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Alarmed? You should be, but not about the dangers of protein drinks. You should be alarmed about the hack job that Consumer Reports printed on this inept, one-sided investigation.
If you have no idea what I'm talking about, visit: http://pressroom.consumerreports.org/pressroom/2010/06/investigation-tests-reveal-contaminants-in-many-protein-drinks.html
Let me start by addressing the most ridiculous claim in the report: too much protein is dangerous. If you wonder why the authors didn't cite any research to support this bold statement, it's because none exists. In fact, several studies have been done that show the exact opposite — that high protein intake is not only safe but also effective for building muscle size and strength, as well as losing bodyfat.
Consumer Reports goes on to interview so-called health and fitness experts on the supposed dangers of consuming too much protein. But these "experts" are merely dieticians, not researchers in the field of sports nutrition. One source is Kathleen Laquale, PhD, who says: "The body can break down only 5-9 grams of protein per hour. Any excess that's not burned for energy is converted to fat or excreted, so it's a ridiculous waste to be recommending so much more than you really need."
Since I hadn't heard of Laquale, I looked her up. Apparently, she's a professor in athletic training at Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts. While I'm sure Bridgewater State College is a fine school, it's not really a powerhouse in the field of exercise science or sports nutrition. But even if it was, you should know that athletic training deals with sports injuries, not sports nutrition. Although Laquale is credited as a nutritionist, Pubmed does not contain a single paper that she has published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal on nutrition or any other research topic. Yet suddenly she's an expert on protein utilization.
The problem is that protein utilization is dependent on variables such as an individual's body size, how long between meals, any activity (like exercise) he or she has performed prior to the meal and the type of protein consumed. Laquale's blanket statement is ridiculous and irresponsible, and it demonstrates that she has little knowledge about sports nutrition.
Consumer Reports should have gone to real experts in the field of protein research like Dr. Robert Wolfe. His research, conducted at the University of Texas Medical Branch (Galveston), is pivotal to our understanding of how critical protein is before and after workouts. In fact, our own contributing writer Tabatha Elliott, PhD, did her postdoctoral work in Wolfe's lab. I have spent time in Wolfe's lab learning techniques for studying protein utilization to apply to my own research. Elliott and Wolfe could've told Consumer Reports that their research actually shows that the more protein you consume, the more protein synthesis is activated. Protein synthesis is the way that muscles grow bigger. In other words, it takes more protein to build bigger and stronger muscles, and protein drinks consumed at critical time periods in the day (such as before and after workouts) are more effective for building muscle than whole-food protein sources. To have random academics refuting what world-renowned experts in protein research have shown to be true speaks volumes about how far out of their depth the reporters were when they put this hack job together. Then there's the silly case report of poor little Scott Baker and his tummy aches. Baker's dietician and personal trainer Erin Palinski claims that Baker experienced diarrhea as a result of eating too much protein. Apparently Consumer Reports neglected to mention that Palinski is also a gastroenterologist. She must be if she can diagnose disorders of the intestinal tract. Again, Consumer Reports includes comments from someone who's unqualified to make them.
But what about the dangerous levels of heavy metals and other contaminants that Consumer Reports discovered in protein drinks? Let's weed through the sensationalism of this report and remember this statement, which comes early in their own article: "For most drinks we tested, levels of those contaminants were in the low to moderate range, when we could detect them at all." That's right, almost all the protein drinks and powders tested didn't contain dangerous levels of contaminants.
But what about the products that did contain high doses of contaminants? Let's examine the findings. For starters, Consumer Reports never discloses the methods used. NSF International, "The Public Health and Safety Company" — which is the world leader in standards development, product certification, education and risk management for public health and safety, and designated a collaborating center by the World Health Organization for Food and Water Safety and Indoor Environment — has issued a statement that refutes the Consumer Report findings:
NSF International cannot comment on the test results reported in the July 2010 Consumer Reports article on protein drinks. It omits critical information about the laboratory that performed the test and its accreditation qualifications. ISO 17025 accreditation is critical for any laboratory testing for heavy metals in dietary supplements and nutritional products. The article also omits the test methods used, analytical preparation, sample size, the basis of their risk assessment, detection limits, quality control data and instrumentation used for this report.
The NSF International statement further reads: Muscle Milk Chocolate and Muscle Milk Vanilla Crème have been certified to NSF/ANSI Standard 173. The samples analyzed met the maximum acceptable limits of the standard based upon our validated test methods.
In other words, NSF International, the world leader in such testing, has already found these products to meet their standards. Yet Consumer Reports somehow found levels of contaminants that NSF failed to find yet did not disclose their method of finding them. Really?! This is yet another claim by Consumer Reports that's just ridiculous.
To read the NSF International's full report, go to: nsf.org/business/dietary_supplements/index.asp?program=DietarySups
If you're wondering why any amount of arsenic, lead or mercury is in protein drinks, you can't blame the supplement companies. The contaminants come from the whole-food sources from which the protein drinks are made. It's almost impossible for food not to contain trace elements of such contaminants. And yes, we consume low levels of them whenever we eat whole foods. So if you want to completely avoid these contaminants, you need to avoid a lot more than protein drinks. You'll also need to avoid much of the food you eat on a daily basis. For some reason, Consumer Reports fails to mention that.
The bottom line is that Consumer Reports was obviously biased against protein drinks and the supplement industry when it embarked upon this report. They neglected to interview any qualified protein experts, didn't investigate any existing reports about protein powders' safety and then they disregarded their own findings. If this "investigation" does anything, it should anger you. After all, they're supposed to be the watchdog that protects your rights and safety. But this time, they dropped the ball in favor of some easy reporting and junk science. If M&F relied on this kind of shoddy research in our articles, we would've been out of business a long time ago.