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Study: Nitrogen Spiking Deceives Protein Powder Customers

Aug 1, 2014

Nitrogen spiking, also known as protein spiking or amino spiking, deceives customers into thinking that they are getting more protein than they really are. Recently, there have been reports of manufacturers adding cheaper, lower quality ingredients to protein supplements in order to cheat a protein content test. As a result, consumers aren't getting what they paid for.

Protein content tests are based on nitrogen levels. Some dishonest manufacturers take advantage of this by adding ingredients that will boost the nitrogen content of their products, often amino acids, that are not true proteins such as whey protein, casein protein and egg protein.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have the power to regulate dietary supplements before they hit the shelves. Once they are on the market, however, the agency can take action against the manufacturer if the product contains hidden ingredients are claims to have ingredients that it does not. Companies have been penalized by the FDA in the past for adulterating or misbranding their dietary supplement products.

Consumers should be on the lookout for ingredients that may indicate protein spiking, including arginine, glycine, creatine and taurine. Even if these ingredients have health benefits, they should not contribute to the nitrogen content of a protein test, General Nutrition Centers (GNC) says. Body Fortress, ProSupps, MusclePharm Arnold series, 4 Dimension Nutrition, Mutant Nutrition, Gaspari Nutrition, Giant Sports Nutrition, Infinite Labs, and Beast Sports Nutrition are all brands that are suspected of nitrogen spiking.

Natural Products Insider reported that protein spiking was a problem in its April 2014 issue. A report by dietary supplement scientist Gene Bruno noted 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.”

Reduced nitrogen can be liberated as ammonia and measured in a protein test, according to NSF senior research scientist John Travis. Bruno's report states that, because these tests can be cheated by adding less-expensive non-protein ingredients, the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) is looking to propose a “defined standard” when measuring protein.

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