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Apparently, there exists a process called Amino Spiking in which cheaper, non-muscle-building, amino acids are added into protein powder to artificially inflate the protein percentage on the nutrition facts. Major amino spiking can result in protein powders which read as though you're consuming 25 g of protein per scoop but in reality, you're only consuming 10-15 g of useful protein content.

A red flag for amino spiking is a cheap protein powder. I purchase my protein online and it is quite a bit cheaper than supplement store protein powders.

Is there a way to check if my protein powder has been amino spiked? The protein powder bag has the nutrition information, per 30 g scoop, as well as the amino acid profile per 100 g.

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The cheapest way would be to see if there are any other added amino acids other than protein that aren't listed on the label. Companies will add cheap amino acids to increase the nitrogen balance in the powder which is what is needed to fool tests. If you look at the ingredients list and see taurine, glycine, arginine, glutamine, creatine, etc. then it is evidence that they're spiking the protein content. It's not a guarantee that they're spiking, but it is a good indication.

The exception would be if the label specifically specifies that they add these ingredients to it. They may say something like "fortified with creatine and amino acids" or something. In which case, they're being honest with the additives. Some of the higher quality powders will even have an amino acid break down like this:

enter image description here

If you're paranoid, then look for a supplement that just says "whey protein concentrate" and whatever additives they add to make it taste ok like "cocoa powder", "artificial flavor", "sugar" or whatever. The same goes for any other kind of protein powder. The primary source should be the main ingredient with no added amino acids.

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    Awesome -- that's what I'm looking for. The main ingredient listed is just "whey isolate protein (90%)" and then non-medical ingredients such as sucralose. It does have the amino acid profile beside the nutrition facts and, accounting for difference in serving size, it lines up with that you've shown here.
    – C. Lange
    Nov 5 '20 at 19:34
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Most protein powders are "amino spiked". The cost of whey protein and other protein sources has increased considerably over the past few years. The bottom line is.............. :free form amino acids are often cheaper than pure protein powder, especially since they can often be sourced from food sources we wouldn't normally ingest as part of diet, like bones, cartilidge, waste meats (organs), eyeballs, tongue, ANY part we usually don't source as a typical source of food. Read the ingredients label, if it says "Glycine" or Di-gylcerides it's a scam and stay away. If it derives from corn syrups.......also bulk with no nutritional value. Also maltodextrin.....which is basically sugar. There's plenty of cheap protein sources you can down without having to resort to powder.
Source/ Protein per unit

  • Natural peanut butter (4 grams per Tablespoon)
  • Eggs (6 grams per large egg)
  • Edamame beans (17 grams per cup)
  • Canned tuna (VASTLY cheaper than fresh fish, with about 20 grams per can)
  • Plain greek yogurt (17 grams per cup)
  • Sunflower seeds / 6 grams per ounce
  • Blackbeans / 15g per cup
  • sardines / 23g per typical can
  • cottage cheese / 23 grams per cup
  • lentils
  • oats
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    I'm always amazed at how eager people are to ignore cheap (tasty even!) high protein sources around them and instead choose commercial powders. The criticism that that tasty varieties aren't nearly as protein dense as the commercial powders is significantly mitigated by the fact there's a lot of water (which one loses) in the tasty food.
    – user02814
    Nov 6 '20 at 9:35
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    Well, it can be rough to eat 200g of protein per day on a 1600kcal diet - near impossible without supplements. Nov 6 '20 at 10:11
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    I agree that whole foods should constitute most of your diet but whey protein powder is extremely cost efficient when looking at grams of protein per dollar spent. I think I'm paying about $0.02/g of protein whey isolate, chicken breast and eggs would come in at double that. That wasn't my question though, more so, how do I validate it's quality. I'll keep an eye on the Glycine and maltodextrin. Thanks!
    – C. Lange
    Nov 6 '20 at 16:29
  • @ZsoltSzilagy, eating 200g of protein on a 1600kcal diet is likely to result in deficiency syndromes we don't even have names for -- historically, it's been impossible to entirely eliminate carbohydrates and fats from the diet.
    – Mark
    Nov 6 '20 at 21:08
  • @Mark: That's correct if you go without supplements. However, you can eat 200g (=800 kcal) of lean meat and protein powder, and have a decent balanced diet with the remaining 800 kcal. Now I am not claiming that this is the easiest or best choice to do, just that with given priorities it's a path without immediate side effects. Nov 7 '20 at 11:30
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Just saying, you could just get whey isolate powder or other isolate powders in the bulk section of your grocery store and mix with your choice of flavors, carbohydrates, and/or salts. Sprouts, for example, sells the stuff for $12/lb, which is not bad if you consider that most powders are ~$10/lb and stuffed with fillers. I usually just grab the powder and unsweetened cocoa powder. If you're looking for some protein sparing action, add a hint of plain sugar. If you want some creatine or something else in there, you can get those and mix in as you see fit. Whey, being a complete protein, is a great source of non-junk amino acids, is digested well, and mixes well with water.

https://shop.sprouts.com/product/7848/whey-isolate-protein-powder

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  • This is useful information but it doesn't really answer my question. I mean, I could just as easily ask, how do you know that the whey isolate at Sprouts isn't amino spiked.
    – C. Lange
    Nov 7 '20 at 4:25
  • @C.Lange, because the only two ingredients are whey isolate and soy lecithin, which is an emulsifier. Unless they wanted to have the FDA come down hard for including ingredients not labeled, that's all that's there. Any bulk section must have the nutrition information for the items for sale, so a quick check will tell you exactly what you're getting. The real answer to your question is check the nutrition information. Any additives must be labeled.
    – Nielsvh
    Nov 10 '20 at 23:45

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