Protein Spiking aka Amino Acid Spiking

If you take supplements, it’s fairly likely that you take whey protein. Recently, there has been a huge spike (all pun intended) in discussion about the actual protein content vs. claimed protein content in many of the popular brands out there. I won’t name any names (since that’s what Google is for), but some of the good guys and some of the bad guys can be found below.

Instead of bashing those companies, I would actually like to share a chart that has been making the rounds over the past couple months and point out one of the major flaws in taking it at face value.

Chart courtesy of Chaos & Pain 

You see, this chart is missing a key column – Percentage of Claimed Protein. Let’s look at Optimum Nutrition’s Gold Standard Whey to illustrate the point. The chart shows the product at 24.6g of protein and 86.6% protein overall. Their packaging claims 24g of protein per serving, meaning they’re over 100% of their claimed protein content. Every single Optimum Nutrition product on this list follows the same pattern. Without any context as to how much protein a product had vs. what it claimed to have, this chart is actually fairly useless. Furthermore, if it’s taken at face value, it makes Optimum Nutrition look bad even though they’re delivering more than the promised amount of protein per serving in their products. However, the conversation about protein spiking is more complicated than claimed content vs. lab tested content.

So what’s Protein Spiking/ Amino Acid Spiking and why is it a big deal?

Protein spiking is essentially the practice of adding cheap amino acids (what proteins are broken down into by your digestive system) in the place of whole dietary protein to boost the claimed protein content. Supplement companies might add 5g per serving of a cheap amino acid to a 15g serving of whole whey protein, so that they can claim that their product has 20g of protein per serving in it. Biologically, you don’t benefit as much from 15g of whole protein and 5g of a single amino acid as you would from 20g of whole protein (like their labels lead you to believe you’re getting). Herein lies the problem.

So how can you protect yourself?

One of the easiest ways to protect yourself from being taken advantage of, is to make sure you’re not using a whey protein product that contains creatine. Due to an outdated test that is still utilized to measure protein content, 1g of creatine actually registers as 1.4g of protein. Companies get away with taking advantage of this because the FDA has very, very loose regulations on what can be called protein.

Another way you can protect yourself is by looking at the ingredient list on your protein. If you see glutamine/ glutamic acid ratios way out of whack in comparison to other amino acids, you may have protein that has been spiked. Additionally, if you have a whey protein product with very high levels of taurine, you can almost guarantee it has been spiked as taurine doesn’t occur at high levels in whey protein naturally.

My recommendation is to keep in mind the old adage “you get what you pay for.” If a protein product is priced in a way that’s too good to be true, the product probably is too good to be true.

If you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to comment below or email me directly.

Nick Brennan

Founder & CEO

Unbeaten Fitness

Posted on February 10, 2015 .