Maltodextrin and sports nutrition: how one ingredient kills gut health, promotes chronic disease, and depletes nutrient stores
Maltodextrin is the bottom feeder of the nutrition world. One of the cheapest and most ubiquitous additives in ultra-processed junk foods, it's long been the darling of the ordinary sports nutrition industry. It's the number one ingredient in ordinary energy gels and the number two - after whey - in protein powders.
Maltodextrin's found in junk food and in most ordinary sports nutrition too. How does that work? Short answer: it doesn't
Despite this there is - unsurprisingly - a lot of industry-funded science telling you how awesome maltodextrin is, but as industry funding makes science four times more likely to deliver a result in favour of the funder’s product, most of this can be safely filed in the small round cabinet on the floor, better known as the bin.
Take a peek on the other side of the story and the evidence stacked against maltodextrin is rather like the dress in the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal. You can hide it under the bed all you like, but it ain’t going away.
We’ll open today’s batting with a statement from maltodextrin producer Bell Chem who explain on their website how maltodextrin “contains almost no vitamins and minerals to assist with turning carbohydrates into energy", and so, "consuming maltodextrin may actually reduce the amount of vitamins and minerals in the body because it uses more vitamins and minerals than it brings into the body. Over time this can lead to a net decrease in a person’s vitamin and mineral levels”
Just so we’re clear:
The ingredient sports nutritionists are lining up to recommend athletes consume more of than just about anything else (maltodextrin) is nutrient negative. So just when you need to give your body the most nutrients - mid-race or post-workout - maltodextrin is not only giving you virtually none, it’s also robbing the ones you do have.
Short term this is about as helpful as someone tying your shoelaces together on the start line. Longterm it’s a contributor to reduced energy and burnout.
Trying to perform using maltodextrin works about as well as surfing without a surfboard
Maltodextrin: unhelpful for gut bacteria
Inside our guts we naturally have a ton of bacteria to help with breaking down foods for digestion and all manner of other good stuff. A growing body of evidence shows how maintaining the right balance of these natural bacteria helps everything from our ability to fight disease through to mood, sleep and stress levels.
Maltodextrin (and other processed sweeteners) destroy these bacteria leaving us more prone to illness and serious longterm health problems.
A recent study by members of the department of pathobiology at the Lerner Research Institute in Ohio found that ingestion of maltodextrin, “contributes to the suppression of intestinal anti-microbial defense mechanisms [that’s gut bacteria to you and me] and may be an environmental priming factor for the development of chronic inflammatory disease.”
Maltodextrin: may also encourage chronic disease
Whoa, back up a second there. Not only can maltodextrin harm gut bacteria, it may also be a primer for ‘chronic inflammatory disease’?
And what, exactly, is chronic inflammatory disease?
“Chronic inflammatory systemic diseases (CIDs) like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and many others are a burden to humans because of life-long debilitating illness, increased mortality and high costs for therapy and care”.
Thanks to the US government’s National Institute of Health for that snappy definition.
Maltodextrin and chronic inflammatory disease - not making anyone fitter or healthier any time soon
Of course you could ignore all this
After all, maltodextrin is a perfectly legal food additive and can still legitimately be called ‘natural’ for now, because many scientific steps before it finally became maltodextrin in a lab, it began life as corn, wheat, rice or a potato.
And what’s harmful about a potato?
Other than when fired point blank at your ear from a potato cannnon (yes, these are a thing), not much.
But this is precisely the point.
Just as the potato cannon transforms the once innocent potato into a potentially lethal weapon, so the heavy industrial processing of corn, wheat, rice and spuds to become maltodextrin turns them into something more dangerous too.
The analogy breaks down here of course because the potato cannon is generally hilarious and harmless as long as it’s not pointed at your face, while maltodextrin is quite the opposite and simply wreaks a trail of havoc wherever it goes.
Which is why at 33Fuel we’ll never use maltodextrin or any other ultraprocessed and chemical nonsense like it because we believe sports nutrition should be as good for you as it is for your performance - you simply can’t have one without the other.
Want your sports nutrition maltodextrin free?
Welcome to our world, because that's all we deal in at 33Fuel. 100% natural ingredients, mighty performance, and all utterly bloody delicious. No maltodextrin anywhere. You can check out our full range here
At 33Fuel all of our products are 100% natural with 0% maltodextrin or any other chemical nonsense, just like our unique 4-ingredient Chia Energy Gel here
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