Should I Take High Molecular Weight Carbs During My Workout?

Essential Supplementation - Intraworkout Carbohydrates: Hype or Help?
Have you seen gym rats with their carbohydrate concoctions and wondered if they'd work for you? Learn for yourself if they are worth the investment.

There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who want to be jacked and those I don’t associate myself with.

OK, maybe that is taking it to the extreme, but if you are reading Muscle & Strength I would bet my life savings (which I admit is meager) that you are the kind of person who wants to be jacked.

One of the things we know from decades of research is that your training volume is one of the biggest dictators of muscle hypertrophy (aka jackedness). 

So if you want to get bigger and stronger then increasing your work capacity is essential.

Supplementing with carbohydrates before (or during) training is well known to improve work capacity and endurance. Additionally, post workout recovery is important for engaging in repeated bouts of exercise.

One of the rate limiting features of maintaining performance during long events (i.e. triathlons and ironman) is the ability of the gut to absorb nutrients at a high enough rate without cramping.

The mechanical composition of the meal (i.e. solid vs liquid) along with the chemical/physical properties (chemical structure and osmolality) greatly influence the gastric absorbance of nutrients taken in before, during, and after training.

When high molecular weight glucose polymers (vitargo and cyclic dextrins) are mixed in a water solution they provide a low osmolality liquid beverage. It is believed that consuming liquids with low osmolality will increase absorption, thereby providing more carbohydrates and improved performance.

Related: P.H.U.L. - Try This Power Hypertrophy Workout

What the Research Says

Studies comparing a high molecular weight glucose polymer (Vitargo) vs short chain glucose oligomers showed that Vitargo did indeed have better gastric empty than the glucose oligomers1.

Now I know what you are thinking, better gastric emptying? Who gives a rip? Well besides it reducing the “gut bomb” feeling of drinking a huge shake before or during training, the increased gastric emptying means more nutrients available to use for energy during training.

Intraworkout Carbohydrates Shake

Every once in a while theory actually translates into practice. High molecular weight carbs are a perfect example of that. Not only does Vitargo empty the gut faster, it also has been shown to improve glycogen resynthesis rates after a glycogen depleting protocol in well-trained men2.

Ok, improving glycogen synthesis is cool, but will these fancy carbs improve my performance?  Based on recent research it looks like they are superior to other glucose sources.

In a well-controlled study, Vitargo supplementation showed improved recovery and performance on repeated bouts of intense cycling3. In the study, the Vitargo group saw a 9% greater work capacity than the standard glucose group and an almost 20% increase over the placebo group!

Now I don’t know about you, but I sure would like to be able to recover faster.

Vitargo isn’t the only high molecular weight carbohydrate on the market. High branched cyclic dextrins (HBCD) are a close cousin to vitargo and report similar results. For example, HBCD has been shown to have faster gastric emptying and fewer GI issues when consumed during repeated exercise bouts than traditional sports drink4.

Additionally, it has been shown ingesting HBCD increases tie to fatigue and result in higher blood glucose levels during intense training than traditional glucose5.

What About Other Carbs?

Why spend fat stacks on high molecular weight carbs? I mean a banana or a sport drink should do the same right?

Intraworkout Carbs Mid Workout

Not quite. In fact it turns out that when you take in something like a banana or a Powerade the fructose content of those carb sources is kind of useless in regard to providing energy for your muscle tissue while training.

A recent study by a friend of mine, Jorn Trommelen, showed that when you consume fructose in a peri-workout drink most of the fructose just gets burned by the liver and turns into lactate6.

This means less of it can go toward your training. From a performance standpoint, I would argue you are better off going with something lower in fructose or sucrose and higher in something that is just glucose.

Should You Take It?

Supplementing with a high molecular weight carbohydrate like vitargo or a HBCD is probably only going to be beneficial during longer training sessions.

A good rule of thumb is if you train for less than 60 minutes, you probably can just slam a banana before you train and call it good. If you are going to train for longer than that, you can consume anywhere from 20-75g before and during your training cycle.

Based on anecdotes from top-level bodybuilders, consuming about 25 grams 60 to 30 minutes before training and then consuming another 25 to 50 grams during training gives you the best results. Currently, we don’t have enough dose response or timing data to give you a solid, case closed answer, but those are good starting guidelines.

Related: Pre-Workout Nutrition Strategies to Improve Performance

Dosing

Dosing of high molecular weight carbohydrates depends on activity level, activity duration, body size, etc. Dosing should be according to your carbohydrate need. Some people may need 10 to 20 grams, others may need 75 to 100 grams. Find what fits your needs.

Bottom Line

Carbohydrate supplementation is a well-established ergogenic aid. Using a high molecular weight, low osmolality liquid carb source like vitargo or cyclic dextrins can optimize pre and peri workout nutrition.

Pros
  • Easily absorbed carbohydrates
  • Reduce gastric distress from fueling while training
  • Is portable, non-perishable and can be mixed with water
Cons
  • More expensive than bananas, potatoes, or rice
  • If not mixed properly it can adopt a weird texture/consistency
References
  1. Improved gastric emptying rate in humans of a unique glucose polymer with gel-forming properties.
  2. Muscle glycogen resynthesis rate in humans after supplementation of drinks containing carbohydrates with low and high molecular masses.
  3. Post-exercise ingestion of a unique, high molecular weight glucose polymer solution improves performance during a subsequent bout of cycling exercise.
  4. A Sports Drink Based on Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin Generates Few Gastrointestinal Disorders in Untrained Men during Bicycle Exercise
  5. Evaluation of Exercise Performance with the Intake of Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin in Athletes
  6. Fructose Coingestion Does Not Accelerate Postexercise Muscle Glycogen Repletion.