Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for many endurance sports such as running, cyclocross, triathlon. Their rapid transfer of energy in the form of ATP, makes them indispensable also during exercise. Necessity dictated also by the limited ability of the body to store and create stocks of them.
Carbohydrates are divided into several categories. Simple carbohydrates are made up of a few units of glucose, and are characterized by rapid absorption that leads to instant energy. The most used among them, are glucose, fructose and sucrose. Complex carbohydrates are made up of multiple glucose molecules and are absorbed at a constant rate, releasing energy for longer. In this category we find the much-talked about maltodextrins.
This family includes the substances derived from starches, as the most widely used corn starch, as well as wheat, oats, rice, potato or tapioca starch. From these, through a process of hydrolysis, you get different types of maltodextrins, characterized by a variable number of glucose units. This number will determine the parameter indicating the characteristics of the maltodextrins: the dextrose equivalent value, DE. Variable from a minimum of 4-6 to a maximum of 36-39, DE suggests the length of maltodextrins and their absorption rate, and then action. The higher the DE, the shorter the chains of polysaccharides that form maltodextrins, and the more their behaviour resembles that of glucose, so quick absorption and immediate transfer of energy. For athletic purposes, the recommended maltodextrin DE will be equal to 20-24. Unlike the glucose content in various foods, maltodextrins have certain characteristics that make them preferable:
- They taste nicer,
- Are easily soluble in water
- Are easily assimilated, even in cases of enzymatic deficiencies,
- Have a reduced salt content,
- Their intake does not create problems such as abdominal cramps or diarrhoea.
To add value to these features, there are numerous studies that show that the use of carbohydrates during endurance activities can increase the strength of the athlete.
Maltodextrins are taken gradually, after the hour and a half’s effort, we recommend you should take approximately 30g every 15-20 minutes. The factor that most influences the intake amount is the intensity of the workout or race. On the other hand, the training level of the subject or body weight seem to have no influence. Therefore, maltodextrins can be taken by anyone must face an intense, long-lasting effort.
On the market, they are often combined with other sugars like fructose and dextrose. This is done to provide the immediate energy given by simple sugars as well as more long-term energy. Additionally, these combinations make it possible to avoid side effects, such as abdominal cramps and gastrointestinal disorders. Finally, the fact that a solution containing different types of carbohydrates, in quantities above 5% can optimize gastric emptying and improve the absorption of liquids must not be underestimated. Very important factors also for the athlete’s proper rehydration during stress, another factor that can affect health and performance.
Dr.ssa Olga Meletis
Farmacista specializzata in nutrizione sportiva