I have been quite vocal in saying I am not a huge fan of protein powders, especially as replacements for macronutrients from whole food sources, but I also understand that sometimes it is necessary and important to maintain optimal nutrition. I would also prefer, if choosing to go the supplement route, you go in informed, knowing where and on what to spend your money and why.
It needs to be emphasized that not all proteins are created equal. This is why you need to ask yourself these questions before you purchase any protein powder.
The next time you are staring at the wall of 52 different brands in the store shelf, these questions can help you quickly determine which is the right protein powder for you and your family, and that the powder you buy will not be doing more harm than good.
- Does the protein powder contain at least 10x more protein than sugar?
- Does a serving contain at least 24g of protein, the proven amount needed to enjoy fat-loss health benefits?
- If you are choosing a whey-based protein, does it come from humanely treated, grass-fed, cows free of antibiotics and growth hormones?
- Is the protein powder free of additives, fillers, sweeteners, , flavoring, coloring, preservatives and artificial anything?
- Is the protein free of dangerous GMOs, heavy metals, hormones, antibiotics, gluten, and pesticides?
- Is your protein powder made using low-impact, high-nutrition processing that ensures the protein stays bioactive? Is it cold processed from raw materials?
- Does your protein powder have a 'complete protein profile' providing not just grams of raw protein, but energy and life sustaining vitality?
Over the past couple of years nitrogen spiking has become an important issue in the world of fitness nutrition and supplementation. As a consumer it is important to understand what it is, so you can chose the correct protein supplement for you, that meets your needs and your expectations.
So what exactly is nitrogen spiking and why should YOU care?
In summary, nitrogen spiking ( or protein spiking or amino spiking) is a technique that allows supplement companies to put less protein in their product than is supposedly listed on their nutritional label.
The amount of protein in a product is currently determined by measuring its nitrogen content which is then converted into the protein amount. Nitrogen is used as a measuring factor because protein is made up of different amino acids strung together in a chain, and each amino acid contains nitrogen. This works if you are not trying to get a higher number of protein grams by adding in cheaper, inferior amino acids, (like creatine, taurine and glycine) instead of complete food proteins. If you are trying to build muscle, and get the most out of your supplement you want complete proteins.
Manufacturers are adding “extra” amino acids such as taurine, glycine, glutamine, and creatine to protein powders and to make it appear that you are getting higher amounts per serving of complete proteins.
Amino acids when taken as a supplement can be beneficial, and many would believe having extra amino acids added to their protein powder is a good thing. Many trainers recommend taking extra branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) before and after workouts in addition to protein powder. Creatine, for example, has been shown to enhance recovery, boost brain function, and increase muscle strength. Taurine, another common amino acid used in spiking, is also an ingredient in energy drinks and helps boost alertness and focus.
The significance of amino acids added to protein powders is these amino acids fail to provide any benefit to the product other than to give the illusion of a higher protein content. They are not complete proteins. They are only added for their nitrogen content. Complete proteins are made up of nine different amino acids that the body is unable to produce, and therefore have a high protein count. Their amino acids are referred to as the essential amino acids for this reason. Complete proteins are found in whole food sources such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs and milk. Complete proteins are necessary to build muscle and aid in post workout recovery. This is the reason why most people buy protein powders.
Complete proteins are valuable and expensive to add to supplements. Some manufactures are ‘adding in extra amino acids (like creatine, taurine, and glycine) to their formulations because they are far cheaper to add than complete proteins, boost the nitrogen content of the powder and provide the false impression that the product contains more protein than it really does. When the protein powder is tested for protein content it still hits that 25-30g range even though the added amino acids are NOT considered to be part of the true protein content of the product. The product might actually only contain 10-20 grams of true complete protein. This is not very good value for money and will prove less effective as a supplement.
As with all things you choose to consume, learn to read the label!! While it is not always easy to find nitrogen spiked products, there are some things you can look out for:
Avoid buying a protein powder with creatine. Products with creatine in them are by far the most misleading offenders. One manufacturer showed that creatine could also throw off results to such a ridiculous degree that you somehow get 143% protein! Furthermore, many find this ingredient also causes bloating and digestive discomfort.
Be aware of protein products with taurine, or glycine in the ingredient listing unless the full amino profile is disclosed.
Certain European countries, such as France, require full amino acid disclosure, so check Google and try to find the nutritional label of your product. If you’re curious about a certain protein supplement that is produced by a major international brand, you might want to check if it’s available in France.
Remember, high quality protein is difficult and expensive to produce. It SHOULD cost a little extra to replace your meal and when it comes to protein powder you get what you pay for!