In a world where popular culture has demonized the much maligned carbohydrate, folks who understand exercise know the truth: that carbs are great, and they’re fundamental to a good workout. Many gym goers follow a kind of two-tiered approach to workout nutrition: eat fibrous carbs when you’re hours away from a workout and fast digesting carbs around and during your workout. This way, energy levels stay steady except for when you want some energy: during exercise. If you’re looking for ways to get some fast-digesting carbs, these are your best bets.
Best Carb Supplements
- Easiest Digestion: Transparent Labs Carb Powder
- Best Non-Stim Option: Performance Lab Carb
- Best Unflavored Option: Jacked Factory Carb Surge
- Best Taste: Post JYM Fast-Digesting Carb
- Best Waxy Maize: NOW Sports Nutrition Waxy Maize Powder
- Best HBCD Supplement: Redcon1 Cluster Bomb
- Best Bulk Buy: Nutricost Maltodextrin
- Best Whole-Food Carb Supplement: 5% Nutrition Real Carbs
Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before beginning a new fitness, nutritional, and/or supplement routine. Individual needs for vitamins and minerals will vary.
This carb powder comes in the flavors blue raspberry, tropical punch, or unflavored for those who prefer adding in their own flavors. Each tub provides 30 servings of 100 calories that consist of 25 grams of cluster dextrin. Unlike other carb supplements on the market that can be difficult to digest, Transparent Labs focuses on cluster dextrin — a “novel highly branched, high-molecular-weight carbohydrate derived from amylopectin” that is easily absorbed.
This carb supplement is gluten-free, non-GMO, and excludes all artificial coloring and perservatives. Each serving packs 25 grams of patented Cluster Dextrin®.
Additionally, the cluster dextrine is strategically used here to prevent insulin spikes and supply “sustained-release” carbohydrates throughout the day.
Who Should Buy Transparent Labs Carb Powder
- Those who want a easy digesting carb supplement.
- Anyone who wants to avoid artificial sweeteners.
Who Shouldn’t Buy Transparent Labs Carb Powder
- Folks who want a higher calorie carb supplement.
- Athletes who need short term energy spikes.
If your goal is to get a large number of added calories into your diet via a carb supplement, this one might not be the best option for you as the calories to serving ratio is pretty low compared to other options on the market. However, if you are just looking for additional carbs that can offer sustained energy throughout the day, then this should be in your top considerations. Additionally, if you are on the opposite end of that idea and prefer a lower-calorie carb supplement to better fit your macros, then this would be an excellent addition to your supplement cabinet.
[Related: The Actual Pros And Cons Of The Paleo Diet]
Best Non-Stim Option
Performance Lab focuses their carb supplement on KarboLyn® technology, which is “bioengineered to a small molecular size” for faster absorption and longer sustaining energy. The ingredient list includes himalayan pink salt and organic coconut sugar, to aid that absorption, as well as organic cocoa, vanilla bean, cinnamon, coconut palm sugar, yacon root, monk fruit, and stevia.
This carb supplement can support two hours of stim-free energy and muscle recovery. Each 50-gram serving provides 46 grams of carbohydrates and 180 calories.
Performance Lab pushes for this product to be mixed into a liquid. So if you are in favor of drinking your carb supplements, then this might be the go-to option for you.
Who Should Buy Performance Lab Carb
- Anyone who wants a stim-free carb supplement.
- Those who prefer drinking their supplements.
- Athletes who want a fast absorbing carb supplement.
Who Shouldn’t Buy Performance Lab Carb
- Folks who want an unflavored carb supplement.
- People who want a shorter ingredient list.
Each serving of this supplement provides 40 grams of carbohydrates and does not incorporate any stimulants. This carb supplement puts a focus on energizing the user for the two hours immediately after consumption, but can be used as a pre-, intra-, or post-workout supplement.
Best Unflavored Option
This carb supplement provides 90 calories worth of cluster dextrin and pea starch to total 23 grams of carbohydrates. There is an unflavored option offered, as well as two flavored options: blue raspberry and peach mango. There are 30 servings per tub that falls in the middle of the competitive market in terms of price.
This clean complex carb supplement is manufactured in the USA in a cGMP certified facility without any added sugar. Each 23.7-gram scoop provides 23 carbohydrates, 10 of which are cluster dextrin.
The unflavored option is pure carbohydrates with zero other ingredients. If you’re an athlete or bodybuilder that needs to keep tabs on everything that goes in your body diet-wise, then the unflavored version is a great option.
Who Should Buy Jacked Factory Carb Surge
- Anyone who wants a pure carb supplement without any additional ingredients.
- Those who need to maintain a keen eye on everything they consume.
- Athletes who want to add carb supplements to their food rather than drinks.
Who Shouldn’t Buy Jacked Factory Carb Surge
- Those who need a more caloric carb supplement.
- Anyone who doesn’t want a combination of carb sources.
Jacked Factory has got it going on with their unflavored option. If you are in need of a supplement that is entirely pure without any extra flavorings or unnecessary ingredients, then this should likely be your go-to. Additionally, if you prefer dumping carb supplement onto your meals, the unflavored option can be mixed with without throwing the taste of the food off.
Jym makes some of the best tasting supplements on the market, and Post JYM is available in six tasty flavors. The ingredients are pretty simple: it’s just dextrose with flavors, sweeteners, and colors, but it certainly gets the job done. This is a delicious, no frills product you can take before, during, or after a a heavy deadlift or squat session.
A delicious dextrose product that's enhanced with flavorings and sweeteners.
The carbs come entirely from dextrose, which is often preferred by athletes, as it’s the form of glucose best used by the body.
Who Should Buy Post JYM Fast-Digesting Carb
- Anyone who wants a flavorful carb supplement.
- People who want their added carb source to be entirely dextrose.
- Athletes who need to boost their carb intake.
Who Shouldn’t Buy Post JYM Fast-Digesting Carb
- Folks who need to stay clear of artificial flavors, colors, and sweeteners.
The only real knock against this carb supplement is the added sweeteners used to give it that strong flavor. If that doesn’t put you off, then this might be the strongest pick of the lot. Each serving provides 30 grams of dextrose.
[Related: Do You Really Need High Glycemic Carbs Around Your Workout?]
Best Waxy Maize
If you’re looking for waxy maize, NOW Sports has an inexpensive option that has also undergone surprisingly rigorous testing, carrying certifications from both Informed Choice and Informed Sport, which ensure the product contains no banned substances. There’s just one ingredient — waxy maize — so the product is also free from artificial flavors and sweeteners.
A no frills, unflavored, athlete-friendly carb supplement that's third party tested to ensure it's free from banned substances.
Waxy maize is even higher (90 percent) in amylopectin than most competitors. This complex starch might help with protein absorption and fatigue reduction. It carries certifications from Informed Sport, guaranteeing it to be free from banned substances.
Who Should Buy NOW Sports Nutrition Waxy Maize Powder
- People who want better protein absorption.
- Anyone who wants their supplements to have multiple certifications to guarantee no banned substances are used.
Who Shouldn’t Buy NOW Sports Nutrition Waxy Maize Powder
- Folks who want a flavor to their carb supplements.
- Athletes who would prefer regular glucose and dextrose.
Waxy maize is flavorless, so it’s easy to add to shakes but it’s underwhelming to drink on its own. That can be either a positive or negative depending on who you talk to so it isn’t all that impactful on our scoring process. The major point of contention with this pick is that the research is conflicting with regard to how effective waxy maize is when compared glucose or dextrose, which a lot of other carb supplements on the market deliver. This product is certified vegan, kosher, and non-GMO, all of which are excellent points in its favor.
[Related: Macronutrients Vs Micronutrients: Which Matters Most?]
Best HBCD Supplement
Highly branched cyclic dextrin is the intra-workout carb of choice for many athletes because some research has linked it to better levels of endurance. If you’re convinced, Redcon1’s Cluster Bomb has the best balance of price to taste to effectiveness. Available in two flavors or in unflavored if you’re wary of sweeteners, the ingredients are nothing but HBCD, flavorings, and a little silica to help it flow.
A tasty carb supplement that might be particularly well suited for endurance workouts.
The product is available in Grape, Strawberry Kiwi, or Unflavored. It’s third-party tested and certified by Stack3d and Nutravigilance. These carbs may be more useful for endurance-based workouts than dextrose and they may produce more rapid gastric emptying.
Who Should Buy Redcon1 Cluster Bomb
- People who are happy to have flavored and unflavored options.
- Folks who appreciate thorough third-party testing.
- Athletes who focus primarily on endurance workouts.
Who Shouldn’t Buy Redcon1 Cluster Bomb
- Those who want to avoid artificial sweeteners.
- Anyone who prefers mixing their supplements in liquid.
This product doesn’t mix as well as it could, perhaps because it doesn’t contain lecithin. On the whole, that is more-or-less the only downside this product has. Yes, it does use artificial sweeteners in the flavored options, but that can be avoided by opting for the unflavored version. The price is right and the purity testing is there, so this should be in consideration for you if you are someone who is performing more endurance challenges or functional fitness workouts.
Best Bulk Buy
Plain old maltodextrin is about the cheapest carbohydrate powder you can get and Nutricost, true to their name, produces some of the lowest cost supplements on the market. In addition to the product being non-GMO — somewhat noteworthy given maltodextrin is usually sourced from corn and rice — it’s third-party tested for label accuracy and potency.
A very inexpensive carb supplement that's all natural, non-GMO, and third party tested.
The amount of damage done to your wallet will be limited here when compared to other competitively priced option, so take a good look if that is of the utmost importance to you. The other notable detail about Nutricost is they do no use any artificial flavors or sweeteners in this product.
Who Should Buy Nutricost Maltodextrin
- Those who want their supplements third-party tested for label accuracy.
- People who want to avoid artificial flavors or sweeteners.
- Folks who want to buy a larger amount of carb supplement in one order.
Who Shouldn’t Buy Nutricost Maltodextrin
- Anyone who prefers their supplements be flavored.
The product is unflavored and unsweetened, so if you prefer your carbs to taste like juicy strawberries or dark chocolate, you’re out of luck. However, if you’re in the market to buy carb supplement in bulk, they put Nutricost at the top of your list for consideration.
[Related: Should Athletes Try Low-Carb Diets?]
Best Whole-Food Carb Supplement
Here is 5% Nutrition Real Carbs’ message: “You should be eating tangible ingredients throughout the day anyway, we just made it easier for you and your active lifestyle.” That’s a compelling one on the tub for the late Rich Piana’s carb supplement, which is made from sweet potato, yam, oats, and blueberry powder. These are carbs that provide phytonutrients and fiber, and they’re slow digesting as well.
A carb supplement made with oats, sweet potato, and yams, that delivers complex carbs and plenty of nutrients.
This supplement is largely made with whole foods, delivering nutrients and three grams of fiber along with energy. They are slow-digesting carbs, so they’re ideal if you’re not after a big energy spike. Additionally, each scoop delivers over a day’s worth of Vitamin A.
Who Should Buy 5% Nutrition Real Carbs
- Anyone who needs some extra daily fiber.
- Those who prefer slow-digesting carbs to prevent energy spikes.
- Athletes who are looking for some extra Vitamin A.
Who Shouldn’t Buy 5% Nutrition Real Carbs
- Folks who are trying to stay clear of artificial sweeteners.
The ingredient list does include the artificial sweetener sucralose, which helps with flavor but it does mean the product isn’t all natural. If that is enough of a put off for you, there are many very good all-natural competitors on the market that will fit the bill. The upsides here that differentiate this product from the field are in that extra fiber and Vitamin A. It might be worth your while to give this a shot if that lines up with the type of carb supplement you’re looking to add to your diet.
[Related: Could Baking Soda Be The Best Workout Supplement You’ve Never Tried?]
How We Decided Our Picks
There is a distinct difference between carb supplements that are flavored and those that are not. Flavored supplements are likely to mix only with meals that would otherwise be happy to have that flavor. Adding peach mango to your chocolate oatmeal probably isn’t going to be a great start to your day of bench press training. That being said, the flavored options are great for mixing into a shake or water.
The unflavored options are nice for meals and have the added benefit of often having few to zero additional ingredients. This is helpful for athletes who are paying really close attention to everything they put into their bodies.
[Related: The Best Calorie Calculator For Managing Your Weight]
Carb Count, Cost, and Kind
The amount of carbs per serving will vary from product to product and is something to pay attention to when it comes to price. If, for example, two different products both offer 30 servings per tub, but one offers 25 carbs per serving while the other offers 20 carbs, then the second is just more expensive per carb if they are the same price.
That being said, not all carbs are created equal. Knowing if you are getting a product with a fast-acting carb versus a slow-absorption carb will play a big role in how your body reacts to it after consumption. Have a sense of what you need the extra carbs for and that will help you figure out which is best for you.
The big thing to pay attention to with added ingredients with carb supplements is if any of those added ingredients are adding to the carb count in a way that you wouldn’t be able to get elsewhere easier. For example, if a product just adds sugar, you might be just overpaying for it compared to just getting something like orange juice or the like.
Before You Buy
Food or Drink?
Many athletes like to have both protein and carbs in their workout shakes, while others are content with just the carbs. While protein or amino acids might be useful for preserving muscle mass, keep in mind that your total daily intake of calories, protein, carbs, and fat is what really makes the difference with your physique.
Easier Carbs Elsewhere?
Fruit juice, Kool-Aid, Gatorade, and most drinks that aren’t water or tea contain plenty of liquid carbs as well.
Type of Carbohydrate?
Many athletes have taken an interest in highly branched cyclic dextrin (HBCD), also called cluster dextrin. Some studies have found there’s some evidence that this type of carb digests more quickly and supplies glucose for a longer period of time when compared to other liquid carbs, potentially making this a better option for longer workouts.(1)(2)(3) For now, we need more evidence.
Do Your Math
The amount of carbohydrates you need in a day depends heavily on your height, weight, and activity level, but most active people who track their intake have about 50 to 65 percent of their total calories from carbohydrates. In a workout or meal replacement shakes, one might have anywhere from 20 to 100 grams of carbs.
No matter what your preferences are, we think we’ve put together a solid list of the best carb supplements on the market. Use them wisely and you’ll have more energy and better workouts than ever. Just remember to chat to your doctor before making any big changes to your nutrition or supplement regimen.
1. Shiraki, T et al. Evaluation of Exercise Performance with the Intake of Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin in Athletes. Food Sci Technol Res. 2015;21(3):499-502.
2. Takii H, et al. Enhancement of swimming endurance in mice by highly branched cyclic dextrin. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 1999 Dec;63(12):2045-52.
3. 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.