When I got into bodybuilding, almost 4 decades ago, the availability and amount of protein supplements was slim. We ate lots of beef, eggs and fish and when supplementing there were only a handful of companies. We threw down desiccated liver tablets, ate Carnation breakfast bars, and made our own protein shakes: usually milk, raw egg and peanut butter. The point being: we got most of our protein from food sources and there was not yet a multi-billion dollar protein supplement business in play.
There are tens of thousands of large nutritional companies selling protein supplements. People using protein supplements are not just gym rats anymore.
Thanks to the Atkins diet and many nutritionists since then, people have learned that increasing your protein can not only increase muscle,. But increase fullness and help you lose weight. From children, to housewives to Silicon Valley geek: protein is the in thing (see In Busy Silicon Valley, Protein Powder Is in Demand, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/25/technology/in-busy-silicon-valley-protein-powder-is-in-demand.html?_r=0).
The Industry is H-U-G-E
To understand how big the industry you can look at just one smaller newer player, MusclePharm, founded by an ex-NFL wide receiver/punt return specialist in 2009, whose sales are over 110 million annually. That is just one company, and a smaller one at that! The protein sports supplement market is an $8 billion industry, according to Euromonitor business.
Demand and Prices Increasing
What’s driving growth to Protein Products, and as such increasing the cost to manufactures and ultimately top consumers?
People looking for healthy nutrition on the go
Convenience & Product Affordability
Protein Supplements: Most Sought After Nutrients
Preventive Healthcare Boosts Demand for Sports Nutrition Solutions
Consumer Preference for Dietary Supplements to Avoid Invasive Health and Anti-Aging Treatments
Companies looking to get their Piece of the Protein Market Action, Creating new products, protein infused products, increasing demand for whey and increasing prices in the process.
Examples: Protein boosts added to milk, pasta, breads, muffins, sports drinks and more by multiple manufacturers
Over the past couple of years nitrogen spiking has become an important issue in the world of fitness nutrition and supplementation. As a consumer it is important to understand what it is, so you can chose the correct protein supplement for you, that meets your needs and your expectations.
So what exactly is nitrogen spiking and why should YOU care?
Simply put, nitrogen spiking—also known as “protein spiking” or “amino spiking”—is a technique that allows supplement companies to put less protein in their product than is supposedly listed on their nutritional label.
The amount of protein in a product is currently measured is by measuring the nitrogen content of the product, which is then converted into the protein amount. Nitrogen is used as a measuring factor because protein is made up of different amino acids that are strung together in a chain, and every amino acid contains nitrogen—thus explaining how nitrogen can be used to determine the amount of protein in a product. It works if you are not trying to get a higher number by adding in cheaper, inferior amino acids, (like creatine, taurine and glycine) instead of complete food proteins, (such as whey, casein and egg). If you are trying to put on muscxle, and ghet the most ouyt of your supplement you want complete proteins.
Manufacturers are adding “extra” amino acids such as taurine, glycine, glutamine, and creatine to protein powders and to make it appear that you are getting higher amounts per serving of complete proteins.
So what’s so bad about extra amino acids? Amino acids when taken as a supplement can be beneficial for an athlete. Most people think that having extra amino acids added to their protein powder is a good thing. After all, I recommend taking extra branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) before and after workouts in addition to protein powder. Creatine, for example, has been shown to enhance recovery, boost brain function, and increase muscle strength. Taurine another common amino acid used in spiking is found in energy drinks and helps boost alertness and focus.
The major problem with protein powders that have added amino acids is that the amino acids aren't added to provide any benefit to the product. They are not complete proteins. Instead, they're only added for their nitrogen. Complete proteins, on the other hand, are made up of nine different amino acids that the body can’t produce on its own, and therefore have a high protein count—hence the name. Complete proteins include foods like meat, fish, poultry, eggs and milk (where whey and casein come from). Complete proteins is what is needed to build muscle, and aid in post workout recovery, and the reason why most people buy protein powders.
Because complete proteins are so valuable, they’re expensive to add to supplements (upwards for $4 to $7 a pound). So, to cut production costs, certain manufactures are ‘spiking’ their protein supplements by adding in extra amino acids (like creatine, taurine, and glycine) because they are far cheaper to add than complete proteins (around $1 a pound, and as low as $0.45 for a pound of taurine) and boost the nitrogen content of the powder, giving the false impression that the product contains more protein than it really does. So when the protein powder is tested for protein content it still hits that 25-30g range—even though the added amino acids are NOT considered to be part of the true protein content of the product, and the product might actually only contain 10-20 grams of true complete protein. Not very good bang for your buck and not as effective when trying to build muscle.
It is Within the Current Written Law
It is not against the law to do this, because current FDA regulations do not address the practice. In fact some may argue that it is their testing protocol allowance that allows nitrogen spiking to occur., In fact, because the FDA does not even define “protein” one can argue that companies that nitrogen spike are doing absolutely nothing wrong.
How to Find Nitrogen Spiked Products
While it is not always easy to find nitrogen spiked products, there are some things you can look out for:
Learn to read the label.
Never ever buy protein with creatine. Products with creatine in them are by far the worst, most misleading offenders. One manufacturer showed that creatine could also throw off results – to such a ridiculous degree that you somehow get 143% protein! Also, for many this ingredient also causes bloat. Not what a bodybuilder wants.
Strongly avoid protein products with taurine, or glycine in the ingredient listing unless the full amino profile is disclosed.
Examples of a nitrogen spiked product
Protein Blend (Whey Protein Isolate, Glutamine Peptides, L-Leucine, Egg Albumen, Whey Peptides, L-Isoleucine, L-Valine), Cocoa (Processed With Alkali), etc. Notice the glutamine peptides come before the egg and whey peptides in the ingredient list.
Protein Blend (Whey Protein Concentrate, Brown Rice Protein Concentrate (a substandard protein), Taurine, Glucose Polymer, Whey Protein Isolate, Egg Albumin, Milk Protein Isolate, Partially Hydrolyzed Whey Protein), Cocoa Powder (Dutch Process), etc.
In either example, it’s really not possible to tell how much “watering down” is being done, because the whole batch of ingredients are counted as “proteins”. For all we know, they could each be in equal dosing!
How is this legal?
What I do
For me, I stick with known brands. Companies I have personal relationships where I know that focus on quality.
Example, I use Pro Fight products, I have used them since 2002. I know the owner. I know how his products are made. The BCAAs and glutamine Pro Fight listed on their label are EXTRA. They are ADDED to their protein products are are NOT included in the grams of protein per serving, so you are getting some EXTRA and not something INSTEAD.
Why are they added by Pro Fight? Pro Fight adds them for a very particular reason: Before and after exercise the body uses BCAAs and glutamine in higher amounts, sop by adding them to the protein product your body has complete proteins to build muscle rather than a complete protein made incomplete through exercise. This is a VERY IMPORTANT point to understand for athletes. Pro Fight does this to be an effective product, and to save you money and convenience. Before I used Pro Fight Protein, I would do this myself, by buying BCAA and glutamine capsules and taken 5 grams of each before and after my workout. If you do not use Pro Fight, this is a good practice to employ to get the most out of your protein product.
Pro-Tip: Find the French label of your product. If you’re curious about a certain protein supplement that is produced by a major international brand, you might want to check if it’s available in France. Certain European countries such as France require full amino acid disclosure, so check Google and try to find the nutritional label of your product..
Lawsuits Say Protein Powders Lack Protein, Ripping Off Athletes. Forbes lawsuit, http://www.forbes.com/sites/alexmorrell/2015/03/12/lawsuits-say-protein-powders-lack-protein-ripping-off-athletes/
In Busy Silicon Valley, Protein Powder Is in Demand, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/25/technology/in-busy-silicon-valley-protein-powder-is-in-demand.html?_r=0
Code of Federal Regulations Title 21, Part 101 (Food Labeling), section 101.36 (Nutrition labeling of dietary supplements)
About the Author Jeff Behar
Jeff Behar, MS, MBA, is a well-known health, fitness, wellness author and anti-aging, champion natural bodybuilder (2014 Masters Grand Prix Champion, 2015 California State Masters Champion), and a recognized health, fitness and nutrition expert with over 30 years of experience in the health, fitness, disease prevention, nutrition, and anti-aging fields.
As a recognized health, fitness and nutrition expert, Jeff Behar's has been featured on several radio shows, TV, and in several popular bodybuilding publications such as Flex, Ironman and in several highly regarded peer reviewed scientific journals. Jeff Behar is also the CEO and founder www.MuscleMagFitness.com and www.MyBesthealthPortal.com and a Medical Commentator on exercise for The American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, the world’s largest medical academy for anti-aging and regenerative medicine, provides medical professionals with the latest Anti-Aging, regenerative, functional and metabolic medicine.
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— Last Edited by Jeff Behar, MS, MBA, CIH at 2015-07-29 16:17:07 —