In the world of supplements, transparency and trust is important. However, many brands while portrayed as trustworthy sources, often hide behind labels and ingredients with complex names. Do you really know what is in your protein powder? In this article, this is the topic we shall be examining.
1. Proprietary blend / Micro-filtered protein blend
The word “blend” simply suggests a combination of a variety of ingredients. While a little variety adds spice to life, variety in your protein powder might not be a good thing. Instead, it suggests the addition of protein sources other than whey protein, including but not restricted to – Soy protein, Albumin (egg protein), Casein (Slow digesting milk protein), Hemp Protein (Vegan protein) and Rice Bran Protein.
This acts as a filler for whey protein itself, which might be more expensive to procure as an ingredient in your protein blend, allowing supplement manufacturers and companies to earn more profit. This puts consumers at a disadvantage, having to pay for sub-quality protein blends when they should be consuming pure whey protein.
As for the word proprietary, it is defined as “marketed under and protected by a registered trade name”. Simply said, it represents the company’s ownership of the particular blend.
2. Glutamine & Glycine
Both Glutamine and Glycine are amino acids which form the building blocks of protein. However, unlike Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs), Glutamine and Glycine are non-essential amino acids which play little role in protein synthesis. Consuming excessive mounts of these won’t be a substitute for protein. However, these sneaky ingredients are added into protein blends with the purpose of being a filler. As a result, supplement manufacturers can use less whey protein, which is more expensive, while claiming a higher level of protein content.
To understand how this happens, one must understand the way in which protein content is tested and determined by the FDA. To claim that a product has certain amount of protein, a test called the Kjeldahl Test must be performed. This test measures the Nitrogen content of the product, since protein itself contains Nitrogen. However, because Glutamine and Glycine are amino acids which form the building blocks of protein, they too have similar levels of Nitrogen, thus mimicking protein content in this test.
To get a financial perspective of this issue, let us look at the savings companies make for every 5lb tub (75 servings) of protein they sell.
1 serving of Glutamine costs = 0.17 USD
1 serving of Whey costs = 1 USD
Difference per serving = 0.83USD
Savings per 75 servings = 0.83 x 75 USD = 62.25USD = 87.15 SGD
3. Aspartame and Acesulfame K
Aspartame and Acesulfame are artificial sweeteners that do not contain sugar (0 calories in fact), but yet are 200 times sweeter. While certified usable by the FDA, they do have several well-researched side effects. Aspartame for example gives side effects like dizziness, memory loss, headaches, migraines and many others. Some sources also state that it is carcinogenic (having the potential to cause cancer). As for Acesulfame, studies on rodents have shown that Acesulfame Potassium produced lung tumours breast tumours, rare types of tumours of other organs. Common side effects include headache, panic attacks, mood changes and isolated dizziness.
However, as terrible as they sound, Aspartame and Acesulfame are used widely by soft drinks, sweet teas and even protein powders. This is because they cost less than sugar, and are desired by bodybuilders and physique contestants looking to take their protein without additional calories from sugar.
4. Corn starch
Definitely the weirdest and most unexpected item on this list. Corn Starch as it sounds like is simply starch from Corn. It is used primarily in Mass Gainers to increase the carbohydrate content. However, it is also used frequently as a thickening agent, to give protein a smooth milky texture.
So what is exactly dangerous about corn starch?
Well, it isn’t dangerous in any sense, as we consume it in confectionary and cakes as well. However, corn starch breaks down in the body very easily, being a low-nutrient calorie-dense substance, flooding your body with a peak in blood sugar levels. This can be equivalent to cracking open a soft drink when you consume your protein. Instead, op for healthier choices of carbohydrates, such as maltodextrin and dextrose. These carbohydrates are digested slowly, and the sugar rush goes to your muscles, instead of the liver, giving you a maximum pump, and a minimal risk of diabetes.
In fact corn starch is suspiciously similar to High fructose Corn Syrup, which is probably the worse kind of sugar you can consume, as it goes directly to the liver instead of the muscle, ultimately becoming fat and cholesterol in your blood.