On Maltodextrin: Maxim vs. Carbo Pro

Among channel swimmers, the Danish sports drink Maxim is something of a magical elixir. The reasons for this are beyond the scope of this post, but for additional details I recommend a search of the Channel Swimmers chat archives – especially posts by CS&PF pilot Michael Oram.

Maxim is an excellent product. Indeed, it fueled three of my four ultra-marathon events this year (Tampa, MIMS, and Catalina). What’s interesting about Maxim is how simple it is. The ingredients: 97% maltodextrin, with a smattering of Vitamins C and B1. Maltodextrin is a complex carbohydrate of chained glucose polymers, and is the basis for other popular endurance fuels including Perpetuem, HEED, and EFS. Maxim, however, has no added protein (Perpetuem), no added amino acids (EFS), and no added electrolytes (all three).

As you know if you read my DIY recovery drink post, bulk maltodextrin is available very cheaply – much cheaper than Maxim. So why pay $28 + $8 S/H to ship Maxim from the UK? (There is no currently no American importer of Maxim products.) Is Maxim maltodextrin superior to bulk maltodextrin? Do the added vitamins make a meaningful difference?

Maybe… maybe not. I’m no chemist. For what it’s worth, Maxim does seem to dissolve more readily in water than the bulk stuff. I don’t know why that is, or what it means. Possibly something to do with which grains were used to synthesize it.

In any case… getting to the point of this post. Remember the Ederle Swim earlier this month? Long story, but suffice to say: The night before the swim I discovered that I didn’t have enough Maxim to mix my feeds. Oh, f*ck. Where am I going to find Maxim at 7pm in New York City?

I didn’t find Maxim… but I did find a great little shop in midtown, Swim Bike Run. They carried a product, Carbo Pro, that appeared to be pretty similar to Maxim. Pure maltodextrin, and none of the other crap. To my delight, the Carbo Pro dissolved almost instantly into water – just like Maxim.

Even more to my delight, Carbo Pro worked great the next day, during my 17.5-mile swim – just like Maxim. As far as I’m concerned, the two products are interchangeable. The only difference being, Carbo Pro is easier to obtain in the US.

Price comparison (and this surprised me):

  • Maxim: 2kg tub for $28.54 + $8.00 S/H = $8.29/pound
  • Carbo Pro: 2lb bag for $17.89 + free Amazon shipping = $8.94/pound
  • NOW Foods bulk maltodextrin: 12lb bag for $33.54 + free Amazon shipping = $2.79/pound

22 thoughts on “On Maltodextrin: Maxim vs. Carbo Pro”

  1. I am a chemist! Maltodextrin as you mentioned is a polymer of glucose. Glucose is the monomer unit and alone it is rapidly absorbed. Furthermore, glucose directly enters glycolysis which is a route for energy production. This is why it is the preferred carbohydrate source (Gatorade) for intense, shorter activities. Unfortunately, you exhaust other components that constantly need recycled for glycolysis to continue (NAD for one). This is the sugar crash. By polymerizing glucose into chains you slow down the rate of absorption and metabolism – meaning longer, sustained energy. Maltodextrin from quality sources is typically 2-5 glucose molecules. Less quality products are probably 10+ and have a larger deviation in molecule size. This means two things. 1. The energy supply is likely to be more consistent with higher end brands and batch-to-batch consistency will be greater. 2. Smaller molecules dissolve easier. The likely difference between NOW and Maxim is the chain length and consistency of chain length.

    Several brands now market carbohydrate sources that contain both simple and complex carbs. If you can start with complex carbs and keep up on feedings these are unnecessary. For a marathon swimmer who might struggle one hour to keep food down, they may help “save” the swimmer at later feeds. Meaning, if you miss 2-3 feeds in a row – you need fast nutrition to avoid bonking and Gatorade style provide this. Unfortunately, you dig a deeper hole and are only postponing a later bonk. Malto after 2-3 miss feeds helps later, but not now. A mixed drink could provide temporary relief that does not capsize later feeds and energy needs.

    1. Just for the record – Other than solubility, I doubt any one would notice performance difference between NOW, Maxim and CP. The vitamins are likely used as a preservative or marketing tool.

    2. I love my readers! That makes perfect sense about chain length & solubility.

      Re: mixing simple & complex carbs. In practice I think most channel swimmers mix Maxim with something else. This is mostly for taste, but it also has the advantage of adding some simple carbs to the feeds.

  2. Thanks for this post, Evan! I’m out of Maxim and was wondering if there was another product out there that would work just as well, without the hassle of ordering from across the pond.

    Maybe this is a post for another day- But, I’m always curious how other marathon swimmers feed. Do you just stick with the same mix of Maxim the entire time, or do you switch products or types? I mix my Maxim with a splash of apple juice, a touch of protein, and a pinch of children’s liquid ibuprofen. I always have some Hammer gel packs handy, just in case, but have only used one once. Otherwise, it’s the same thing, every feed. I know lots of others change their mixtures, switch between two different carb mixes, etc. My kayaker at MIMS even lectured me on how I needed to have more precise formulas for different stages of my swim. I would love to know how you do it, if you don’t consider it a secret of the trade. I find this stuff interesting. 🙂

    1. Hey Sarah. This is a topic worthy of a separate post, but briefly: For Tampa, MIMS, & Catalina, I fed every 20 mins alternating 2x Maxim feeds and 1x Perpetuem feed. This provided some pleasing variety, and the Perpetuem provided some protein. It also made it much easier to keep track of time – every Perpetuem feed represented an hour.

      For the Maxim, I think most people mix it with something, if only for taste. Gatorade or fruit juice both work well… I use apple juice. It’s important that the feed taste good. For Ederle I was on my own (my observer doubled as my crew member) so I fed on Maxim Carbo Pro only, just to keep things simple.

      Even when you have several crew members (e.g., on a Catalina boat), I recommend against too complicated of a feed plan. The reason being, unless your crew is extremely conscientious, or very familiar with your plan, they probably will mess it up at some point. I think my Maxim/Perpetuem plan was pretty simple, but on each of the 3 swims I used it for, my crew mixed things up at least a couple times – i.e., giving me Maxim when I expected Perpetuem, or vice versa.

  3. That NOW Foods bulk maltodextrin is now $5.95 for shipping on Amazon.

    Might try making your recover drink (have to comment here because comments are closed on your DIY post) when I return to the states. But, as for the Maxim/Perpetuem stuff, I will look for it here in Moscow and will start feeding during my long swims. Thanks for the info!

    1. Yeah, I guess that’s because the 2 & 12lb versions come from one merchant but the 8lb version comes from a different merchant (who charges for shipping). I’ll change the post to reflect the 12lb version.

    1. No worries in the least. As I said, it happened on all the other swims too. What I’ve concluded is that I should just tell the paddler on each 40-minute feed that I want the protein feed next. It’s also an indirect test of my mental faculties. If I’m keeping track of my own feeds, chances are I’m not hypothermic.

  4. For the record I want to cut & paste this comment from Ollie Wilkinson on the Channel Swimmers chat group:

    Maltodextrin is a compex carbohydrate, with a high GI, lower osmolality and less sweet taste as compared to Glucose which is equally high GI and higher osmolality.

    Although maltodextrin is a complex carbohydrate the bonds that bind it are extremely weak and rapid digestion and absorption still occurs. However the lower osmolality of maltodextrin supposedly allows better absorption at a cellular/muscular level see following the article (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10664095?dopt=Abstract&holding=f10…). Also the sweeter taste of dextrose/glucose can be a disadvantage during exercise where highly sweetened flavours can become nauseating.

    An interesting article that goes into a lot more detail about glucose vs maltodextrin can be found here:

    Not all maltodextrins are the same though. The size of the carbohydrate molecules (shorter chain generally better) and the source of the maltodextrin varies (in the US it is usually from corn, potato or rice, where as in Europe it is usually made from wheat – an issue if you have a gluten intolerance).

    Also the final concentration of carbohydrate in your drink is vital. Most energy drinks advocate a 4-8% mix although slightly higher is recommended in lower intensity exercise or colder conditions (e.g. the English Channel). Too high a concentration of carbohydrate though becomes detrimental with only partial digestion occuring and an osmotic gradient too high to allow correct absorption of fluid. This scientific study suggests upto 10% might be OK http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/reprint/51/6/1054.pdf.

  5. Hi Guys this post is like 3 years late but it is only cos i recently got in to cycling and have been looking at nutrition options!!
    I’ve been looking at reducing the number of times i stop on Granfondos (currently 4-5 times!). My first change is taking 2 waterbottles instead of one. then someone said Carbo Pro and i’ve been looking into this. I live in the UK so actually it has been easier to get the Carbo loader.
    A couple of things i don’t get are-
    1) it says ‘pre race only’ but seems to be the same product as carbo pro… have i missed something here??
    2) for a 7 hour sportive (gran fondo) i’m looking at 6 hours of fueling assuming the first hour is taken care of by my pre race diet. that leaves 6 x 250calories using the formula which leave 1500 of calories to find. that sounds like a heck of a lot of scoops in the 1 or 2 water bottles i’ll be carrying . I mean does this sound right or have i calculated wrong . do people throw in 12 -15 scoops of the stuff ??
    all thoughts welcome!!

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