Cluster Dextrin®: The Science of Carbohydrate Supplements for Athletic Performance
Conventional sports beverages and carb powders are generally loaded with dextrose and maltodextrin, both of which are relatively low molecular weight carbohydrates with very high glycemic index scores. Consequently, consuming these carbohydrates creates a brief surge in blood glucose levels and acute insulin spikes that lead to rapid swings in energy.
To be clear, “spiking insulin” isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but pounding sugary sports drinks is generally not ideal for athletic performance or muscle building.
This is where Cluster Dextrin® comes in handy as a carbohydrate supplement. Not only is it a beneficial source of sustained-release carbohydrates, but it’s also gentle on the stomach and doesn’t spike insulin levels like fast-acting carb sources (e.g. dextrose, sucrose, and maltodextrin).
But what exactly is Cluster Dextrin®? How does it work? This article breaks down the science and research behind this unique performance carbohydrate powder.
What is Cluster Dextrin® (Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin)?
Cluster Dextrin® is a patented sports supplement ingredient that is made from waxy corn starch (amylopectin) using a specific branching enzyme. The resulting carbohydrate is a novel form of maltodextrin known as highly branched cyclic dextrin (HBCD). Normally, maltodextrin is a linear chain of multiple glucose units and a molecular weight range of roughly 400 - 2,000 g/mol.
Due to the robust branching of Cluster Dextrin®, it has an exceptionally high molecular weight of about 400,000 g/mol with a narrow size distribution. For reference, the molecular weight of dextrose (glucose) is a mere 180 g/mol.
In turn, Cluster Dextrin® has high solubility, very low osmolality, and resists retrogradation.
So, what does this all mean in layman terms?
Well, for one, it means carbohydrate beverages containing Cluster Dextrin® are much quicker to pass through the stomach and enter the small intestine. Sports beverages with glucose/dextrose and standard maltodextrin are the opposite.
It also means that Cluster Dextrin® is easier to tolerate for athletes and won’t cause the gastrointestinal discomfort of conventional sports drinks.
And finally, it means that Cluster Dextrin® provides a steady increase in blood sugar levels over time, whereas pure glucose/dextrose/maltodextrin creates acute spikes.
Hence, Cluster Dextrin® won’t leave you liable to swings in energy levels during a workout or athletic event, nor will it send your insulin levels through the roof like most carb supplements.
Benefits of Cluster Dextrin® for Athletes and Gym-Goers
Whether you’re an inveterate bodybuilder, athlete, or general fitness enthusiast, supplementing with a carbohydrate powder with Cluster Dextrin® (highly branched cyclic dextrin) can pay dividends towards your performance and recovery. Let’s take a look at the versatile applications of carb powder supplements with Cluster Dextrin®.
Cluster Dextrin® for Athletic Performance
Several clinical studies have shown that athletes given highly-branched cyclic dextrin (HBCD) had significantly greater peak performance capacity and reduced rates of perceived exertion (RPE) compared to those given sports beverages with glucose or maltodextrin.
In one of these studies, elite swimmers that consumed an equal-volume, isocaloric solution of HBCD before exercise were able to swim at 90% of peak capacity for roughly 70% longer than those that drank either glucose or plain water.
As you can see, the swimmers that consumed glucose-containing sports beverages performed no better than those in the plain water group (essentially a placebo). This lends credence to the argument that pure glucose/dextrose supplements aren’t ideal for athletes.
Another study compared the effects of relatively low doses (15 g) of highly branched cyclic dextrin and maltodextrin in 24 healthy adult volunteers. Subjects carried out one hour of endurance training on two separate occasions and were randomly assigned a solution with either 15 g of HBCD or 15 g of maltodextrin to be consumed immediately before each bout.
The researchers found that increases in rates of perceived exertion (RPE) were significantly lower after consuming HBCD than they were after consuming maltodextrin.
More simply, the workout “felt” less exhaustive for the subjects after drinking highly branched cyclic dextrin than it did after drinking maltodextrin.
Pre-Workout Cluster Dextrin®
Fast-acting carbohydrates like dextrose, sucrose, and maltodextrin create sharp, transient elevations in blood glucose and delayed gastric emptying. Consequently, many sports beverages and fruit juices lead to a “heavy stomach” sensation and a short burst in energy followed by crashing. Needless to say, athletic performance suffers when your stomach is agitated and you burn out halfway through your workout.
To reiterate from earlier, Cluster Dextrin® exhibits the opposite characteristics; it’s rapidly emptied from the stomach into the intestines and provides a steady supply of energy, making it more suitable for athletes and gym-goers before hitting the gym or taking the playing field.
Cluster Dextrin® for Recovery and Muscle Growth
Supplementing with Cluster Dextrin® after training helps replenish muscle glycogen and create a more anabolic environment for maximal recovery, especially when combined with a quality protein source like grass-fed whey isolate. [7, 8]
Does Cluster Dextrin Spike Insulin?
Insulin is a peptide hormone secreted by the pancreas on-demand to help clear glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream. Hence, insulin is referred to as a “storage hormone” because it signals cells to absorb glucose (and other substrates). In this regard, insulin is a signaling molecule that facilitates the uptake of sugar across cell membranes so cells can convert glucose to biochemical energy (i.e. ATP).
But insulin is also a potent anabolic and anti-catabolic hormone in muscle tissue since it augments muscle protein synthesis and inhibits muscle protein breakdown when amino acid availability is limited.
Naturally, insulin is an essential hormone since it helps us build and maintain lean body mass, but this isn’t to say that the more insulin you produce (and the more sugar you eat), the better.
Your body can only store so much glucose (as glycogen), and once you surpass that amount, the sugar in your bloodstream is more likely to be converted to fat and subsequently stored in adipocytes, especially in the liver.
Thus, there comes a point where overloading the body with carbohydrates becomes more detrimental than it does beneficial, particularly if your goal is to pack on muscle without gaining excess body fat.
How Many Carbs to Eat for Building Muscle?
The general rule of thumb is to consume 2-3 g of carbohydrate per lb of body weight when you’re trying to build muscle. Endurance athletes may require upwards of 5-6 g of carbs per day for optimal performance and recovery.
A carbohydrate supplement with highly branched cyclic dextrin can help make it much easier to reach those numbers without leaving you feeling lethargic and wreaking havoc on your stomach. For example, 20-30 g of Cluster Dextrin® is an easily digestible source of pre-workout carbs that will fuel you through an intense training session.
Post-workout is another suitable time for using a Cluster Dextrin® supplement to initiate the muscle recovery process and refuel muscle glycogen. If you engage in regular resistance training or intense athletic events, 30-60 g of Cluster Dextrin® mixed with 25-30 g of quality protein like whey protein isolate is generally sufficient for a post-workout shake.
Carbs and Weight Loss
If your goal is staying/getting lean while retaining as much muscle as possible, then daily carb intake should be a bit lower; though, you don’t need to completely cut out carbs like those on the keto diet.
Frankly, carbohydrates are your protein-sparing allies! They are conducive to getting lean without losing (much) muscle, especially for active people like athletes and bodybuilders.
And no, insulin and sugar aren’t intrinsically “bad” by any means, nor will they prevent you from cutting body fat. The more carbs you can “get away” with eating while maintaining consistent fat loss, the better.
Some people will only need to cut their carb intake to 1.5 g/lb of body weight per day; others might need to go all the way down to 40-50 g or fewer per day.
However, eating a low-carb diet isn’t going to lead to weight loss by default. You can still eat too many calories even if you’re not consuming many carbs. Remember: weight loss is ultimately dictated by energy balance, not carbohydrate intake!
How to Use Cluster Dextrin®
To recap, Cluster Dextrin® (highly branched cyclic dextrin) is a novel form of maltodextrin with a characteristic high-molecular-weight and extensive branching in its chemical structure. These unique properties make it a superior carbohydrate supplement for several reasons:
In contrast to low molecular weight carbohydrates like dextrose, Cluster Dextrin® is rapidly absorbed through the stomach into the small intestines.
Once it reaches the intestines, Cluster Dextrin® is steadily hydrolyzed to glucose monomers to provide an ongoing supply of energy to working muscle tissue.
Cluster Dextrin® has a much lower glycemic index than simple sugars like dextrose (corn sugar) and standard maltodextrin.
Transparent Labs Carb Powder provides 25 g of Cluster Dextrin® in every serving. Due to its exceptional solubility and pleasant natural taste, you can mix TL Carb Powder with any other powder supplement, such as creatine monohydrate.
For maximizing performance, consume one serving of TL Carb Powder pre-workout. An additional intra-workout dose may be wise if you train for 90+ minutes. After training, consume 1-2 servings of TL Carb Powder in conjunction with Transparent Labs Protein Powder to facilitate recovery and create an anabolic environment for packing on lean muscle mass.
If you need help selecting a pre-workout supplement to take with TL Carb Powder, this Guide to the Best Pre-Workouts makes it a cinch.