“Protein, who needs it.”…Said no bodybuilder ever. The truth of the matter is, regardless of our specific individual goals, if these goals have anything to do with building lean tissue, or preventing muscle wasting while dieting, we need protein. And whether you track your nutritional intake to within + or – 5 grams for each of the macronutrients, or you take a more freestyle approach, and just try to consume a certain number of “balanced” meals each day, you probably give special awareness when it comes to your protein intake.
Similar to the statement, “If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound?” Another statement can be made, which goes, “If you track your protein intake, does this automatically mean you hit your essential amino acid target for the day?” If you think long and hard about these statements, you’ll realize that they have absolutely nothing in common, however, protein spiking is no joke.
What is Protein Spiking?
Protein spiking, is when extra sources of nitrogen (other than whole intact proteins), are added to a supplement, so that the company can then pass it off as having more total complete protein content than is actually has. I’ll go into a bit more detail…Traditional whey protein is comprised of a variety of amino acids, in relatively standard amounts (this can vary slightly between sources). Protein spiking, is when a company mixes complete whey protein, with other sources of nitrogen, such as free amino acids (the cheaper, non-essential ones), creatine, or sometimes even harmful dense sources of nitrogen, such as melamine.
Why Would They Do This? What’s the Problem?
Over the years, the price per pound of whey protein has continued to climb. In order to help off-set these costs, rather than increase their prices, or take a hit on profit margins, some supplement companies have found a loop-hole. Because many of the tests used to determine the protein content of a supplement do so by measuring it’s total nitrogen content, companies can add these additional sources of nitrogen (which are cheaper to buy), to their whey protein supplements, and then pass them off as having more total complete protein than they actually have. Here is an example to illustrate:
Let’s say a supplement label says that this particular protein supplement, contains 25 grams of whey protein per scoop. And they verified this via nitrogen testing. Rather than the product actually containing 25 grams of whole whey protein, the company can save money, and just use 10 or 11 grams of whey protein (these numbers were arbitrarily chosen), and then combine it with some of these additional sources of nitrogen (cheap amino acids, creatine, etc.), and pass it off as containing 25 grams of whole, intact, whey protein. Again, this is because the test used to determine the supplements protein content, examined its total nitrogen content, not the specific sources (aka individual amino acids) the nitrogen came from. By doing this, companies can claim a higher total protein content, while also keeping their prices lower, giving them two legs up on their competition.
The problem with this, is that not all amino acids signal the same responses within the body. The reason you hear whey protein is such a good “muscle-building” protein, is because of the specific amino acids it contains, as well as the relative amount of each. However, if you consume a “spiked” supplement which does not contain the same amino acid profile that traditional whey protein has, it no longer has these favorable muscle-building properties. So for example, if you are someone who is dieting for a competition, doing everything you can to preserve the loss of hard-earned muscle, and 70 of your 200 grams of protein per day is coming from one of these “spiked” supplements, do you think this is going to affect things? My guess, would be yes.
How Can You Protect Yourself From Spiked Protein Supplements?
Although determining whether or not a protein powder has been artificially spiked can be difficult, there are a few things we can do to help protect ourselves from purchasing one:
1. Look for products that have an NSF Certified for Sport mark. This marking is a verification that any free-form amino acids which may have been added to the protein were not counted towards its total protein content.
2. Look for products which have been 3rd party tested using more specific methods, other than just calculating the products total nitrogen content. (e.g. a test which measures the specific amino acid concentrations in the protein/the specific sources of nitrogen).
3. When you’re deciding on a protein supplement, look closely at the label for singular amino acids which have been added (common ones used, include: glycine, arginine and taurine). While these added amino acids aren’t inherently harmful, if they are added in high amounts, this can significantly bring down the total whey protein content of a supplement. Likewise, added creatine can also count towards a supplements total protein content if the company so chooses. Although you can’t be 100% sure (without a lab report that is) whether or not these added singular ingredients are being counted towards a supplements total protein count, there is probably a good chance that they are.
As a final thought, it should be noted that not all protein spiking is malicious and intentional. Some companies add increased levels of certain amino acids to help with the mouthfeel of a product (reduce chalkiness). Additionally, some companies outsource, having other manufactures produce their protein for them, and may not even be aware that their products are being spiked.
For those of you who are interested, I have referenced a source below who conducted unbiased, independent 3rd party testing, on 82 different protein supplements. This company conducted a detailed chemical analysis of each supplement, through an FDA-registered laboratory.
I hope you found this article helpful. If there is any specific topic you’d like me to write about for next month’s article, leave it in the comments section below.