Forbes Article Says Protein Supplements Being Sued for Failing to Meet Protein Content Claims

Posted on 20 Mar 2015 18:39

About the article in Forbes and the lawsuits over the protein supplements, first, big surprise, second, let's get some things straight.

The article from Forbes claims that the lawsuits accuse the protein supplement companies of "slipping in aminos and other substances" in place of protein.

I am not going to bother too much with what those other things may be, because i don't care. However, yes, a lot of protein supplements use a combination of whole protein, such as whey concentrate and whey isolate, PLUS a mix of free amino acids.

It is perfectly reasonable, especially when the amino mix is essential amino acids including BCAA's to just add up all the "grams" of whole protein plus aminos and call it the protein amount. Why? Because the gut can absorb both peptides and free aminos, even though it is more efficient in some areas than in others.

What counts is how much is absorbed. If I supplement claims, once you break it down by reading the label, 12 grams of protein and 12 grams of mixed essential amino acids, and say, 98% or more of this is absorbed into the bloodstream, guess what? You're good. It's the SAME for your body.

What is ironic is that most bodybuilders would see the aminos as a bonus because they have been indoctrinated into thinking that free aminos are superior to whole protein, and even necessary. Which is absolutely untrue.

Am I defending the protein supplements such as Iron Mass by Muscle Pharm (which used Arnold Schwarzenegger for advertising), CVS pharmacy, or any other protein supplement companies? No. I could care less how well they sell and if they do not meet their claims for protein as a mix of whole protein as stated on the label then they should be held accountable. I just wanted to set the record straight here in terms of nutrition, because the Forbes article was not written by a person who knows anything about protein supplements, it's clear.


Let's be clear that the problem is the labels. It is improper, according to the FDA, for a company to claim amino acids and other nitrogen containing substances which are not whole protein as protein. Most people, in reacting to these lawsuits, are skipping over this important difference. It is not that the "aminos don't work" it is that they do not meet the definition of protein that the FDA sets forth. Creatine Monohydrate was mentioned as well, as something that is claimed as part of the protein content, and this is simply because Creatine Monohydrate is made of amino acids. It is very difficult for the average consumer to spot all these differences on a label. Ironically, though, the bodybuilding and sports industry has made a mint by touting the benefits of free amino acids! That is why what the lawsuits and the FDA might call protein spiking may well be called a superior supplement by most bodybuilders or even athletes.

It is not just aminos that are the problem, or other nitrogen containing substances. What is important is what I started with above. If a company throws in a couple of cheap aminos, two or three, to artificially spike up the 'protein' then they are cheating you. If they, however, include a mix of essential aminos in percentages typically found in, say, a whey protein, as some companies do, they may be misleading you in terms of "whole protein" but they are probably not cheating you in terms of the actual protein nutrition delivered.

Next, I will examine the label of one of the products mentioned in the article, Iron Mass by Arnold. What I expect to find is a "proprietary complex" or "proprietary blend." I wrote more about this in the GUS forum here. Proprietary blends are supplement company bullshit about "exclusive scientific formulas" that they do not want to reveal the secrets of to other companies. What this means is that in the nutrition facts panel they will coin a name such as "Big Mass PLUS Proprietary Matrix" or some such nonsense. And then, then will list a gram amount. It may read something like this:

Big Mass Plus Proprietary Matrix 45000mgs.

Notice the milligrams instead of grams. 45,000 seems more impressive. It is really the same as 45 grams. Underneath this they will list various ingredients, that may include carbohydrate sources, protein sources, individual aminos, and a host of other things you probably won't recognize. They will NOT list the individual amounts of any of these ingredients. This means you have no way of knowing how much of the protein, the aminos, or other ingredients are actually in this proprietary blend. It could be 95% carbohydrate, and you wouldn't know from the listing. They will claim a protein amount in grams per serving, of course. So, let's look at Iron Mass by Arnold.

Iron Mass by Arnold Nutrition Label Claims

First, Iron Mass by Arnold uses the shady ploy of the huge serving. A serving is two scoops, while a typical whey protein supplement is one scoop. Most people will not notice that the serving size is two scoops, just about doubling the typical protein serving, so they will think "boy, this protein has more protein." It doesn't. It actually has a little less protein per scoop than a typical whey protein serving, although amount vary. Two scoops of Iron Mass claims 40 grams of protein. A typical whey protein serving, if I recall, is around 24 grams, although isolates give more, and some companies use nonstandard, larger scoops.

Now, I found exactly what I expected, a proprietary blend:

Iron Mass Proprietary Blend 71500 mg

So, there are supposedly 71.5 grams of this proprietary blend in a serving (two scoops of powder). Now, here is what is supposedly in the blend:

Iron Mass Proprietary Blend 71500 mg

  • Elite Complex Carbohydrates Matrix
    • Sweet Potato Powder, Barley Starch
  • Muscle Plasma Protein Matrix
    • Hydrolyzed Beef Protein, Lactoferrin
  • High Performance Healthy Fats Matrix
    • Sunflower Oil powder, whipped cream powder, MCT (Medium-Chain Triglycerdies from Coconut)
  • Performance Growth and Muscle Volumizer
    • Creatine Monohydrate, L-Glycine, BCAA Nitrates (Leucine, Isoleucine, Valine) (3.1.2 Patent-Pendig Ratio), D-Ribose
  • Pro-Digest Blend
    • Protease, Lactase, Amylase, Lipase, Inunlin, Fructooligosaccharides (FOS)

Other Ingredients: Glucose Polymers, Cocoa Powder, Natural And Artificial Flavors, Acesulfame Potassium, Sucralose

The ONLY thing listed that could be considered a whole protein is the hydrolyzed beef protein. Hydrolyzed means it was "pre-digested," so to speak, and at least partially broken down into di- and tri-peptides, whole proteins, and perhaps some free amino acids. That is fine. If you like the idea of a beef protein supplement, it's about par for the course. But, of course, you don't have a clue how much of it is in the supplement. If it were listed in the ingredients, you'd at least know that it must be listed by descending order of weight. So, if the protein came first, there would be more in it by weight than the other ingredients. But, there could be a tiny amount in this so-called proprietary blend. The only other ingredients that we might call "protein" would be the BCAA's, and perhaps even the lactoferrin since it is a big old milk protein (an enzyme), that will be broken down and digested like most proteins. All this is, of course, exactly what the lawsuits must be about and it is not a surprise that the supplement fails to meet its claimed amount of 'protein.'

How Do You Know What to Buy?

Rule of thumb: If you see a proprietary blend listed, move on. Look for a protein supplement with a protein listed FIRST in its ingredients, at the bottom of the back label, underneath the nutrition facts panel. Typically, with a whey protein, expect to find whey concentrate first, followed by some type of whey isolate, and perhaps even another type of isolate after that. Then will comes flavors and sweeteners, and not much more. This is all you need in a protein supplement. Period.

Notice that most of the protein supplements mentioned in the article are the hyped up bodybuilding hardcore type supplements you should expect to see splashed all over The kind that use large-font printed words such as mass, nitro, super, etc. The most likely way to get a good whey protein supplement is to buy one labelled "whey protein" and not much else, although this of course is not certain. Although it may surprise you, most bodybuilders, strength trainees, or sports athletes well know this, as evidenced by the best-selling whey protein at, and most other places, Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey**, which pretty much has been the top seller and most popular brand for as long as I've paid attention.

You will notice a big difference if you take a look at the label for Iron Mass, described above, and Optimum Whey. On Optimum's label, there is no "proprietary blend." In fact, the only things mentioned in the nutrition facts panel are those items you would expect, like calories, fats, carbohydrates, sugars, and of course, protein. A serving is given as one 31 gram scoop, for 24 grams of protein per serving. Then, the ingredients tell use everything we need to know:

Ingredients: Protein Blend (Whey Protein Isolates, Whey Protein Concentrate, Whey Peptides), Lecithin, Natural And Artificial Flavors, Citric Acid, Sucralose, FD&C Red #40, AminogenĀ®, Lactase.

You don't need the aminogen and you don't need the color, although both are a bit typical. You probably do want the sweetener, sucralose, and the flavoring. Notice that Protein Blend is given as an ingredient but the actual protein sources are listed in parenthesis. These should be given by descending order of weight. Therefore, Optimum Gold Standard supposedly has more isolates than concentrates. I wouldn't be surprised if someone quibbled over "whey peptides" not being whole protein. However, it is the last given and it is simply whey protein that is partially broken down. Your body will utilize these as well as the other ingredients.

I am not recommending Optimum over many others that are comparable, although they have never been found not to meet their label claims (that I recall from ConsumerLab reports). But, the brand is a good example of what you should look for if you want a protein supplement.

You may want to read up on amino acids via my link above, and just to drive this home, look for protein supplement that have all their ingredients as either whole proteins (whey concentrate, whey isolate, casein, egg protein, etc) or perhaps a mix of whole proteins and a full suite of essential amino acids. If the supplement uses amino acids, each one should be listed by name with the amount of amino acid present, in milligrams (usually). Remember that whole protein is fine and there is not reason to buy free form aminos. Avoid proteins full of lots of other bells and whistles like all those in the Iron Mass listing above, including creatine monohydrate or other ingredients that you don't need (if you want creatine monohydrate get it separately).

I haven't really looked deeply into the actual lawsuits yet and here I am reacting to the Forbes article. That is because most people reacting to these lawsuits will never bother to research the actual suits and will simply react to the articles in Forbes or some other similar report about the suits. If I do delve further into the suit(s) I will update the information here.

Check the GUS whey category and protein category to learn MUCH more.

This page created 20 Mar 2015 18:39
Last updated 26 Jul 2016 20:23

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