As one of the four macronutrients, carbohydrates are critical to energy production, breakdown of fatty acids, and blood sugar regulation.
Carbohydrates can be broken down into two basic categories – simple and complex.
Also defined as simple sugars and starches, these two types differ in chemical structure, the number of saccharide chains, and ultimately nutritional impact upon the body. We’ll get into those details a bit later.
The overall benefits of carbohydrates include:
- Quick energy source (simple carbs)
- Cortisol control post-workout (simple carbs)
- Muscle preservation and recovery (both, depending on timing)
- Sustained energy (complex carbs)
- Dietary fiber to aid digestion (complex carbs)
While we get most carbohydrates from our diet, such as rice, potatoes, fruit, and even candy, sometimes you need a supplement. Not everyone wants to transport fresh fruit or a bowl of pasta everywhere, especially before, during, and after workouts.
Sometimes, you need something you can drink down on the field at half-time or something non-perishable to travel with.
That’s where carbohydrate supplements come in.
However, since there are so many versions of this delicious, sweet supplement, how in the world are you supposed to pick just one?
We wanted to make it easy, so we’ve looked at the market for you.
In this article, you’ll discover:
- the benefits of a carbohydrate supplement
- which type to take to get results
- and our pick for the best carbohydrate supplement in 2020.
*If you want the quick answer, then go straight to our #1 carbohydrate supplement this year: Performance Lab Carb.
Benefits of Carb Supplements
The three monosaccharides, or carbs with only one saccharide chain, are glucose, fructose, and galactose. Glucose, notably, is the body’s preferred energy source.
Combining two of the above creates a disaccharide, either lactose (glucose + galactose), sucrose (glucose + fructose), or maltose (glucose + glucose).
All of the above are considered simple carbohydrates, which are rapidly absorbed by the human body.
Complex carbs, on the other hand, consist of polysaccharides. Glycogen and other starches feature multiple chains of these simple sugars, and, therefore, it takes the body longer to break them down.
When broken down into glucose, these carbs can be converted into ATP, or the molecules that give us energy. We can also get ATP from fats or proteins, but glucose is the body’s preferred source. Carb supplements, therefore, provide the most critical nutrient to fuel exercise and recovery.
Taking a carbohydrate supplement can have the following benefits:
- Muscle preservation and growth
- Cortisol control
- Enhanced recovery
- Increased endurance during workouts
- Elevated energy
If there aren’t enough carbs present around your workouts, there’s a chance your body will reach into your muscles. Therefore, taking a carbohydrate supplement keeps your muscle where it’s supposed to be, and not broken down for use as fuel.
It also helps spike insulin, counteracting the inflammatory effects of exercise. You see, insulin levels negatively correlate with cortisol, your stress hormone. During intense exercise, cortisol naturally spikes so that we can adapt to the demands – lift big weights, run faster, or complete more reps.
In a nutshell, high carb consumption after workouts helps bring that back down to baseline so you can recover quicker.
Finally, as glucose is the body’s preferred energy source, feeding it carbs is like adding fuel to the fire. When the fire starts to die down, just sprinkle a little carbs on top to light up again.
Different Types of Carbohydrate Supplements
As glucose is the body’s preferred energy source, it makes sense that, as a supplement, it’s a direct line to increasing energy. However, it’s only called glucose within the bloodstream. When this chemical compound comes from food, it’s known as dextrose. It may be semantics, but that’s what to look for in a supplement.
With a very sweet taste, dextrose is a common additive food and supplements alike. However, as a standalone supplement, it gives your body a jolt of energy, spiking blood sugar almost immediately (since, chemically-speaking, it IS blood sugar). As such, it’s very calorie-dense and high-glycemic. In response to this spike in blood sugar, dextrose stimulates the release of insulin, a hormone responsible for transporting sugar into muscles. After a workout, this immediate reaction can be vital to recovery.
Unfortunately, taking dextrose is often associated with an energy crash. Not only can this ruin productivity after a workout, but regular insulin spikes at rest also correlate with a risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
Fructose is often touted as a “better” sugar than glucose as it comes from fruit. In reality, it contains its own health risks when used improperly (think high-fructose corn syrup). The short-term, distinct effects of dietary fructose are essentially negligible, as it’s rapidly converted to glucose in the intestine for use by the body
Sucrose, aka table sugar, combines glucose and fructose into one unit. Since it’s common sugar, you really don’t need any “special” supplement to get it – just head down to your corner store. A recent study showed that the glucose + fructose combo enhanced replenishment of liver glycogen stores, but had no greater effect on muscle glycogen than glucose alone. However, if you’re looking for a cheap, convenient option for immediate energy, buy a bag of sugar.
Maltodextrin is actually a polysaccharide, which makes it a complex carb. Therefore, it’s not technically a sugar and doesn’t have the characteristic sweet flavor of fructose, glucose, or sucrose. Its primary culinary use is a thickener or additive to improve shelf life. However, due to its unique chemical make-up, it’s digested as fast as dextrose, making it a great quick-carbohydrate supplement.
Maltodextrin supplements are made by hydrolyzing starchy foods such as potatoes, corn, and wheat. This process uses water, acid, and enzymes to break it down and isolate the maltodextrin into a powder. Unfortunately, some studies have associated maltodextrin with a decrease in “good” gut bacteria, potentially leading to inflammatory bowel disease.
KarboLyn is a patent-pending carb form stemming from waxy maize. A unique starch, this complex carb comes from a mutation of traditional maize.
Its popularity skyrocketed with farmers who found it a much better feed for their livestock. The company American Pharmaceutical captured this carb’s properties as a supplement for humans.
This new mutation with a small molecular mass makes it absorb as quickly as dextrose, yet it continues to provide sustained energy, similar to most complex carbs.
Best Type of Carb Supplement: KarboLyn
Research shows that the rate of carbohydrate delivery to skeletal muscle and the liver controls the post-exercise refill of glycogen stores.
Simple carbs, such as glucose, fructose, and lactose, both elevate energy levels in the short term and deliver carbs to muscle quickly. Rapidly digested and absorbed carbs can accelerate recovery.
Complex carbs, on the other hand, can continue to load muscles over time. While this proves beneficial when time isn’t of the essence, elite athletes often require recovery within a few hours.
So, what is Karbolyn?
KarboLyn is engineered to be a homopolysaccharide. Without diving too deep into the biochemistry, this means it’s a bunch of monosaccharides joined by rather large bonds. With this chemical structure, it both absorbs quickly and sustains energy for hours after ingestion. By passing through the stomach rapidly, it kicks off the insulin response that starts muscle recovery.
In a case study of two bodybuilders, KarboLyn was shown to improve strength and endurance significantly compared to maltodextrin and another waxy starch. At 100 grams, the increases in performance extended for up to two hours.
KarboLyn was also absorbed 18% quicker than glucose, which makes it superior for instant energy. The study also showed no sugar crash that’s typical of glucose ingestion.
However, it should be noted that this is one very small case study. Another study confirms this extended-release glucose without negative impacts, even in prediabetic patients.
The best thing about KarboLyn is that it’s absorbed as quickly as a sugar, without actually being a sugar.
Therefore, you don’t get the subsequent crash after the energy spike. It’s like eating any other complex carb – rice, potatoes, corn, etc. – but you don’t have to wait to reap the rewards.
Its instantized powder makes it ideal for athletic events, pre/intra workouts, or as a post-workout recovery drink.
Best Carbohydrate Supplement
Our pick for best carbohydrate supplement this year…
Performance Lab Carb
*To Buy, Visit: www.performancelab.com/products/carb
Obviously, we wanted something that featured KarboLyn, which is the star of Performance Lab Carb.
But their product takes things one step further.
They add two ingredients that supercharge the athletic benefits – Himalayan Pink Salt and Coconut sugar.
For one, these two act as critical transporters allowing the carbs in KarboLyn to cross cell membranes with ease. Furthermore, Himalayan Pink Salt contains electrolytes such as calcium, magnesium, sodium, and potassium.
All of the above form critical chemical gradients required for muscle contraction and performance. Coconut sugars add a small amount of sweetness (which KarboLyn lacks) without artificial flavoring, and they also bring their own electrolytes.
Finally, Performance Lab third-party tests all of their products for purity, and Carb is vegan-friendly, caffeine-free, non-GMO, and free of additives.
- Sustains energy output
- Improves muscle power
- Provides quick energy spike without the crash
- Contains electrolytes
- Superior production quality and purity
- 100% vegan-friendly
- Only comes in one flavor (chocolate)
Best Time to take Carb Supplements
The best time to take a carbohydrate supplement is when you need immediate energy without a crash. The ideal timing varies depending on your overall goals.
Carbohydrate supplements are incredibly effective for:
- Training to gain size or muscle
- High-intensity training phases
- Pre-workout for performance
- Post-workout for recovery
Training to gain muscle size
When training to gain size, carbs are your friend. Eat carbs at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and especially around your workouts. Choose whole-food carbs at meals when possible, as they offer more calories, fiber, and micronutrients that you need to gain size. If for some reason you can’t eat whole-food carbs, you can supplement them with Performance Lab Carb. Aim for around 40-60% of your total caloric intake from carbs, depending on your training schedule.
High-intensity training phases and before/during a workout
Similar to training for size, the intensity of your training correlates with your carb intake. Still aim for the same total amount of carbs, but really focus on your peri-workout nutrition. High-intensity training phases are the perfect time for carbohydrate supplements, as we often can’t stomach huge meals before/after a hard workout. A few hours before training, you’ll want a carb that will sustain until your workout. Immediately before, during, and after training, you’ll need a carb supplement that provides quick energy. KarboLyn does both, which is what makes it the ideal carbohydrate supplement. It gives you the fuel you need to train harder for longer, without causing gastric distress.
Alongside BCAAs to limit muscle breakdown, eating carbs after a workout helps restore glycogen depletion. 30 minutes to two hours after training, taking a quick-digesting carb helps keep insulin levels high. Insulin works as a counter to cortisol – the stress hormone. As such, higher levels help combat the inflammatory effects of oxidative stress. Insulin release also triggers the transfer of blood glucose into the muscle where it can be stored as glycogen. That way, the next time you go to train, your mitochondria will have plenty of ready-to-use glucose to transform into energy. Keep topping it off with a carb supplement, and you’ll be hard-pressed to run out of fuel.
An effective, clean carbohydrate supplement is a great way to get the energy your body deserves when whole foods aren’t an option.
Especially around your workouts, instantized carbs like KarboLyn improve performance, mood, and vigor without the subsequent crash. Add in the electrolytes and flavors in Performance Lab Carb, and you have a sweet, delicious, endurance-boosting supplement.
Based in KarboLyn, Performance Lab Carb gives you immediate energy that lasts throughout your workout and into your recovery. Its plant-based, high-quality origins make a safe, natural option for everyday use.