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If you're reading this, you've probably bought and used protein powder before. In terms of supplements, protein powder ranks with the ever-popular multivitamins, fish oil capsules, and creatine. Nothing surpasses a good protein shake for convenience: it's cheap, tasty, high in protein, and low in things that aren't protein. It is especially beneficial for those of us who train frequently and require more protein than our body weight in grams per day, as well as little to no carbs. But behind the scenes, things are changing.
Protein powder is becoming more expensive, and companies' profit margins are shrinking.
While larger companies may afford to lose money on protein powder while making up the difference in price on other supplements such as creatine, pre-workouts, and fat burners, smaller companies do not have this luxury. Many little supplement companies (as well as some undisclosed larger ones) have had to cope with a slew of paperwork and lawsuits in recent years. Why? Because these companies have preyed on unwary clients by offering low-quality protein powder. This approach, referred to as amino spiking, protein spiking, or nitrogen spiking, has caused quite a stir in the supplement market.
Amino spiking is the process of increasing the overall protein content of a powder by introducing low grade amino acids (often L-Taurine and/or L-Glycine).
We, as consumers, do not want this because taurine and glycine are extremely ineffective at boosting muscle protein synthesis. These amino acids, along with L-Arginine and L-Glutamine (among other less common aminos), are classified as conditional or nonessential amino acids, which means our bodies can generate them. We desire essential amino acids in our protein powder because our bodies cannot make them and they are critical to our health, fitness, and gym gains (most importantly of course).
You may be wondering how firms can get away with this. The lack of oversight in the supplement sector by the Food and Drug Administration allows most companies to do this without being discovered (FDA). Almost anyone may produce and sell a product with absurd claims and under-dosed substances on the label, or even leave certain ingredients off the list because no one will stop them. Because of how the products are tested, a nutritional label may read 30 grams of protein per scoop when only half of that is quality protein. The amount of nitrogen in a product is measured when it is tested for protein content. Most tests do not distinguish between full proteins containing all of the essential amino acids and pure nonessential amino acids. This means that the consumer believes they are receiving a low-cost, high-quality product when, in fact, half of the container may contain useless additives.
With both small and larger, seemingly trustworthy companies guilty of amino spiking, it's critical to be cautious when purchasing a new protein powder or even taking a second look at your current protein powder. The first place to look is in the ingredients list, which usually includes a type of "protein blend," such as whey, casein, beef, egg, and so on.
Continue to seek for individual low grade amino acids that have been added to the product; the higher they are on the ingredient list, the more widespread they are. Most people do not go this far before purchasing a product, which is why they frequently sell low-quality powder.
If there aren't any, search for a list of all the amino acids in the product in a separate box or below the macronutrient profile. It will first list high quality amino acids such as Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine along with the amount per scoop. Continue to hunt for Taurine, Glutamine, Arginine, and any other low-quality amino acids.
They are cutting corners if they are listed in greater quantities than the required amino acids.
Next, consider what you're purchasing in the context of the larger picture. With the rising cost of high-quality components, companies who maintain cheap prices should be scrutinized more closely. When it comes to professional reviews of specific products, as well as third-party tests, the internet is always a goldmine of knowledge (assuming you know how to find it).
When it comes down to it, eating more whole foods is the best approach to avoid things like amino spiking. Many of us have forgotten that the best thing we can feed our bodies does not come in a plastic container, despite the recent surge in fitness and supplement popularity.
Yes, a protein shake is more convenient than having to cook 12 ounces of chicken and a plate of rice five times a day, but the chicken is more healthy, satisfying, and generally better when it comes to high quality protein sources every day of the week. Having said that, for anyone serious about their training, I still recommend a high quality protein powder between meals that contain entire foods or around your workouts. And, with the information provided above, you should be able to tell a good protein powder from a bad one!