Dextrose (corn sugar)

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What you can achieve by taking it
  • As a main energy resource, it plays a key role in bodily functions.
  • Helps nutrients reach their destinations after workout
  • Supports brain function

What is dextrose?

Dextrose is a monosaccharide. To be more specific, an aldohexose. It plays a key role in biological processes: cells use it as an energy and metabolite resource. Its biosynthesis starts out from carbon dioxide and water and continues with photoenergy in green plants during photosynthesis. In living organisms, only the D-enantiomer (geometric mirror image) of glucose can be found, which is called dextrose. L-glucose is biologically inactive. This means, the cells cannot utilize it.

Dextrose, in other names glucose or corn sugar is a carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients besides proteins and fats. We might say it is the most important simple sugar. The dextrose molecule can be found in nature. For example, in sweet fruits or honey. It can also be derived from starches, for example, corn starch, with the help of enzymes.

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates (for brevity’s sake, often referred to as “carbs” on this site) are sugars and starches that provide energy for the body. Some carbs are absorbed faster, while others are absorbed slower. Complex carbohydrates belong to the latter group. This means, it takes longer for the body to extract the necessary energy. Their advantage is that they provide a steady energy supply, which is different from the quick energy rush dextrose provides. Most of the time, slow energy sources are better, because they don’t make blood sugar levels fluctuate that much as dextrose does, and as a result, they don’t cause so much fat gains. Slow carbs can be found mostly in vegetables, legumes and whole grains. On the other hand, simple carbs like dextrose (including sugar and fructose) are absorbed fast and provide instant energy for the body. And there are times when this can be really useful.

Please note that many people identify carbohydrates with simple carbs completely, and don’t differentiate between simple and complex carbohydrates. This is a huge mistake! You cannot lump the complex, unrefined carbs in whole grains together with sugar or other refined carbohydrates. They are absorbed differently, so the reaction of your body will be different, too. So, they should be treated differently. To put it simply: every sugar is a carb, but not every carb is sugar!

How is dextrose created?

In nature it may form in any of the following ways:

  1. As a by-product of photosynthesis in plants and some unicellular organisms;
  2. In animals or mushrooms, it forms through breaking down glycogen; In plants, it forms through breaking down starches;
  3. In animal organisms, glucose may form in the liver or the kidneys, from non-carb substances like pyruvate or glycerol, through a process called gluconeogenesis;
  4. In some deep-sea bacteria it is produced through chemosynthesis.

Industrial production:

Dextrose is usually produced by enzymatic hydrolysis of starches. Many substances are used for this purpose including corn, rice, grains, cassava or sago. In the USA, corn starch is basically the only substance used for this purpose.

How can dextrose provide instant energy?

Dextrose doesn’t need to be digested after ingestion; it gets straight into the blood stream. That’s why it is considered the fastest carbohydrate. It is actually identical to blood sugar, which is produced by the body, so it can instantly reach its destination through the blood stream. Part of it will be used directly by the brain cells. Cells of the intestinal tract and red blood cells take their shares, too. The rest goes into the liver, the adipose tissues and the muscle cells, where it will be stored as glycogen, with the help of insulin. The glycogen stored in the liver can be transformed back to glucose, provided that the insulin level is low. This condition is fulfilled if the level of blood sugar is low, too. On the other hand, the glycogen stored in the muscles cannot get back into the blood stream without enzymes. In the adipose tissues, glucose takes part among others in reactions which lead to the formation of more fat. Glycogen is basically stored glucose. It takes up much less space and is much less reactive, so it is not so easy to use up as glucose.

Why is dextrose so important for the body?

The human body satisfies its energy needs mostly from dextrose. This energy is necessary for proper brain function, any kind of muscle movement and the health of the heart, the lungs and the intestines. Of course this doesn’t mean that you need to take dextrose on a daily basis in the form of supplements (powders or tablets). Excess dextrose consumption will inescapably lead to obesity, not mentioning other health risks depending on individual sensitivity. Taking dextrose in the form of supplements is only reasonable in one particular case: after workout, when the glycogen deposits of the body are depleted and they need to be recharged in order to get your body back to anabolic state. Since dextrose reaches the blood stream and raises insulin levels (a “storage hormone”) extremely fast, it can also help other nutrients reach their destinations faster. That’s why it is “trendy” to take, say, creatine with dextrose (even though we don’t recommend that you do it several times a day): doing so, amino acids will reach the muscles faster after workout.

How should I take it?

You should only take it at times when your body is most likely lacking this type of quick energy. Most of the time, this happens after workout, but there can be other situations when you need it. However, you should keep in mind that it is absolutely not recommended to ingest a large amount all at once. Doing so, your blood sugar level will rise sky high quickly, but, as your system compensates by secreting a large amount of insulin to balance all that blood sugar, the level of sugar in your blood might drop soon – actually lower than it was before taking dextrose. After workout, it is recommended to mix it with protein 1:1 or 2:1 (if you are prone to fat gains, you should opt for the 1:1 proportion). For an athlete of average bodyweight, it is not reasonable to take more than 50 grams at a time.

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