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In order for supplement companies to negate the effects of the rising costs of producing products, they start to compromise on the quality of their products; and no product takes more of a beating than protein powders. Protein, especially whey, is a staple in most bodybuilders and fitness fanatics supplement arsenal as it helps to ensure adequate daily protein intake as well as to bolster recovery and muscle growth. Because the protein powder market is so competitive, supplement brands are always looking for the edge in terms of maintaining a perceived quality protein blend while reducing costs.
Amino acid spiking, also known as protein spiking or nitrogen spiking, is when free form amino acids are added into a protein powder with the end goal of increasing the nitrogen content of the protein. When the protein content of a product is tested in a lab it is done by testing the overall nitrogen content of the product. Unfortunately, the tests performed to measure protein content only quantify the overall nitrogen levels of the product, but because all amino acids contain nitrogen, the tests can’t differentiate between complete proteins and amino acids. In order to boost nitrogen levels, some supplement manufacturers add in fillers in the form of cheap amino acids. In simple terms, as an end user you may be purchasing a whey product that claims to have 25g of protein per serving; however, the manufacturers may have included 10g of filler amino acids which means that you are actually only getting 15g of actual protein. While there is no official law preventing this trickery, it can still be looked at as a scam as manufacturers are “working the system” to comply with nutritional guidelines.
While the following points are by no means definitive evidence that a protein powder has been spiked with amino acids, they could be signs that manufacturers have been manipulating their formulations to enhance protein readings.
The reason for this is that these filler amino acids are significantly cheaper than 100% whole-food dietary protein which therefore lowers the manufacturing and retail cost of the product.
Protein powders that either list glycine or taurine on the nutritional ingredients list right after the main ingredients (whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate etc.) Or have extremely high values of these two amino acids are likely to be amino acid spiked.
In terms of protein powders, you may find some that are spiked with proteogenic amino acids. Proteogenic amino acids are the 20 amino acids used as building blocks to form proteins in the body, such as muscle protein; however, some manufacturers use non-proteogenic amino acids. Non-proteogenic amino acids are the amino acids that are not used as protein building blocks. These amino acids don’t provide any direct muscle-building benefits at all; and are just used to enhance the nitrogen ( or “protein”) content of the product. Taurine is a popular non-proteogenic amino acid that is added to protein powders to boost nitrogen content. While you may think that having taurine added to a protein powder is a great bonus because of its energy-enhancing functions, it is actually just the manufacturer manipulating the overall perceived protein content.
Protein powders which do not list creatine in grams but have it listed fairly high up on the ingredients table may be amino acid spiked.
While having a high dose of creatine may be seen as beneficial, when it comes to protein powders it is often used as a means of falsifying total protein content. If you want a high dose of creatine, rather get it from a creatine supplement instead of your protein powder as you may be compromising your protein intake.
Protein powders which contain a proprietary blend of amino acids without indicating what the amino acid blend consists of is often amino acid spiked.
Proprietary blends are found in a number of products and are often used by supplement companies to safeguard their formulations; but in terms of protein powders, this is not necessary and is therefore often a sign that the product may be spiked with amino acids.
Raw protein powders can vary in protein and amino acid concentrations due to a number of uncontrollable factors. Because of this, manufacturers may choose to “bump-up” certain amino acids in order make their protein powders more nutritionally complete.
This process is known as fortifying protein powders with amino acids. Fortifying protein with amino acids helps to improve the quality of the protein and is perfectly acceptable so long as manufacturers disclose this information on their labels. The only amino acids used to fortify protein are proteogenic amino acids which are the amino acids used to form protein.
Amino acid spiking on the other hand occurs when the manufacturer does not state that they have added amino acids to their protein powders and when non-proteogenic amino acids have been included in the blend. This is done in order to “fool” the customer into believing that their protein powder is comprised of 100% whole-food dietary protein.
While amino acid spiking is in no way detrimental to your health, it is still somewhat underhanded. As an end user you are theoretically not getting the quality you are paying for and in fact, you are being deceived. Value for money is of great concern to most buyers, but is it worth sacrificing on quality? The choice is yours.