What Is Protein Spiking?

Protein / Amino / Nitrogen Spiking

Confused as to what protein/amino/nitrogen spiking is all about? (for the purposes of this article, we will refer to it as ‘protein spiking’). Let’s get right to it.

What is protein spiking?

Well, simply put, protein spiking is the practice of adding incomplete amino acids into protein supplements in order to boost its measured protein content.

How does it work?

First, you have to understand a complete protein contains nine essential amino acids (tryptophan, threonine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine+cysteine, phenylalanine+tyrosine, valine, and histidine). Protein contents are typically measured by the nitrogen content, and all amino acids would show up using this reading.

However, unscrupulous companies spike their protein with non-essential amino acids such as taurine, glycerine, and glutamine. While the addition of such amino acids are not an issue in and of itself, as they do have some proven benefits (though not as much as essential amino acids), the issue arises from improper or lack of disclosure.

Why do it?

Money, of course! Non-essential amino acids are significantly cheaper than whole complete proteins, so protein spiking allows supplement companies to keep the cost of their ‘25g of protein per serving’ lower in order to compete in the market.

How does it affect me?

Aside from the feeling of righteous anger at being deceived, for those of us who are extremely serious about tracking their macros right down to the individual gram, it is easy to see that such a discrepancy in actual protein content can cause macros to be thrown significantly off track. While most serious fitness enthusiasts tend to take in more protein than is generally required anyway, protein spiking can certainly cause someone to consume less protein than required.

What can I do about it?

Unfortunately, as this practice is still ‘permitted’ by the FDA, mainly due to unclear guidelines, the best thing you can do at the moment is simply to read the labels carefully. I have provided some examples of things to look out for below:

What has been done about it?

There is currently a class action lawsuit making its way through the courts (filed in November 2014 and amended in February 2015) in relation to allegations of misrepresentation and protein spiking. You can read more details about it on Forbes here.

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