is this, complex carb supplements made with real superfoods, will provide you with more sustained energy while triggering a slower insulin response and release, so that you won’t add unwanted body fat. Not to mention you won't crash and get hit with the roller-coaster effect.
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3. HBCD Has The Same Gastric Emptying Time (Bioavailability) As Dextrose and Maltodextrin
HBCD claims that it’s the "fastest absorbing" carbohydrate and that it prevents various digestive problems often found with other carb supplements such as maltodextrin and dextrose. Fast absorption is often regarded as a positive benefit to endurance athletes so that they can retain a quick rush of energy during training and competition. Manufacturers of HBCD claim that its increased molecular weight and decreased osmolarity due to its unique branched structure causes it to be digested and absorbed rapidly and sent to muscle tissue quickly.
That sounds great, however, clinical studies suggest that HBCD actually hangs around in the stomach longer than other, far cheaper carb supplements [R]. Not only that but when tested against both maltodextrin and glucose, HBCD showed no differences in perceived exertion and produced no additional blood glucose for glycogen replenishment.
Based on the clinical research, here are the facts of Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin
- Has not been shown to increase exercise performance in humans when tested against other carb supplements
- Does not replenish glycogen better than other simple carb supplements
- Empties from the stomach slower than maltodextrin, but faster than glucose
- Shows no better benefit in human performance during exercise compared to other carb supplements
- Shows no benefit to rate of perceived exertion during exercise, when compared to other carb supplements
- Weak test results showed that at only one time point, (of multiple that were tested), in one study, in rodents, showed a performance increase.
Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin: The Takeaway
If you’re an endurance athlete and you’re serious about improving your performance, then opt for a natural carbohydrate product made with real whole-foods. What you put in your body matters.
The fact is that carbohydrates should not be genetically altered to become more bioavailable. Clean complex carbohydrates derived from real whole-foods provide long-lasting energy for prolonged exercise performance, without spiking blood sugar and without being genetically modified. When’s the last time you saw a clinical study with a study objective, to prove the bioavailability and ease on the digestive system with natural carbohydrates like sweet potatoes? Oh yeah, never! That’s because real whole-foods don’t need studies to defend their nutritional use, safety, efficacy, and to ‘prove’ that they don’t cause discomfort while exercising. Real food does not require clinical evidence to prove superiority in outcomes.
Looking for a clean carbohydrate instead of just a bottle of sugar?
Your body needs carbohydrates for optimal performance and recovery during high-intensity and endurance training. But, not all carbohydrates are created equal. Swolverine's Clean Carbs is made with 100% natural whole-foods from complex carbohydrates, including Sweet potatoes, Yams, Oats, and Blueberries to provide the long-lasting and sustained energy your body needs to fuel performance and optimize recovery. Delicious and rich you can add it to your smoothies, shakes, or mix with water, for a rich and tasty treat.
- H Takii, et al. “Enhancement of swimming endurance in mice by highly branched cyclic dextrin.” I. 1999 Dec;63(12):2045-52
- T. Furuyashiki, et al. “Effects of ingesting highly branched cyclic dextrin during endurance exercise on rating of perceived exertion and blood components associated with energy metabolism.” Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2014;78(12):2117-9. doi: 10.1080/09168451.2014.943654
- K. Suzuki, et al. “Effect of a sports drink based on highly-branched cyclic dextrin on cytokine responses to exhaustive endurance exercise.” Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2014 Oct;54(5):622-30.
- H Takii, et al. “Fluids Containing a Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin Influence the Gastric Emptying Rate,” Int J Sports Med 2005; 26: 314-319.
- H. Takii et al, “A Sports Drink Based on Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin Generates Few Gastrointestinal Disorders in Untrained Men During Bicycle Exercise.” Food Sci. Technol. Res., 10 (4), 428-431, 2004