Dextrose: What Is It? Is It Good or Bad?


Dextrose is a simple sugar that occurs naturally in many foods such as honey and fruit. The more complex carbohydrates in other foods must be broken down into dextrose in the body before they can be used to provide energy for optimal functioning of the human body and brain.

What Is Dextrose?

1. Properties

Dextrose and glucose are not the same. Dextrose is a monosaccharide glucose that occurs naturally in a very pure form. Because it has a very high glycemic index, dextrose can be absorbed and used very quickly by the body. For this reason, many athletes use dextrose to quickly replace the glycogen stores in the muscles which are depleted during exercise.

2. Functions in Human Body

Dextrose is vital to the human body. In addition to providing a ready source of energy, dextrose also works to increase muscle mass. When dextrose is eaten, insulin levels increase. Increased insulin increases blood flow and delivery of nutrients to cells. Cells that receive adequate nutrition tend to be healthy and function more effectively.

3. Sources

Sources of dextrose can be either natural or artificial.

  • Natural sources. Most food that tastes sweet contains a high amount of fructose rather than dextrose. Foods that are naturally high in dextrose include pastas, wheat, potatoes, plums, dates, apricots and cornstarch.
  • Artificial sources. Man-made sources of dextrose include anhydrous and monohydrate glucose. Anhydrous dextrose does not contain any water while monohydrate dextrose contains a single molecule of water. When looking at packaging labels, artificial dextrose will typically be called wheat, rice or corn sugar.

4. Uses

Dextrose can be used in some food or drinks and to enhance physical performance.

  • In foods and drinks. One of the little known facts about dextrose is that it can be added to preserve food and increase shelf life. Dextrose is often used to enhance fermentation of beer and wine. In order to use dextrose as a sweetener, it must be combined with one of the more complex sugars (fructose or sucrose) since the sweetness of dextrose does not last long enough for the human tongue to detect the taste for a period of time. In most sweet foods, it is NOT the dextrose that you taste!
  • In physiological performance. Probably the most important use of dextrose is to enhance physiological performance. As discussed, dextrose has a high glycemic index resulting in immediate availability of dextrose in the bloodstream. When your body detects the dextrose, it immediately releases insulin which allows for quick transport of vital nutrients (creatinine, alanine, carnitine and arginine) into the cells of your body. Research shows that an optimal "dose" of dextrose for an athlete after activity is about 60-75 grams. When dextrose is combined with creatine or protein in an energy drink, nutrients can be supplied to muscle cells very quickly. This will result in fast recovery after exercise!

Precautions for Taking Dextrose

While the right amount of dextrose is critical for a healthy body, there are also some precautions you should be aware of when using dextrose.

  • When taken in large quantities that your body cannot use immediately, high glycemic index dextrose is quickly stored as fat in the body. This can lead to excess weight gain and eventual obesity.
  • Diabetics should be wary of consuming too much dextrose because a diabetic cannot produce enough insulin to use the sugar. This can result in very high glucose levels and a need for injected insulin to counteract the levels.
  • Athletes who are using the stores of dextrose in the body during exercise or competition may benefit from taking nutrition high in dextrose. If you are using dextrose to replenish your glucose stores after exercise, be sure to work with a nutritionist to ensure you are taking the correct amount.
  • For most people, a diet that consists of more complex carbohydrates (whole grains and the brightly colored vegetables) may be a better option since these foods release the dextrose more slowly and allow the body to utilize it more efficiently.