You’ll find it on the labels of many food items, hidden among the lost lines of many nearly unpronounceable additives: maltodextrin. Whenever you see this ingredient, it is never a “whole” food, as this additive doesn’t occur anywhere in nature and is only made possible through the machinations of food scientists. Let’s explore exactly what maltodextrin is, and what it does for our bodies.

What Is It?

Maltodextrin [1] is a food additive, derived from the starch in either rice, corn, wheat, or potatoes. The starch is chemically treated to dissolve easily in liquid (hydrolyzed), and altered in other ways as well.

In America, most maltodextrin starts out as GMO corn. Cornstarch can be treated in two ways, with the end product containing either less than or more than 20% sugar. More than 20% is corn syrup solids, and less than 20% is what is listed on food labels as maltodextrin.

Maltodextrin can be incorporated in many different types of foods, and is quite common in processed foods listed as “fat-free”, because it adds a texture similar to fat without actually being fat.

What Is Its Biological Role?

Technically, maltodextrin is a complex carbohydrate. Complex carbohydrates are thought of as the “preferable” type of carbohydrate because they are absorbed slowly, therefore spiking your blood sugar less and providing a more even supply of energy that lasts longer than what simple sugar would provide.

Maltodextrin is, however, the exception to this definition. As a results of the way it has been chemically altered, the sugars in maltodextrin are absorbed incredibly quickly [2] and actually cause a greater blood glucose spike, gram for gram, than sugar. It allows the production of sweet and “fat-free” labeled foods that still taste great, without having to list it as plain old sugar on the label.

While the way the human body treats maltodextrin may be a mystery to most people and even cause some to view it as a generic health concerns; that belief is usually based on misinformation and does not necessarily make it bad in every possible scenario.

The simplified explanation is this: it comes from starch, is used to replace fats and sugar in processed foods, and although it is not technically a sugar the human body treats it like one. This means it breaks down very quickly to be fully absorbed and either give energy or be stored as fat.

How Does It Help Bodybuilders and People Who Work Out?

For any fitness enthusiast who is trying to cut calories and slim out, maltodextrin is certainly one to avoid. However, bodybuilders and certain types of athletes may benefit from its ultra-high absorption rate and high calories count [3].

If you are a marathon runner, a serving of sports drink containing maltodextrin will give you a nearly immediate spur of energy can that help you complete your run. If you are an endurance trainer, consuming protein along with maltodextrin ensures the protein is absorbed quickly, which makes for an effective recovery shake.

Bodybuilders and wrestlers looking to bulk up can also benefit; mass gains shakes typically include maltodextrin for this reason. If you fit into any of these categories, then products with maltodextrin in them may help you in the gym or on the field.

What Foods Contain It?

Maltodextrin is found in may processed foods, and labeled as such. Some examples are frozen yogurt, sports drinks, fat free versions of your favorite foods, salad dressings, and more.

How Much Of It Do You Need?

A substance derived from natural origins, but without the same nutritional profile, maltodextrin is not necessary to any diet. In fact, while it may help certain athletes who use energy very quickly or have higher caloric intake requirements, for the rest of us it’s simply not a priority to consume it regularly and go out of our way for it.

Are There Risks Associated With Consuming Too Much Of It?

Given its rate of absorption, glycemic index, and caloric density, consuming too much maltodextrin can certainly have some effects on your body. If you take in more than you can quickly use as rightfully needed energy, your body is simply going to store it.

This will result in unwanted weight gain (of fat, not muscle), blood sugar spikes, and other health risks that go along with protracted periods of these two conditions.

Are There Risks Associated With Consuming Too Little Of It?

Your body does not need any maltodextrin to fulfill its daily nutritional requirements. If you were to completely avoid this food additive, you would experience no ill effects.

While those looking to size up will get performance-enhancing benefits out of maltodextrin, for most this food additive is simply not a priority. Learn about all the ingredients you can, and you can take control of your own nutrition by being more cognizant of what you put in your body.

We hope this helped you clear up what maltodextrin is and how you can benefit from it if it aligns with your fitness goals.


[1] Wikipedia. Maltodextrin. Wikipedia, 2017.

[2] Busch, Sandi. What Does Maltodextrin Do In The Body?., 2015.

[3] Dr. Tam, Freda. Maltodextrin- The Truth., 2013.