Intra-Workout Carbs: Do You Need Them?

Carbs. They seem to be cool again, in bodybuilding at least. While keto and LCHF still have cult followings, the rest of the fitness world seems to be cramming in post-workout bagels, jam and cereal and using supplements such as GDAs (Glucose Disposal Agents) and intra-workout carbs.

But... a carb is a carb... right? Kind of. If you are looking to really refine your peri-workout nutrition routine, it helps to have an understanding of the different products out there and how they can have slightly different effects.

Popular intra-workout carb powders:

-Dextrose
-Maltodextrin
-Cyclic Dextrin
-Vitargo

Dextrose and maltodextrin are the old school carb powders of choice, and tend to be available incredibly cheap. Dextrose is such a simple sugar that your body doesn't have to break it down, raising insulin almost instantaneously, maltodextrin is broken down just a little slower. Another difference is that dextrose has a sweeter taste. Both are usually derived from corn or potato starch.

A maltodextrin option

The next two are newer additions to intra-workout stacks.

Vitargo is a patented, high molecular weight carbohydrate from maize starch. Before cyclic dextrin became so popularised, it was the superior option for digestion.

The chemical structure of HBCD

Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin (HBCD), on the other hand, is quite unique in that it really

does have a cyclic structure. This more complex shape means that it is broken down more slowly, preventing blood sugar skyrocketing then plummeting and also bypassing the GI

discomfort that dextrose/maltodextrin can cause. When combined with amino acids, the shape of HBCD can help to shuttle those into the muscles. The most expensive, but arguably best, option.

Benefits of intra-workout carbs:

-Easy calories for hard gainers and/or times of reduced appetite
-Increasing muscle glycogen for better pumps
-Fueling the ATP/creatine phosphate pathway, higher reps and more intense contractions.
-High insulin levels keep levels of catabolic hormones like glucagon, epinephrine, and cortisol low
-Psychological benefit of drinking something which may help strength/endurance between sets

Take Home

There is conflicting evidence on how beneficial intra-workout carbs are for sessions under 90 minutes where muscle glycogen is not significantly depleted, but anecdotal evidence is good. We would advise using 25-50g cyclic dextrin to start with, combined with EAAs and creatine, and going from there!

About the Author

Savannah Westerby, BSc Sport and Exercise Nutrition. IG:@savannahwesterby
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