HBCD: A Performance-Enhancing Substance?

by Chris Shugart

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 – 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.

First company that introduced me to HBCD was…wait for it…Biotest…and here we are many years later…and still really enjoying Surge Workout Fuel…or ‘Surge’ as Jake G calls it.


My question is, is there a posibility of this substance raising A1C levels?

I’ve been taking Surge for about 2 years now. At 50, I just qualified for the Crossfit Quarterfinals and regularly beat the 20- and 30-something year olds at my CF gym (which may also say something about them, but let’s focus on me here).

I take Surge to every CF workout I do. In fact, I have a CF workout in 2 hours and you can bet I’ll be bringing it along. I drink it during the warm up and strength potion, and by the time the WOD starts I’ve taken my full serving and I’m ready to go hard. I’ve always been pessimistic about these types of things and usually think they’re just hype, but I’ve on auto-subscribe to Surge and wouldn’t go without it.

One other thing: two years ago I was at 18.2% BF at 48 years old, and I’m now at 14.2% (using Dexascan). So I’ve actually gotten leaner since having Surge at least 5x a week, despite being at an age where most think any meaningful physical improvements are behind them.


Awesome! Thanks for the feedback!

A friend of mine, ex college baseball player now 30, just qualified for the CrossFit Games quarterfinals as well. I’ve had him on Surge for a couple of months. Surge is probably the #1 supp I’d recommend for competitive CrossFitters. He’s a big strong dude and really feels the difference on the extended endurance workouts.


Have used it many times… workouts aren’t highly glycolytic… train HIT style via Paul Carter… but do still train MMA, Bjj, etc… You think it’s beneficial for low volume / high intensity weight training?

I’ve used it for shorter workouts Marine77. Out of habit more than anything - I just needed to know I was drinking it during my training. Even if there was less of a need.

You like it for that ?

Oh absolutely…using it today as a matter of fact…

Im doing 30 grams of Vitargo, 5 grams Redmond Real salt, creatine, with my stim free pre in it.

I think several of the benefits would still be noticeable in lower-volume work, especially if those workout exceed 40 minutes or so. Like: steady and sustained release of glucose into the bloodstream, replenishing glycogen stores, reduced soreness, general hydration, etc. You may have less of a need for the beta-alanine component of Surge, which typically kicks in after 60 seconds of continuous work, but the HBCD part, to me, is advantageous for any serious workout. If you try it, you’d probably be able to get by with a smaller dose for those types of workouts, so that’s an option, too.


Ive used it quite a bit… definitely helps before Bjj and wrestling. I do a low volume / high intensity approach with weights but will soon be training more like a Strongman… heavy carries, OHP, etc… so ill run it again. Thanks for your input

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Used it today - Joe DeFranco Forever Strong new WS4SB 3.5 - upper body. Still truly enjoyed it. Very refreshing.

*Edit: I’ve also moved away from ‘combining’ other supplements with this. Honestly I use a Nootropic (capsules) with SWF and that is perfectly fine for me…

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Any time I’ve clicked on the Amazon link in articles for this product it says its unavailable. Is that because I’m in Ireland or is it just out of stock often?

I’m seeing it as in stock.

Just looked… shows in stock here

to this end, has biotest ever considered a beta alanine free version?
I’d be first in line :smiley:

You can get HBSD in Mag-10 without beta alanine.

It’s out of stock at the moment, but should be back in June.

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