What is amino spiking?Amino spiking is the practice of supplement companies purposely adding cheap, free form amino acids to their protein powders in order to boost the overall protein content.
When a supplement company manufactures and brings a new protein powder to market, the amount of protein per serve they are legally allowed to write within the nutritional panel, is purely based on the results of a nitrogen content test (Kjedahl Nitrogen Test are the most common)
Let's pretend Supps42 has decided to create our own whey protein powder. For us to advertise 20 grams protein per serve, 25 grams protein per serve and so on, our protein powder must partake in a test that measures the overall nitrogen content found within our powder.
A serve size (normally the scoop size) is analysed. Let's say our serve size is 30 grams. 30 grams of our whey protein is measured to see how much nitrogen is found within. Let's say the test showed there is 80% nitrogen found within our 30 gram serve size of powder.
This simply means 80% of 30 is 24 thus we can now advertise and promote that consumers will receive 24 grams of protein per serve when you purchase and take our protein powder.
Below is an actual sample nitrogen content test conducted on a real whey protein powder;
As you can see at the bottom, this protein yields 83.9% nitrogen per 100g. With that now official, we can work out what 83.9% of my serve size is (let's say it's 30 grams again) which equates to 25.2 or 25.2 grams of protein per serve! Boom! That's what we can put on the label and advertise! But what exactly is this 25.2 grams of protein made up of? Is it all dietary whey sources to help with muscle repair and growth like we think, or is it something else?
The loop hole
Because this is currently the only test required to determine protein content, supplement companies will manipulate the nitrogen test to legally adhere to the law yet deceive consumers at the same time to maximize their profit.
Cheap, free form amino acids such as Glycine, L-Glutamine, even BCAA's yield high nitrogen content readings. They are also classified as 'protein'. Knowing this, companies will purposely add these amino acids into the powder in order to boost the overall nitrogen content to return a high reading on the test!
For example, we could simply put 10 or 15 grams of actual dietary whey protein sources in our powder then dump in 5 grams of amino acids. We conduct the nitrogen content test and it reads 75%. We then go and dump a few extra grams of amino acids in, do the nitrogen content test again and now it reads 83.9% like on the test above. Yay, we can now officially say our protein has 25.2 grams of protein per serve!
Even though we have only put 10 - 15 grams of actual dietary whey protein in our powder, we can still legally advertise 25.2 grams of protein on our label based on this 83.9% test result.
Why do companies do this?
Money! It's really quite simple. It simply comes down to minimizing your own costs and maximizing profit. Buying free form amino acids is extremely cheap, like dirt cheap compared to using actual dietary whey protein sources which are expensive.
Instead of costing say $30 to make a true, high quality whey protein powder, it now costs half of this due to using less whey protein sources and more cheap amino acid ingredients.
Because the manufacturing cost is significantly cheaper, we can now price point our products at a ridiculous cheap price, undercut our competitors, give customers the idea they are getting a great deal AND still make money!
How to spot them - price point
A really good indication that your protein powder may not be what it actually seems is how much it costs. There are some companies who have 1kg bags of whey protein for $25 - $35! Of course when customers see this they pounce, I mean it's a lot cheaper than the standard $50 - $70 1kg tubs of protein out there right?
Remember, it's costing these companies next to nothing to manufacture their products hence why they can afford to price their products at that cheap price. They're also making profit by selling them to you at this price which should be a clear indication as to how much it roughly costs for them to make it and the type of ingredients they're using.
If you google any supplement store or companies who have been around for 20+ years, you'll see the standard Australian market price for 1kg tubs of actual, true quality whey protein powder is $50 - $70 as mentioned above. We have already told you whey protein ingredients are not cheap at all with this price range reflective of how much it should cost a company to manufacture a good product and then bring it to market.
How to spot them - ingredient list
Another red flag your protein powder may be spiked is the addition of amino acids in the ingredient list. If they are in the ingredient list, supplement companies have purposely added them to the product, they aren't the natural occurring ones found in dietary protein sources.
Next time you shop for a protein, simply skim the ingredient list to see if there are any amino acids listed. A lot of companies will actually use the addition of amino acids to their product as marketing tools and say things like 'boosted with extra amino acids to enhance recovery' or 'added amino acids to help muscle growth' and so on. Companies are using these as reasons why they've added the amino acids to their product but in reality, they're most likely there just to boost the overall nitrogen content and get a high reading on their test!
'Our protein is lab tested'
If a supplement company actively promotes that their protein is lab tested and actually provides the nitrogen content tests, that's another red flag for us that the protein may not be what it seems.
Most legitimate companies who are making true, high quality products wouldn't need the validation or find it necessary to promote this. If we knew our protein was legit, why would we find it necessary to provide previous nitrogen content tests and advertise this on our website?
It's acts as a preemptive move to avoid any suspicion or doubt even though there may not have been any to begin with. Not to mention, the tests they are providing on their site (nitrogen content) ARE NOT the tests required to reveal actual protein content. Remember, these tests only measure nitrogen and fail to tell us what that 25.2 grams of advertised protein is actually made up of.
The REAL test
The actual test required to give us a better indication of what our protein powder is made up of is an amino acid analysis. This test breaks the power down into individual amino acids and then measures how much of each amino acid is found within a serve of the protein powder.
Basically we are able to see exactly what that 25.2 grams of advertised protein is comprised off. If you look at the above nitrogen content test, there is absolutely no indication that tells consumers how many grams of that reading is whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, free form amino acids etc thus making these tests that these companies are promoting and giving us access too mean absolutely nothing!
With the rise of these cheap protein powders hitting the market and consumers getting educated on the practice of amino spiking, legit companies are now bringing out a full disclosure label where they actually tell us what their whey protein is comprised off. See the below for an example;
This in our opinion, is how all protein powder labels should read saying 'yeah we have 25 grams of protein per serve but let's break it down and tell you guys exactly what that 25 grams is comprised of'
As always, whatever companies you put your faith into when purchasing supplements is always up to you. Amino spiking is perfectly legal if the company has a nitrogen content reading that backs up their advertised protein amount and tells consumers that they have added amino acids to the product (normally their little 'boosted with extra amino acids to enhance muscle growth' slogans)
You can see how loosely the industry is regulated and how there are so many loop holes people can jump through to legally bring a product to market that appeals to customers wallets whilst growing the companies' wallet at the same time!
We hope this article has provided you with a real insight into protein powder manufacturing and the practice of amino spiking that unfortunately is still going on today!
If you have a question you'd like answered, please contact us and we will do our best to answer as openly possible