Dietary Supplement Ripoffs to Avoid: Amino Acid Pills

Posted on 07 Oct 2010 17:09

There is no long-term advantage for the strength trainee to taking expensive free form amino acid powders over simply ingesting whole proteins. However, if you do buy an amino acid powder (which I don't suggest) you expect it to contain single free form aminos acids, right?

Never trust the front label. Check the ingredients. The supplement ripoffs I am referring to are so-called amino acid capsules that actually contain overpriced whey or casein protein. Not free form single aminos but whole proteins compressed into a pill or put in a capsule. They will typically list an amino acid profile very prominently on the back of the label. This profile is nothing more than the typical amino acid yields of the whey or casein sources they use. When whey is used it is usually a mixture of whey protein concentrate or a mixture of concentrate and even cheaper non concentrated whey. Some may contain concentrates and isolates.

Whey and casein protein are the two major proteins found in milk. Byproducts of the dairy industry, they are sold as supplements in powder form. Whey is the most economical choice of the two and it's properties in human health are studied extensively. Both of these protein powders can be useful for strength and bodybuilding trainees as well as anyone in need of additional protein in the diet.

So much hype has been built up over these proteins, however, that many consumers have been led to believe they have magical properties, especially regarding muscle building. This has opened the door for supplement companies to simply place the protein into a capsule or compress it into a pill resulting in two grams of protein per pill or capsule. While a typical serving of whey protein is 20 to 25 grams. A typical example of these types of products is here

The Amino Acid Pill Marketing Copy

Prolab Amino 2000 Description

"Whey Amino 2000 derives its protein source from pancreatic digest of whey, a high quality protein with a high Protein Efficiency Ratio (P.E.R.) and a bioavailability rating higher than that of egg protein. Whey Amino 2000 is prepared to ensure the highest potency, freshness and maximum nitrogen availability. Combine Whey Amino 2000 with a complete diet and an intense training program for best results."

Too many consumers will give the fancy marketing copy precedence over the ingredient list. Now let's consider the ingredient list:

Amino Acid Pill Ingredients

Prolab Amino 2000 Ingredients

Whey and Whey Protein Concentrate, Cellulose Gum, Stearic Acid

Oops. Yes, it's just whey. Everything in the description of the product is complete gobbledygook. The word "derive" is particularly suspect. It is used to make you think that some technology is used to "extract" or otherwise manufacture a superior product. What it really means is "we use whey". Pancreatic digest of whey suggests that the whey has undergone some kind of enzymatic treatment to make it "predigested". Predigested whey is known as whey hydrolysate. Most of the time if whey products use hydrolysates it is trumpeted on the ingredient list. Especially since hydrolysates have been hyped as superior to other whey products. As one can easily see, the ingredients simply list whey and whey concentrate. I would read that as "cheap whey". Regardless of whether it is a hydrolysates or not, however, two grams of protein is just two grams of protein.

Twinlab® is fond of the more exact sounding phrase "pharmaceutical grade pancreatic (enzymatic) digests". I am not sure if a USP monograph exists for whey or casein protein "enzymatic digests" but I am doubtful. Why in the world, however, one would think they needed "pharmaceutical grade" protein I cannot fathom.

Hyrolysis of whey or casein proteins is an enzymatic process which breaks the whole proteins down into a mixture of peptides and amino acids. What they are suggesting is that enzymatic hydrolysis has been used to "digest" the whey to produce free amino acids. Even if it were so, the product would not be purely free amino acids but would also contain peptides. Rest assured that if a product contains free form amino acids, it will state so clearly somewhere on the label. Such products are available. But the fancy jargon on these whey (or casein) pills is simply meant to make you think you are getting more than you really are and to dance around the fact that the product does not contain a mixture of free form aminos. Lesson, read the back label and learn how to understand it. Here is an example, from Kirkman Labs, of what the nutrition facts panel of a free form amino acid product might look like:

Kirkman amino acid blend product nutrition facts panel containing free form amino acids

image via Kirkman Labs

Kirkman amino acid blend product nutrition facts panel containing free form amino acids

image via Kirkman Labs

Big difference, huh? Nowhere in the ingredient listing are the words whey or casein. The ingredients of a free form amino acid blend is free form amino acids. Notice that right beneath the serving size listing is a chart telling you the amino acid amount for each serving. Notice that the amino acids listed here match the ingredient listing although they are not listed in the same order.

On a amino acid pill product that does not contain free form amino acids you will more likely see "whey protein concentrate" and a gram amount. The amino acid listing that appears underneath will be a yield amount, as mentioned above. The fact that a bunch of amino acids are listed out along with a milligram amount fools many consumers into thinking they are getting a product which is made specifically with these aminos in their free form instead of a simple protein source. Also, instead of an ingredient listing, we often see, "additional ingredients". Remember, they already mentioned the whey at the top. The idea, obviously, is you are not supposed to notice what the product actually contains but instead focus on the long list of amino acids. So, remember, free form amino acid products do not contain whey, casein, soy, etc. They contain free form amino acids and these aminos will be listed in the ingredient listing itself.

Now, if you compare a free form amino product with a whey pill you may find that the whey pill seems to contain much more of each amino acid. For instance it may contain more of the branched chain amino acids, leucine, isoleucine, and valine. This is because whey is a great protein source containing all the essential aminos plus a LOT of BCAA's. Plenty of BCAA's in fact. But you will probably find that a whey powder is the much more economical choice. And whey will probably beat out most free form amino products on BCAA amounts unless the free form product contains only BCAA;s.

Before you decide that the whey pills have more aminos than the free form pill however, look at the serving sizes. Once serving size is accounted for you'll find that amino acid amounts of the free form products are about on par with the whey products, except, again, for the branched chain amount. Any difference will be insignificant. Remember, aminos are not magic bullets. This is not meant to recommend free from powders, however, but to recommend against paying for the privilege of having your whey protein stuffed into a capsule.

This page created 07 Oct 2010 17:09
Last updated 18 Jul 2016 01:10

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