What is Protein Spiking?
Protein spiking sounds cool, doesn’t it? Like some new technique to expedite your training results. But it’s not.
It’s a dirty lil’ secret some supplement companies don’t want you to know about. We’re fixing that.
Right here. Right now.
Protein spiking, also referred to as amino spiking, or nitrogen spiking, is the process dishonest supplement companies use to pass off inflated protein totals in supplements.
Nitrogen spiking has been on the rise since 2014. That’s not when it first started, but supplement companies have been increasingly in the news and in court over it. Big names like Musclepharm and CVS have been named as defendants.
So if you think this hasn’t affected you, you may be wrong.
How Does Protein Spiking Work?
Protein spiking works because of the methods used to determine protein amounts in proteins coupled with a bit of science.
The method used to measure protein in a supplement is referred to as the Kjedahl method, basically it measures the nitrogen output in protein products.
“The Kjeldahl method is commonly used to measure total nitrogen in protein products,” John Travis, senior research scientist at NSF International, says. “The method involves liberating reduced nitrogen as ammonia, and then measuring the ammonia. Since this test determines the nitrogen content, it is used to calculate the total grams of protein in a protein supplement. The Kjeldahl test could imply a given supplement contains more whole protein than it actually does if the test measures a non-protein substance simply by its nitrogen content.”
What does that mean and how can they get away with it.
Let’s get down and dirty with the deets.
How Can They Get Away with Protein Spiking?
Quick science check:
Amino acids are the only nutrients that provide nitrogen. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Because of this, companies can hoodwink customers because of the method used to test the amount of protein in a supplement is measured by the amount of nitrogen it contains.
In other words, amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Therefore, protein is made up of amino acids—which are the only nutrients that give off nitrogen..
Measuring nitrogen—which does not distinguish between full proteins or amino acids, is how protein values are determined.
If the source isn’t identified, these imposter aminos are taking credit for protein amounts.
That is precisely how true protein values are overstated.
You with me? Good.
What is Being Used to Fake Protein?
Protein spiking requires fillers like wasted amino acids derived from hair, fur and nails to boost the ‘protein’ content.
Besides nasty hair and fur, less expensive aminos such as taurine, creatine, arginine and glycine are used. Remember, protein is made from amino acids, so adding these aminos that give off nitrogen can still yield a positive test for protein.
Most troubling is another substance being used to inflate protein tests: melamine. It is a nitrogen enriched chemical used to make plastic and fertilizer. It’s dangerous.
Greed is so ugly.
Wait, Aren’t Amino Acids Good For You?
Amino acids are definitely beneficial. They are the building blocks of proteins. However, they are digested and absorbed differently than protein. Protein components are absorbed and transported to peripheral tissues and are absorbed more rapidly. Additionally, less than 1% is lost in stool.
Why Do They Do This? Money, of course.
Protein is expensive. High quality protein can cost up to $20 per pound. If they have to pay higher amounts per pound, they make less profit or they run the risk of losing customers who are seeking less expensive alternatives.
Think about it. If they buy cheap aminos at a buck a pound and add 30 grams of cheap aminos with 20 grams of real protein, they’re getting a GREAT deal aren’t they? But you’re not.
You’re getting cheated out of important proteins your body needs to rebuild and repair muscles and get results.
Why results, aren’t amino acids and BCAAs still beneficial? OF COURSE! But not all amino acids build muscle—which is your goal with protein. So you’re paying for premium protein expecting muscle building results and you’re simply not getting what you paid for.
Is Anything Being Done to Stop Protein Spiking?
Unfortunately, no additional requirements have been created by the FDA to effectively stop shady supplement companies from protein spiking.
In 2014 the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) issued a voluntary guideline on labeling of protein in food and dietary supplement products. It recommended product manufacturers define their protein as “a chain of amino acids connected by peptide bonds” and that non-protein nitrogen-containing substances not be counted toward total protein content on product labels.
Unfortunately, voluntary is the operative word.
Since it’s voluntary, and some shady companies lack souls…. it’s important to know how as much about protein spiking as you can to avoid being duped.
How Will I Know if My Protein Has Been Spiked?
Well, unfortunately there is no way to identify whether it has been spiked on sight alone.
But– you can buy from companies who are members of industry certifiers, or companies who selected a facility that is NSF-certified. Industry certifiers require more stringent policies designed to prevent protein spiking and other devious acts.
The AHPA, NSF International, and The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) require their members to calculate the amount of protein by only including proteins that consist of a chain of amino acids connected by peptide bonds. The non-muscle building aminos and non-aminos do not possess this characteristic, therefore the required testing effectively eradicates the possibility of inflating stated protein concentrations.
Caveat: Many supplement companies claim to be NSF-certified because of its rigorous and premium standards. If you haven’t learned through this lengthy blog yet–don’t believe everything you see. Double check everything—it’s your health, results and money at stake.
If you see an NSF-certified logo and want to make sure the company using it is doing so authentically, stop by the NSF page to see what major brands have misused or been banned from NSF-certification.
If you want to stay on top of a high-profile protein spiking lawsuit involving MuscleTech, Musclepharm and Nature’s best, you can check it out here.
As always, Google is your friend, and so are we. We’re here to help you, not hurt you. Have questions or comments? Join the conversation below.