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“Understanding the BS behind your “Low Sugar” shake”

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This is going to be a short and sweet post regarding a commonly used ingredient in a number of supplements that is largely going to be doing more damage than good. Maltodextrin is a carbohydrate supplement that is often found in various meal replacements and mass gainer shakes. One of the key marketing tricks behind maltodextrin is that, despite acting in a very similar nature to common sugars, it does not appear on food labels as a “Sugar”. It is in actuality a complex carbohydrate (called a polysaccharide), but let’s look at this a bit more closely. To explore this, I’m going to explain Glycaemic index quickly.

Glycaemic Index (GI) is a score given to foods that indicate the elevation in blood sugar levels post ingestion. Elevated blood sugar then leads to elevated insulin. Insulin is an interesting hormone. Too much, congrats, you’re insulin resistant and have Type 2 Diabetes. Too little and you may actually be leaving some of your gains at the door. Insulin is arguably (in an environment where all other things are in balance) one of the most anabolic hormones. This post isn’t about insulin but you can read more here. Long story short, post workout more insulin (to a point) = probably good; the rest of the time, excess insulin = probably bad. Anyway, pure glucose = GI of 100. All other things are based off this. For context, Table Sugar has a GI of ~65, peanuts have a GI of ~7. GI isn’t the be all and end all, especially as foods are rarely eaten in isolation so raw GI scores are somewhat misleading, but you get the point.

Maltodextrin, despite not being a sugar, has a glycaemic index of ~130. That’s pretty high. Like higher than pure glucose. So, have a look at your low sugar food labels for maltodextrin. Despite not technically being a sugar, it’s a kind of horrible man-made, very sweet, “not sugar” that is cheap to manufacture and is potentially messing with your ability to regulate insulin. Probably not necessary.

Coach Charles.


Ref: Hofman DL, van Buul VJ, Brouns FJ. Nutrition, Health, and Regulatory Aspects of Digestible Maltodextrins. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2015;56(12):2091-100.