What if we told you your “25 grams of protein per scoop” protein powder was really comprised of just 20 grams of actual wholefood protein, and the other 5 grams was in fact cheap fillers that have far fewer benefits? You’d likely be less than impressed!
Yet, this is exactly what is happening in the most recent scandal to hit the supplement industry. With the increasing cost of raw material (whey protein), some supplement companies are attempting to save production costs and mislead consumers by adding cheaper free form amino acids to their protein powders, a process which has been termed “Amino Spiking.”
What Is Amino Spiking?
Amino spiking, also known as nitrogen spiking or protein spiking, is the action of adding free form amino acids into protein powder to increase the overall dietary protein content of the powder without disclosing this action on the label. But before you freak out and throw away all your protein powders, let’s dig a little bit deeper and cover a few more things.
How Is This Allowed?
When a company wants to test the protein content of their protein powder they will send it to a lab to perform a Nitrogen Content Test (NCT). Protein has a nitrogen-based bond and therefore shows up through a Nitrogen Content Test, however free form amino acids ALSO have that nitrogen-based bond and therefore also show up on that same test.
In the USA the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets the guidelines for all supplement manufacturers to follow…. what ingredients they can and can’t use and, in this case, what can be claimed as dietary protein. And this is where the loophole lies…
According to the FDA, pure amino acid products cannot be declared as sources of protein, but nothing is specifically stated regarding protein powders that INCLUDE extra amino acids.
To see this, find the FDA’s Code of Federal Regulations Title 21, Part 101 (Food Labelling), section 101.36 (Nutrition Labelling Of Dietary Supplements), which specifically addresses supplement labelling:
21 CFR 101.36(b)(2)(i)
12. May I declare protein on the label if my product contains only individual amino acids?
No. You may not declare protein on your products that contain only amino acids.
As you can see from the abstract above, a supplement manufacturer cannot declare protein on the label for any product ONLY containing amino acids, however, there is ample room for interpretation. Since protein powders are NOT comprised ONLY of amino acids; supplement manufacturers can interpret this to mean that added amino acids CAN be included in total protein content of protein powders.
The Difference Between ‘Amino Spiking’ And ‘Fortifying With Amino Acids’?
It is important to understand that ALL wholefood sources of protein are made up of a spectrum of naturally occurring amino acids. Some wholefood sources are higher in certain naturally occurring amino acids than others, and hence some supplement manufacturers may choose to “bump-up” certain amino acid concentrations in their protein powders to make them more nutritionally complete – a process is known as “Fortifying Protein Powders With Amino Acids”. Fortifying protein powders with amino acids is perfectly acceptable if supplement manufacturers disclose this information to consumers on the labels of their products. Amino spiking only occurs when a supplement manufacturer does not disclose that they have added amino acids to their protein powders and leads consumers to believe that their protein powders are comprised of 100% wholefood dietary protein.
If a supplement manufacturer:
A) states that they have added amino acids on the label
B) provides a “Typical Amino Acid Profile” on the label
C) lists the amino acids added in the ingredients section on the label
Then that product is NOT amino spiked, the protein powder is simply fortified with amino acids.
Should I Be Worried?
The short answer is no.
In regards to your health, there’s no evidence to suggest that a few extra grams of free form amino acids could cause any harm to your health and wellbeing
The main reason behind supplement manufacturers using free form amino acids in their protein powders is to reduce cost and increase profit margins. Amino acids cost far less per gram than most wholefood sources of protein. By using cheap amino acids to boost the overall protein content, supplement manufacturers can then provide a protein powder with ‘X’ grams of protein per serve at a cost much lower than products that comprise 100% wholefood protein. Because of this, amino spiked protein powders usually cost a lot less than 100% wholefood protein powders.
How Do I Know If My Current Protein Powder Is Amino Spiked?
The following points are by no means concrete evidence that particular protein powder is in fact amino spiked, but they are certainly good indicators that a protein powder may not contain 100% dietary protein.
A) A protein powder that is significantly cheaper per unit size than other similar protein powders in the market is likely amino spiked.
B) A protein powder that lists glycine and taurine together on the nutritional panel ingredients list straight after the main ingredients is likely amino spiked e.g. Protein Blend (Whey Protein Concentrate, Whey Protein Isolate, Glycine, Taurine…)
C) A protein powder that does not list the amount of added creatine in grams but lists it fairly high on the ingredients list may be amino spiked with creatine.
D) A protein powder that contains a proprietary amino acid blend that has been added without disclosing what that amino acid blend consists of is likely amino spiked.
Which Protein Powders Are Not Amino Spiked?
Our top picks for non-amino spiked protein powders are:
Is Amino Spiking Here To Stay?
The future is always uncertain in the supplement industry; new products are being created faster than ever before and consumer demand is at an all-time high. However, there will always be a need for a value for money protein powder and that need is, in most cases, satisfied by protein powders with added free form amino acids. As for amino spiking, that’s in the hands of the supplement manufacturers. They need to decide if they want to try and deceive the consumer or be honest and open about what they are putting into their products.
So next time you are shopping for a protein powder, spend a little more time looking at the label. Read the ingredients, look for an amino acid profile and always feel free to ask any of your questions to any of the knowledgeable team at MassiveJoes.com