HBCD: A Performance-Enhancing Substance?

The Athlete’s Secret Carbohydrate

There’s no doubt it improves performance in the gym and on the field of competition. So why is it legal?

A few years ago, a T Nation staffer was walking through the athlete warm-up area at the CrossFit Games when he noticed something suspicious. Two of the athletes were filling their water bottles with a fine powdery substance.

Curious, our man walked over and peeked into their bags. The “supplement” was familiar. It was a product containing what can only be called a performance-enhancing substance. That substance is called highly branched cyclic dextrin or HBCD, also known as cluster dextrin.

The research behind HBCD is clear:

  • It increases work capacity
  • It increases muscle pumps
  • It decreases stress hormones after exhaustive exercise
  • It increases VO2 max time to exhaustion by 70%
  • It replenishes glycogen stores
  • It boosts endurance and energy levels
  • It maintains hydration and electrolyte balance during prolonged physical activity and competition.

In short, athletes who take it perform better than those who don’t, and multiple studies back that up.

The anti-doping policy of the CrossFit Games prohibits several drugs, stimulants, and gray-area supplements that provide these same performance-enhancing benefits. So why are their athletes allowed to use HBCD?

Well, because HBCD is a carbohydrate, dummy. It’s “food.”

The supplement those two athletes were using is called Surge Workout Fuel (Buy at Amazon), and Biotest did not sponsor them or supply them with it. It contains 25 grams of HBCD along with other nutritional workout boosters. And it does it all without caffeine or other stimulants.

The Nerd Stuff

HBCD is used by bodybuilders, endurance athletes, field and court athletes, CrossFitters, and just about every other type of person who trains hard and plays hard. But how does one carbohydrate appeal to so many types of athletes?

Well, here’s what HBCD does:

  • Sustained Energy: HBCD provides a steady and sustained release of glucose into the bloodstream, which helps maintain energy levels during long or intense workouts or competitions. This continuous trickle of carbs delays fatigue.
  • Rapid Gastric Emptying: Unlike some carbs, HBCD has a low osmolality โ€“ it can be quickly digested and absorbed without causing gastrointestinal discomfort or bloating. This rapid gastric emptying makes it an ideal carb source to use before, during, or after exercise without causing digestive distress.
  • Enhanced Glycogen Replenishment: Consuming HBCD after exercise helps rapidly replenish glycogen stores in muscles. Glycogen is the primary form of stored carbohydrate in the body. It’s a critical energy source during exercise.
  • Improved Hydration: HBCD supports hydration and electrolyte balance during exercise by promoting rapid fluid absorption and carbohydrate delivery.
  • Reduced Fatigue and Muscle Soreness: Research shows that HBCD before or during exercise helps reduce perceived exertion, fatigue, and soreness. Basically, you can go longer and harder in the gym, and then recover faster.

How to Get HBCD

Like those sneaky CrossFit athletes (and celebrities getting jacked for movie roles), use Surge Workout Fuel (Buy at Amazon). Along with 25 grams of HBCD, it contains whopping doses of L-citrulline malate, L-leucine, betaine anhydrous, beta-alanine, malic acid, and electrolytes. It’s caffeine-free and pre-flavored. Just mix and go.


  1. Shiraki T et al. Evaluation of exercise performance with the intake of highly branched cyclic dextrin in athletes. Food Science and Technology Research. 2015 Volume 21 Issue 3 Pages 499-502. DOI: 10.3136/fstr.21.499
  2. Furuyashiki T et al. Effects of ingesting highly branched cyclic dextrin during endurance exercise on rating of perceived exertion and blood components associated with energy metabolism. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2014;78(12):2117-9. DOI: 10.1080/09168451.2014.943654
  3. Suzuki K et al. Effect of a sports drink based on highly-branched cyclic dextrin on cytokine responses to exhaustive endurance exercise. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2014 Oct;54(5):622-30. PMID: 25270782
  4. Takii H et al. Fluids containing a highly branched cyclic dextrin influence the gastric emptying rate. Int J Sports Med. 2005 May;26(4):314-9. doi: 10.1055/s-2004-820999.
  5. Takii H et al. Enhancement of swimming endurance in mice by highly branched cyclic dextrin. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 1999 Dec;63(12):2045-52. DOI: 10.1271/bbb.63.2045.

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