Is maltodextrin sugar?
Is maltodextrin sugar? Indeed it is. Except it's way cheaper and actually worse for you than regular sugar
It's a junk food staple found in everything from crisps to fizzy drinks and is also packed into ordinary sports nutrition, as well as all manner of other apparently 'healthy' or 'low-sugar/no-sugar' products. This is all thanks to a food labelling loophole that allows maltodextrin to avoid being called out as sugar on the ingredients label.
The result is that products stacked with maltodextrin (sugar) can legally claim to be sugar-free.
The damage this loophole causes for health and performance, particularly among athletes, is huge. Now if anyone asks you 'is maltodextrin sugar', you know the answer. Welcome to the great maltodextrin caper, which is a lot less fun than it sounds because you're the stooge.
As well as being in many junk foods, maltodextrin is the main ingredient in most ordinary energy gels, protein powders, energy drink mixes and the ordinary sports nutrition industry loves the stuff because it's as cheap as chips (so cheap in fact the average ingredient cost for an ordinary energy gel is just 1p).
It's also sweet and addictive thanks to a higher glycemic-index than table sugar, and of course there's that labelling loophole that lets anyone using it make a healthy looking label without actually making a healthy product.
As far as we're concerned at 33Fuel that's simply lazy, not to mention deceitful, no matter how legal it may currently be.
For us performance and health are the same thing - you can't have one without the other - which means all we'll ever use in our products are the most powerful wholefood ingredients we can.
Maltodextrin? Seriously, you might as well use sawdust. Tell the truth, sawdust would likely be better for you.
Maltodextrin and food labelling: how the loophole works
As mentioned earlier, a big reason the ordinary sports nutrition industry loves maltodextrin is it opens a loophole in labelling regulations wide enough to drive a bus through as it doesn't have to be declared in the 'sugars' section on a nutritional label and is allowed in the 'carbohydrate' section instead.
This is despite it being a sugar remember, and a more potent one than regular sugar, with all the attendant insulin spikes and other issues attached.
The loophole in action: how 20 grams of sugar are hidden in plain sight in energy gels containing maltodextrin
As an example, a regular GU energy gel weighs 32 grams, and its carbohydrate sources - in decreasing order of magnitude - are maltodextrin and fructose.
- These produce 25 grams of carbohydrate per gel, and both are sugars so 25 grams of sugar too.
- Yet look at the the sugars section on the label below and you'll find only 5 grams there. What gives?
- Well, these are the fructose sugars which have to be declared as sugar.
- As for the 20 grams of maltodextrin sugars? They've vanished into thin air, and are hiding in the carbohydrate total.
- From this label, even an educated athlete would deduce that this gel was just 20% sugar.
And they would be completely wrong. The actual figure is almost four times higher at 78%.
25g of carbohydrate, from maltodextrin & fructose = 25g of sugar. Yet the label shows just 5g. That's the fructose, and that's the maltodextrin labelling loophole in action right there
GU are not alone here - try the same with any gel, drink mix, powder or bar containing maltodextrin (that'll be all of them, basically), or any other product with it in and you'll find exactly the same.
Maltodextrin, sugar & labelling: the smoking gun
No need to take our word for all this, here's a full explanation from major maltodextrin producer Bellchem:
"Many soft drinks and other flavored beverages contain maltodextrin in their formulas so that they can have a lower amount of sugar on their nutrition facts labels. On the nutrition label, maltodextrin is included under the “Total Carbohydrate” heading, instead of the “sugars” label"
Add the fact that maltodextrin doesn't come with the tell-tale sugary '-ose' ending (fructose, glucose, sucrose, etc) and athletes are being sold a pup, one most will never spot.
Just another reason why we founded 33 as athletes ourselves.
We simply couldn't find sports nutrition that worked, or was good for us. The more we looked, the more we found everything on the market was about as healthy as guzzling fizzy drinks or shoving down sweets and ice cream. No wonder it had all made us feel so ill.
So we made our own, because we're as passionate about getting faster and stronger as you are, and we want to do it in a way that's genuinely, positively, and actively healthy.
Our unique Chia Energy Gels for example use just four natural ingredients and solve the problem of how to fuel on the go while also using powerful natural ingredients - real food basically.
Call us old-fashioned, but we believe sports nutrition should actually be good for you.
Four natural ingredients, one unique energy gel for delicious, stable energy and all with no stomach trouble and a nutrient profile that's as good for your performance today as it is for your health tomorrow
More performance-boosting content
From the podcast: maltodextrin & sports nutrition
From the Vlog: lessons in performance nutrition from Metallica
From the Blog
Maltodextrin: how one ingredient kills gut health, promotes chronic disease and depletes nutrient stores
Performance v health in sports nutrition - the trade off you don't need to make
The 1p energy gel? You'll find these everywhere, you're just being charged a lot more for them
What's the best sugar for athletes? Yes, this exists - the answer will surprise you!