Unless you’ve been under a rock the last year you’ve probably been hearing a lot of buzz regarding a substance called Waxy Maize Starch. You might be wondering why so many companies are advertising it as the end all be all to post/pre workout. Its everywhere you look; magazines, chart forums, supplement sites. There is no denying it….it’s hot! But what does it do? It must be some sort of great innovation right?
Well, I would hardly call it any kind of innovation. Waxy maize starch, which is just a fancy name for corn starch, is not post workout nutrition; it’s post workout fiction. There has been a buzz about waxy maize lately, and there is a good reason for it, but not because it’s an innovative new post workout marvel. I’ll give you a clue, it has to do with your wallet getting lighter and supplement companies’ bank accounts getting fatter.
The “theory” behind waxy maize starch, and I emphasize the word “theory” there, is that it’s a fast absorbing carbohydrate so it’s perfect for post workout, right? WRONG! The fact is, waxy maize starch is a slow/sustained absorbing carbohydrate with a high molecular weight. Supplement companies and nutrition “gurus” spouting off “bro science” claim that waxy maize is faster absorbing because of its high molecular weight. Now, I don’t know how this theory got started or how it could have possibly grew legs to become a supplement trend, but it’s completely bass-ackwards. It is common knowledge in professional sports nutrition circles that the higher the molecular weight the slower a product absorbs. So, the lower the molecular weight, the faster a product absorbs.
Now let’s talk raw numbers: Molecular weight is measured in a unit called Daltons. Waxy maize starch has a molecular weight of 500,000 Daltons, sucrose or table sugar comes in at 342, and pure dexanhydrous glucose (Ignition) has a molecular weight of only 180 Daltons. 500,000 vs. 180 – That is quite a contrast as far as speed of absorbency goes! That fact right there should make the choice pretty clear on which of the two is the superior product! Not only is dexanhydrous glucose a lot faster absorbing than waxy maize starch, it’s the fastest absorbing carbohydrate known to man (because it IS glucose)! This is why you get a very small insulin spike with waxy maize(1), it’s very slow absorbing. This is also why you get a huge insulin spike with dexanhydrous glucose. Slow absorbing = low insulin response, Fast absorbing = high insulin response.
The fact is, companies have made, and are continuing to make, hundreds of unsubstantiated claims on the effectiveness of waxy maize starch, one being that it’s high molecular weight actually makes for faster absorption and a large insulin spike, which as we have already discussed, is not true. They also claim that because of it’s supposed faster gastric emptying, it causes less bloat and less discomfort. The “less bloat” theory has been understandably backed up from “real world evidence” given by users of this product. The truth is, they are correct, waxy maize doesn’t bloat you. The reason waxy maize doesn’t bloat you is because it’s actually slowly digesting in your system. The reason a lot of dexanhydrous glucose and protein can make some people feel bloated and queasy is that you just dumped a ton of carbohydrates and protein into your stomach and your body is trying to digest it all at once…because of its low molecular weight! The ensuing insulin spike can make people feel a little queasy. That’s just you feeling the products go to work for you! So here is what you get with waxy maize: no insulin spike, no quick glycogen replenishment and no bloat. While waxy maize MAY hold some beneficial uses with endurance sports it has no place in bodybuilding or post workout nutrition at all. No exceptions.
The whole purpose of taking a product like Ignition is not only because it’s a fast absorbing form of glucose that hits your cells immediately, but also because it causes a massive insulin spike! Insulin is a hormone in the human body that is responsible for a variety of things, one of them being protein conversion and retention.(2,3) When you have an insulin spike, your body becomes super efficient at utilizing all of the nutrients that you throw at it. Insulin actually opens up amino acid receptors on damaged muscle fibers and allows the uptake of amino acids for repair and recovery of the damaged muscle (which leads to bigger stronger muscles). So if you’ve got a huge dose of rapid assimilating protein right there with your insulin spike, your body will shuttle all of that immediately into the muscle cell for growth and recovery. With waxy maize starch based products you get a slow absorbing carbohydrate and you get zero insulin spike! You are missing out on the main igniting force of muscle growth. In addition, waxy maize has shown no significant result at glycogen synthesis or re-synthesis even over a 24-hour period.(4)
So, if it doesn’t work at all why do so many companies tout waxy maize as the latest and greatest? Because it’s cheap! It can be found on commodities exchanges for as little as 10¢ a pound and the method by which it is manufactured renders it almost useless to the human body.(5) Dexanhydrous Glucose is the most refined pure source, so gram per gram it is absorbed faster and at a much higher rate. Unfortunately, most companies are about what’s cheapest, highly profitable, readily available and easy to produce. They’d rather spend their time and effort hyping their product up than actually delivering quality products to the end consumer. Using sub-par ingredients like waxy maize starch helps companies keep product costs down at the expense of their customer’s results, so they can pump their products in 4 page ads or spend that extra scratch sponsoring MMA fighters.
I can hear the board meeting now: “Alright guys listen up, we can buy the raw material for 10 cents a pound, tell people its special and better, market the crap out of it to make it popular, and sell 2lbs of it for $50 and because its so rare, unknown and mysterious people will pay it”. I know in your mind, you are thinking, “they can’t really do that!”, but I assure you they can and they have.
Personally, I would never use a company’s products if ANY product in their line contains waxy maize starch. To me it is a sure sign that they are cutting corners on quality and using lower quality ingredients, which is a testament to their integrity and the integrity of the products they produce. They’ll stick it to you and if you don’t know any better with that waxy maize starch product, why wouldn’t they do that with any of their products? The answer is…they are! We are talking about some very large and popular companies here! I’m sure you’re in disbelief that so many major companies would jump on the bandwagon with zero science to back it up, but it’s true. It’s all a game of follow the leader for most of these companies. If the big dogs do it, everyone else is fast to follow suit. So when the big dog makes a boo boo, it exposes everyone’s strategy for copying the competition.
It’s time to open your eye’s people, it’s pretty crazy to think that some people are so loyal to those marketing gimmicks that they’ll go get tattoo of that company’s logo. I don’t want to name names, but all I’m saying is this: I’m sure you’ve already heard a lot about waxy maize and you can count on being force fed more and more about waxy maize starch, because there’s a certain product label, that is known industry wide as a hype machine that is pushing a product so hard that you’d think the Pope blessed each bottle himself. The truth is that this new waxy maize starch product is just like all the rest of the waxy maize starch products that saturate the industry—hype and marketing with very little quality to back up the claims!
If you are going to spend your money on a supplement, you obviously want to get results. Spend it on a supplement that will deliver you results, not some over-hyped “next best thing.” Don’t let the companies take advantage of you. You are smarter than that. Next time you are looking to use a company’s products that you aren’t familiar with and you find yourself wondering if they are a reputable company or not, look to see if they manufacture a waxy maize starch product and you’ll have your answer.
A SIDE NOTE: I would like to make a quick mention of how many “experts” and companies have been preaching how great this stuff is for you. Take notice because this is exactly where you shouldn’t be getting your information from. Anyone who has ever recommended, marketed or produced waxy maize starch as a bodybuilding or post workout product is uninformed, uneducated and very possibly unethical and in my eyes their integrity is shot. Also, pay attention to those same people who preached it for post workout now preaching it for pre or intra workout. These are the folks who got caught trying to pass off a bogus product and “conveniently” tried to find another application for their inventory they committed to, so they don’t throw away millions. It’s a back pedal Lance Armstrong himself would be envious of. With that being said, there are a lot of well meaning individuals out there that just got caught up in the hype, after all it is very hard to ignore millions of dollars in marketing in your face every month. It is most people’s nature to trust these ads and companies, because nobody wants to think that these companies would blatantly rip you off…but they do every day…remember that.
Goodpaster BH, Costill DL, Fink WJ, Trappe TA, Jozsi AC, Starling RD, Trappe SW. The effects of pre-exercise starch ingestion on endurance performance. Int J Sports Med. 1996 Jul;17(5):366-72.
Miers WR and Barrett EJ. The role of insulin and other hormones in the regulation of amino acid and protein metabolism in humans. Journal of Basic Clin Physiol & Pharm. 1998. Vol 9 # 2-4:235-253.
Zhang X, chink DL, Wolf S, E and Wolfe RR. Insulin but not growth hormone stimulate protein anabolism in skin wound and muscle. Am.J.Physiol.1999.276; 39: E712-E720.
Jozsi AC, Trappe TA, Starling RD, Goodpaster B, Trappe SW, Fink WJ, Costill DL. The influence of starch structure on glycogen resynthesis and subsequent cycling performance. Int J Sports
He J, Liu J, Zhang G. Slowly digestible waxy maize starch prepared by octenyl succinic anhydride esterification and heat-moisture treatment: glycemic response and mechanism. Biomacromolecules. 2008 Jan;9(1):175
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