Posted 5 months ago

Highly Branch Chain Cyclic Dextrin

Highly Branch Chain Cyclic Dextrin (HBCD), otherwise known as Cluster Dextrin, is a supplement that has become widely used across the fitness industry over the past few years. Many will consume it intra workout, combined with some form of protein and creatine monohydrate, which you can read about by clicking the links. Others might also take it with their post-workout shake.

Whilst its consumption has become increasingly popular, as with most supplements, a lot of people take it without having any real idea as to why they are doing so, and/or without an awareness as to how it may benefit their physique. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to describe how the use on HBCD can help us add muscle mass and improve our performance.

What is it?
In simple terms, HBCD is a carbohydrate, and it is made by using a unique enzyme that forms a cluster structure when broken down from starch. The resulting product is a novel form of maltodextrin known as HBCD. I know these are fancy words, but stay with me.

Maltodextrin has a specific properties which means it draws a lot of water into the stomach to be emptied and absorbed by the body. However, HBCD has the complete opposite feature which means it is rapidly emptied from the stomach and digested/absorbed by the body.

So, why does that matter?

How does it help during training?
At this point, we’re all generally aware of the fact that we need fuel in the form of carbohydrates to meet the energy demands placed on the body during weight training. Energy from carbohydrates ingested pre-workout helps us with muscle contraction and keeps us going during our session. However, as you progress and get stronger, it is likely that some sessions might take you almost 2 hours to complete. At this point, our blood sugar can begin to drop and our ability to contract muscle/produce energy is consequently affected. This obviously isn’t ideal, as you’ll want to be able to put as much effort into your last set as you did into your first.

To avoid this, as stated above, you’d ensure that you have had an adequate pre-workout meal. However, on occasions, that will not be enough to keep blood sugar levels stable – consider that you will have likely finished eating 90-120min prior to training, and then undertake a 120min heavy session. That’s a lot of time with no food! As such, this is where the use of HBCD would come into play. Specifically, its rapid absorption properties will mean that even when consumed during your workout, you will be able to utilise its fuel immediately and keep blood sugar levels stable. Ultimately, this means having more energy throughout your workouts, which will elicit further muscle damage; as such, it will provide the necessary stimulation for new muscle mass being added to our frame, which is ultimately our goal in bodybuilding.

In addition, if we consume HBCD alongside protein intra-workout, we are not only facilitating the energy demands for the session, but we are also promoting the recovery of muscles trained early in the workout. Following this, your post-workout meal will facilitate the recovery of those muscles trained later in the workout.

How does it help after training?
Consuming large amounts of carbohydrates in the post-workout window is almost a given in the bodybuilding world. If you’re reading this article, you may already be familiar with the classic VW Physique team’s post-workout cocopops and pop tarts!! And we don’t just eat loads of carbs because they taste good. In fact, they have a very specific recovery purpose, as consuming large bolus of carbohydrates post workout can offset muscle protein breakdown and up-regulate muscle protein synthesis i.e. muscle building. As we know, this is only made possible by consuming protein at the same time, as protein is key to starting the recovery and building process resulting from the work you have just completed during your session. With that in mind, you could include HBCD in your post workout shake. I’ve found this strategy very effective, particularly for those clients who are on a large amount of daily carbohydrates and whose appetite is low.

Cheaper alternatives
Remember that other carb that I mentioned at the start of the article, Maltodextrin? You may have already googled it and seen that it is far cheaper than HBCD, making you wonder whether it’s just the “same same but different”? The answer is no. Due to its molecular properties which make it harder to digest and absorb, if you were to ingest it intra-workout, these carbs will pretty much sit in your stomach until your workout is close to finished. This might have you feeling bloated whilst training, and you’d have less energy to put into your top sets that come later on in the workout. With this in mind, it is clear that its benefits to training performance are not comparable to those derived HBCD.

Therefore, as it is with cheaper version of “similar” supplements, what you’re purchasing isn’t giving you quite the same or desired effect. The main reason for HBCD being slightly more expensive is down to the fact it needs to go through more rigorous manufacturing processes, which allow it to be absorbed quicker by the body, and that’s simply reflected in its price. You can probably tell by now that I do not think the two products are really comparable, despite their molecular similarity.

Is it needed?
Similar to my advice regarding the consumption of protein intra-workout, the straight answer is no. If you hit your caloric demands for the day, you will still be able to add muscle mass and recover from your sessions without any problems. Moreover, if your calories have to go quite low during a dieting phase food is fairly low in a dieting phase you may prefer to eat your carbohydrates rather than drink them. It is worth noting, though, that if you have been using HBCD intra-workout and you suddenly remove it, your performance might suffer.

However, from personal and client experience, supplementing HBCD intra- and/or post-workout could be very beneficial for you, especially if you train very hard, are strong, and have a large amount of muscle mass. If you are at the beginning of your journey, then you’ll probably be just fine if you simply eat your food and give it the beanz. Nevertheless, anecdotally, I have been using this supplement from the early days of my journey weighing 98kg and continue to do so now at 130kg. I therefore stand by its benefits and would recommend it, even to those who are in the early stages of their journey.

I’ve have also found that at times I’ve not used intra-workout carbohydrates such as HBCD, I have had significantly increased DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) the day(s) after training. However, having now used HBCD for well over four years, I can honestly say my DOMS are far less intense, making my recovery and preparation for the next session faster and smoother.

In summary, HBCD can be a very useful supplement. If you add it to your intra-workout shake, it will help performance, and if accompanied with protein, it will aid the recovery process of those muscles trained earlier it the workout. It can also be a great addition to a post-workout shake if food is fairly high and appetite is low. It is, however, not essential and you should be able to make progress in your physique without it.

Vaughan Wilson Bsc Hons