Carbohydrate Powders – Which One Is Best?

Carbohydrate Powders – Which One Is Best?

What are they?

A popular trend within the bodybuilding industry is intra-workout carbohydrate supplements.

As your muscles’ main energy source, intra-workout carbohydrate supplements are a perfect pick-me-up to help raise the bar – quite literally – for heavy muscle builders who struggle to get the calories in their daily diet.

As your muscles begin to shut down to conserve energy during a heavy session, intra-workout carbohydrate supplements feed these muscles, providing you with more energy to continue your training.

Who are they for?

Although good for stimulating endurance beyond 50-60 minutes of exertion, we wouldn’t recommend intra-workout carbohydrate supplements to everyone.

However, there are two situations whereby they can be of benefit.

Weight Gain

The first is for those naturally ‘ectomorphic’ body types. These are the guys and girls that find it almost impossible to gain, and even maintain, weight. Quite often, the cause isn’t necessarily that that have a very high metabolism, but they just don’t have the appetite to get the required calories in on a consistent basis.

If this is the case, simply consuming a carbohydrate mixture of around 30-60g of carbs alongside some liquid protein or amino acids can work very well. Also, it can be mixed and consumed during their weight training session, so doesn’t replace one of their meals and, depending on the carbohydrate powder, it shouldn’t be very filling or bloat them at all. As a result, it won’t impact the other meals in their day.

Advanced Body Builders

The second group of people it can potentially help is advanced level bodybuilders pushing the envelope and using exogenous insulin. Unless you’re really struggling to gain weight due to a poor appetite, or using the above mentioned hormone, you probably don’t need a carbohydrate powder.

That’s not to say they’re ‘bad’ necessarily, but there are better alternates to consume calories instead.

Which Type is Best?

As with most intra-workout supplements, there are various different powders available to purchase on the market ranging from very cheap (pure glucose), to relatively expensive (Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin, or HBCD).

Listed below are a few of the most popular of brands:

1) Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin

This one is probably the most expensive, but for many, the most worth it.

The first reason being it passes from the stomach into the small intestine very rapidly, causing absolutely no GI (Gastro-Intestinal) stress whatsoever.

The second benefit isn’t very well known, but it’s due to the structure of the carbohydrate molecule used. Typically, carbohydrates are a flat shape, whereas cyclodextrins are a cone shape. Due to this unique shape, they are able to pick up/carry other molecules with them. When combined with an amino acid source (whey isolate, BCAA, EAA etc.), it could potentially help ‘shuttle’ these nutrients into the cell. Thus, improving nutrient intake into the muscle tissue.


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2) Vitargo

Until HBCD came along, Vitargo was the ‘go-to’ carbohydrate source for most. It is said to have a ‘high molecular weight’, meaning that it pulls through the gut rapidly rather than just sitting there.

Due to its high molecular weight, it also has a low osmolality, which means that it doesn’t draw much water around it. This means it doesn’t slow down the rate of transportation and reduces the risk of stomach cramping.

3) Maltodextrin

Maltodextrin was hugely popular back when post-workout ‘recovery’ shakes were all the rage.

Maltodextrin is a complex carbohydrate by structure, but is high on the GI scale due to its short molecular chain and loosely bonded molecules of glucose – so it still offers rapid glycogen replenishment and increases in blood glucose levels.

Moreover, it’s cheap and it doesn’t taste terrible!

4) Dextrose

Dextrose is extremely similar in how it acts when compared with maltodextrin. Although it is derived from corn, it tends to taste very sweet as it’s pretty much pure glucose (sugar).

Most find, as the quantity increases, that both maltodextrin and dextrose can cause some abdominal bloating. This is likely due to their molecular weight and higher osmolality when compared to HBCD & Vitargo.

5) Sports Drinks (Lucozade, Gatorade etc)

Although these are more aimed toward endurance sports than for gym goers, weightlifters, and bodybuilders – if you’re in a rush, you can quite easily use these sports drinks as your intra-workout carbohydrates.

They usually contain pure glucose and sometimes maltodextrin – so they will be very close/comparable to the previous two mentioned. If you decide to opt for one of these at the last minute, just be sure to check that it’s not carbonated!


Unlike amino acids that once ingested have different roles to play within the body, all starchy carbohydrates will be converted into glucose and then stored as glycogen in either the liver, muscle or brain.

With that in mind, for the most part all of the above five will end up essentially doing the same thing. The difference between them lies within the delivery, rate of digestion and potential for bloating.

Naturally, we’re all different, so this these can affect us all differently. From what we have seen with clients however, is that the Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin seems to be the most easily tolerated with next to zero gastric distress.

This, coupled with the unique ‘cone’ shaped molecular structure, is what sets it aside from the competition, and is our recommendation for those wanting to add intra-workout carbohydrate into their arsenal.

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Akash Vaghela is the Founder of RNT Fitness, where his mission is to see a world where everyone experiences the power of a physical body transformation to act as a vehicle for the greater good in their lives. Akash has produced 200+ blogs, 100+ videos and hosts the RNT Fitness Radio podcast, which has amassed over 110,000 downloads in 90+ countries across 100+ episodes. Alongside this, he's been seen in Men's Health, BBC, T-Nation, Elite FTS and the PTDC, while also regularly speaking nationally and internationally on all things transformation.