Some protein powder manufacturers are scamming their customers by cutting their protein supplements with non-protein ingredients; this is called “nitrogen spiking” or “protein spiking.”
Gene Bruno, a dietary supplement scientist, reported on protein spiking in the April 2014 issue of Natural Products Insider. Bruno says that, according to NSF senior research scientist John Travis, reduced nitrogen can be liberated as ammonia in a protein test. By adding cheaper ingredients that contain nitrogen, manufacturers can manipulate the test to artificially inflate the amount of protein in their product. Protein spiking has prompted the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) to propose a “defined standard” when measuring protein.
Amino acids are used because they contain nitrogen and are less expensive than complete proteins such as whey protein, casein protein and egg protein. Bruno’s report notes that “Although amino acids are the building blocks of protein, they do not have the same beneficial effects of whole protein.” because they are absorbed differently. The report also quotes Tim Ziegenfuss, CEO of the Center for Applied Health Sciences as saying “Arginine has approximately three times more nitrogen than whey protein, and creatine has approximately one and a half times more nitrogen at less than half the price. Spiking protein with these nutraceuticals is a cheap way to drive up the nitrogen level of a protein powder without adding more high-quality protein.”
Brands that may be guilty of protein spiking include: Body Fortress, ProSupps, MusclePharm Arnold series, 4 Dimension Nutrition, Designer Whey, Mutant Nutrition, Gaspari Nutrition, Giant Sports Nutrition, Infinite Labs, and Beast Sports Nutrition.
Consumers looking to buy protein supplements should read the label to avoid a product that has been spiked; ingredients to look out for are arginine, glycine, creatine and taurine. According to General Nutrition Centers (GNC), these ingredients should not be counted in a protein test, even though some of them may have health benefits.
Dietary supplements are not subject to the same regulations as other health items. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can only take action against the manufacturer once the product is already on the market, and shown to be adulterated or misbranded. The FDA has taken action against companies in the past for being dishonest about what was in their product.