Build Muscle

The Great Protein Hoax

Some supp companies are manipulating their formulas to fool tests, give you less protein, and make a cheap buck. Do you really know what’s in your protein powder?

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man with protein powder supplement

What’s in your tub of protein powder? There’s a good chance you don’t really know, as a number of compa-nies are topping off their products with low-grade ingredients masquerading as complete proteins—an unscrupulous prac-tice known as protein spiking. The label on your bottle might say “24 grams of protein,” when in fact the true content is closer to 15 or 10 or maybe even zero.

As the price of whey protein has exploded, so, too, have immoral practices by shady supplement companies looking to increase profit margins at the expense of the consumer. With protein spiking, instead of putting the full amount of protein in the product that’s stated on the label, a company will purposely come up short and fill the rest of its formula with cheap amino acids and other nonprotein ingredients that can fool the testing process.

The loophole that allows this to happen is the fact that protein content in such products is indirectly measured by nitrogen content. And any number of things that aren’t actually protein—free-form amino acids, creatine, and arginine, to name a few—can raise a powder’s nitrogen levels at a fraction of the cost of whey, thus making the product appear to contain more protein than it actually does. Of course, proteins are made up of individual amino acids, but throwing a bunch of random, cheap aminos into a container doesn’t replicate the various muscle-building, health, and performance-enhancing benefits of the complete proteins that should be in the supplement.

Not even close.

One company, however, knows exactly what’s in your protein powder: ChromaDex, an independent third-party testing lab with the tools to separate the quality products from the impostors. Their new seal program aims to eliminate any doubt whatsoever. When you see “ChromaDex Quality Verified” on your tub of protein, you’ll know you can trust the label.

You can expect to find this seal on all BPI Sports protein products in the near future. BPI Sports has built consumer trust since its founding in 2009; now that trust will be further reinforced with an unbiased third-party verification. In addition to sniffing out protein spiking, ChromaDex’s stringent testing will ensure that products meet full specification for ingredient identity, contaminants, heavy metals, and microbials.

“This will be a total game changer,” says BPI Sports co-founder and VP James Grage. “You as a consumer will no longer have to guess whether you’re getting a quality protein product or one that’s been spiked with subpar ingredients. BPI Sports getting the ChromaDex seal will force other companies to do the same.” For years, unscrupulous companies looking to save a buck could be as aggressive as a pro athlete looking to cheat a drug test, according to ChromaDex co-founder and CEO Frank Jaksch Jr. “If somebody is smart enough, they can find ways to fool it,” Jaksch says, referring to the melamine poisonings of 2007 and 2008. In those instances, companies added melamine—an industrial whitener for such products like dinner plates—to pet food, milk, and baby formula. In both instances, melamine was used to fool the industry-standard nitrogen test.

“Flash-forward to today and it’s like everybody has exercised selective forgetfulness,” Jaksch says. “[Protein spiking] is no different from melamine; it’s obviously a lot less harmful, but they’re just moving the bar. Whatever the cheap amino acid du jour is that happens to be nitrogen-containing will be what people grab on to.” In addition to using nitrogen testing to determine total protein, ChromaDex runs an amino acid profile to test for free-form and bound aminos. By definition, protein should contain very few free amino acids. So, for example, even if a nitrogen test confirms 20 grams of protein per serving, a high test for free amino acids would flag the sample, making the nitrogen data suspect.

“In a case like that, we would fail the sample,” Jaksch says. “If someone sent us a protein sample and it was all free amino acids, it’s a dead giveaway that the stuff has been spiked. It’s really that ratio between the free and the bound amino acids that tells you if your protein is up to snuff.”

While ChromaDex has supplied testing to just about every player in the supplement industry, Jaksch admits that some companies want more rigorous testing than others. BPI Sports, meanwhile, took testing a step further.

Part of the seal program includes a thorough audit and inspection of the manufacturer’s facility. Jaksch explains that most supplement companies don’t own their manufacturing plants; they formulate the products, then use an outside vendor to mass-produce the product. “In my opinion, you actually learn more from the audit and inspection process than you will from the testing,” Jaksch says.

Inspecting the vendors—from the manufacturing facility all the way back to the raw materials—is time-consuming and expensive, a practice that, for years, scared off most supplement companies. “We created the concept of this seal program more than 10 years ago,” Jaksch says. “BPI was one of the first to understand this and say, ‘We can’t compromise, and we’re prepared to spend the money necessary to do this.’ ”

Grage sees it as a boon to the industry as a whole. “If they want to say that their product is just as good as ours, they’ll have to put their money where their mouth is and get it tested,” he says. “In the end, this is great for everyone. It means that all the big companies are going to put out better products.”

What They're Looking For

“You can’t use just one test to determine the potency of protein,” Jaksch says. Tests that look at the nitrogen content of powder are unreliable. Below, he points out three things ChromaDex looks for in testing:

Identity

> If the bottle says whey protein, can the consumer really trust that it’s whey and not derived from another source?

Quantitation

> An unscrupulous company might provide only 10 grams of protein per serving, with nitro-gen-containing aminos accounting for the rest.

Contaminants

> Subpar processing can lead to metals and microbiological con-tamination making their way into the product.

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