The Scoop on Protein Powder Spiking and Scams

Last Update: March 17, 2020

Recent lawsuits filed against several supplement companies indicate that consumers might not be getting what they pay for in some expensive protein powders.

According to a Forbes article published on Thursday, companies like CVS Health and MusclePharm are being sued for allegedly misleading consumers by claiming their products contain more protein than they actually do.

A practice called protein spiking is at the heart of these claims. Essentially, protein spiking means adding in fillers like free form amino acids to boost the grams of protein without actually including more complete protein. Experts note that while amino acids are the building blocks of protein, they don’t provide the same benefits as complete proteins.

Many brands have been able to get away with this practice because of the way protein is measured in the supplements. One of the most common tests used to determine protein content actually measures nitrogen content. As both amino acids and whole proteins contain nitrogen, companies can sometimes get away with undercutting their whole protein content with amino acids.

The motivation behind this practice appears to be financial. Nutritional supplements have grown into a massive industry, amassing $32 billion in revenue in 2012, according to the Nutritional Business Journal. High quality protein powders are expensive, and tend to increase in price as they increase in protein content.

So how can consumers be sure they’re getting what they pay for? Thrive Market VP of Merchandising Jeremiah McElwee said all the brands sold on Thrive Market follow the Food and Drug Administration’s Current Good Manufacturing Processes — a set of guidelines for the production and labeling of dietary supplements — and he stands by their labels and claims.

“The recent media reports regarding protein powders are a great reminder for supplement users to be knowledgeable of the retailers and brands they buy from,” McElwee said. “At Thrive Market, we focus on partnerships with brands that have a long history of making the highest quality products on the market.”

McElwee also said that the brands Thrive Market works with can all produce third party testing results that verify the purity and potency of their products.

FDA press office Jennifer Dooren explained these guidelines in the Forbes article.

“FDA requires that dietary supplements be labeled in a manner that is truthful and not misleading. With regard to the labeling of protein content, FDA’s expectation for proper nutrition labeling is that firms will evaluate the protein content from actual protein sources — not other nitrogen-containing ingredients such as individual amino acids — and label the products consistent with the results of such evaluations,” Dooren told Forbes.

Beyond finding a trusted retailer like Thrive Market, consumers can also read labels and ingredient lists. Isolated amino acids, such as lycine, taurine or leucine, might be cause to think twice before shelling out for an expensive protein powder.

And of course, you’ll know when you shop on Thrive Market that you can save money on protein powders — without skimping on quality.

Photo credit: Paul Delmont

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Annalise Mantz

Annalise is a foodie, Brussels sprouts lover, grammar nerd, and political pet aficionado.

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