In part 3 of our report on the sports nutrition industry we discussed how protein powder supplements should display product information in accordance with guidelines set out by regulatory agencies to enable consumers to make an informed decision when buying products. At the end of part 3 we alluded to how, despite the regulations, some companies were engaged in practices designed to mislead, confuse and ultimately defraud customers. We will discuss this in greater depth now.
Tricks of the trade 1
Take a look at the back of your protein powder and look at how the ingredients are laid out in order of magnitude such that the main ingredient of the product is shown first. That is how all food products ought to disclose their ingredients list enabling a quick check for consumers to see which is the main ingredient. For bodybuilders looking at a protein powder you would want to see a high quality protein such as whey or micellar casein first on the label indicating a high quality product. Unfortunately, there have been a number of instances where consumers have been misled so that ingredients are not displayed according to order of importance within the product, but according to marketing considerations. In other words, a poor quality product which contains pea or soy as its primary ingredient has, in some cases, shown this ingredient low down on the nutrition panel behind “superior” ingredients such as whey or casein. Of course, the manufacturers do not disclose this fact and the result is that uninformed consumers assume they are being one product but sold another one altogether.
Tricks of the trade 2
Ever noticed how two different products of supposedly the same protein source can taste and be digested in such a drastically different manner? This should not be the case even allowing for some variation in the source and quality of a natural ingredient such as whey concentrate. While we can expect slight differences between different brands reflecting different choice of flavourings and levels of carbohydrate and fats, what shouldn’t really occur is that the products differ much in terms of the texture, digestibility, and mouth feel especially when the products are primarily one protein such as whey concentrate (the most frequently used protein source for brands). When you get one product tasting and feeling drastically different then you can be sure something is up. Sometimes this will be due to the levels of carbohydrate and fats being different to the label claim, the inclusion of both making the product both thicker and better tasting, but also cheaper to make. As discussed in our earlier series though, surely you can test for this using a nitrogen test?
Tricks of the trade 3
When the protein scandal hit a couple of years ago every man and his dog went out of his way to test protein powders for protein percentage and this busted a few manufacturers. Unfortunately these devious souls did not repent and apologise, let alone compensate those customers and retailers who had been deceived. No, instead they sought out a way to fool the test not dissimilar to some of the methods used by athletes using performance enhancing drugs to evade drugs tests.
They exploited some of the issues with nitrogen tests, and adopted a twofold strategy to defeat the testers. First, as indicated above, they would mislabel their products and add in some high protein content vegetarian sources such as soy or pea, using it to replace whey. By doing this they were able to fool the tests since all the tests looked for was protein percentage. By replacing an 80% whey with a 85-90% soy they could lower the actual amount of whey by quite a bit since they needed less whey to keep the protein percentage up.
Unfortunately, replacing whey with soy, pea and other poorer sources is not without its problems so a second trick some manufacturers have done is to replace actual whole proteins such as whey with a liberal sprinkling of amino acids. Now, you may think since protein converts to amino acids this isn’t necessarily a bad thing and you would undoubtedly be right if replacing some whole protein with a complex of essential amino acids. However, these small brands tend to avoid this as EAA’s are more expensive and instead use the cheapest amino acids available to boost the nitrogen content, but importantly, NOT the protein content. This trick is said to be behind the record low prices that more than one British brand is able to sell their products for and yet still make a considerable profit. Replacing whey with some cheap amino acid represents a killing for the brand and an assault on the integrity of anyone else involved in the industry not to mention consumers, who are knowingly deceived.
In the final part of our series we will give consumers information to enable them to make an informed decision when buying a protein powder by providing advice on tell-tale signs to look out for when dealing with a product that potentially does not meet its label claims.
© 2012, Reggie Johal. All rights reserved.