Will Your Protein Powder Stand Up in Court?

April 04 2015

You may have heard in the news that there have been a number of lawsuits against the manufacturers and distributors of popular protein supplements. We want to explain what the lawsuits are about, what the manufacturers and the FDA have to say about them and why they should matter to you.

Taking the Protein Supplement Companies to Court

The majority of the lawsuits have been brought by a Michigan law firm, Barbat, Mansour & Suciu, who commissioned a third-party laboratory to test the actual protein content of several popular supplements.

What the lab reported was that many of the supplements contained far less protein than what was stated on their labels, sometimes almost 50% less protein.

Of the companies being sued, major supplement company Inner Armour has the most products mentioned. Five of its big sellers contained far less protein than advertised. One product is labeled as having 50g of protein per serving, but the independent lab reported that it only contains 19g of actual protein.

How are these companies getting away with this and what do they say in their defense?

The protein supplements in question are loaded with amino acids such as taurine, creatine, glycine and leucine, which are very useful amino acids in their own right, but are not actually protein on their own. However, because they are the building blocks of protein, the companies are including them in the advertised grams of protein per serving. Their defense is that this complies with FDA labeling regulations.

Even the FDA Doesn’t Like it

FDA press officer Jennifer Dooren had this to say in an article that appeared in Forbes magazine:

“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.”

However, the companies that are being sued seem to believe that since the amino acid content is being combined with actual protein content to get that total, they’re in the clear.

Why are Companies Doing This?

What the companies in question are doing is called “nitrogen-spiking” or “protein-spiking,” inflating the amount of protein in a supplement by counting incomplete proteins such as these amino acids.

They do it because it’s profitable. Because of the increase in demand for protein supplements, especially whey protein, prices for the raw materials have basically doubled in the last few years. One company reports that high-quality whey concentrate is costing about $12 per kilo in the current market.

These amino acid fillers cost less than $1 per pound. If they make up almost half of the total “protein” in a tub of protein powder, that $30-50 tub becomes much more profitable. Unfortunately, it doesn’t profit the consumers who are paying that hard-earned $30-50.

Why should you care?

The first obvious effect this has on the consumer is that they’re essentially being cheated of their money. If a consumer pays for 40g of protein per serving, that’s what they should receive.

But these products can also have a serious effect on your muscle gains, muscle recovery and the effectiveness of your diet. Most athletes and bodybuilders carefully plan out their macros and the one they focus on most (right or wrong) is protein. If the protein content of your diet relies in part on supplements (and most people do use them regularly), then you could be getting 20, 30 or even more grams less per day than you think. That’s significant, and it’s enough to impair muscle recovery, slow your gains and make a lot of your work in the gym a wasted effort.

Our bodies prioritize protein usage. They take what they need for organ and brain function first and allot what’s left to muscle building and recovery. Not getting enough protein when you’re on a muscle-building program can be a real game-changer.

Protein-Spiking is WRONG

Whenever something like this happens in the supplement industry, whether it’s false labeling, the use of inferior ingredients or just false claims about what a product can do, it effects all of us in the industry, even those companies who are committed to upholding the highest of standards.

The supplement industry is a huge moneymaker. But many of us in the sports nutrition industry are here because we’re passionate about the science of nutrition and how it can change people’s health, longevity and lifestyles. As hokey as it may sound, that really is the main motivation of the people who research and formulate Sports Food Nutrition’s products. We take a lot of pride in doing things right and we also firmly believe that it’s the best way for us to do business.

We’ve never engaged in protein-spiking or false labeling. All of our protein supplements are accurately labeled to reflect actual protein content and we use the highest-quality whey protein available today. Our True Whey 80 and Whey Zero 90 contain almost no BCAAs and the protein content on the label is the protein content that goes into your body.

Yes, it costs us more to make our products, so they’re not the cheapest on the market, but our customers know that they’re getting exactly what they pay for and not one gram less.