Spotting a counterfeit isn’t easy. You need to know what to look for, the telltale signs of a forgery, and subtleties that others gloss over. Fakes exist in every market out there, be it art, New York-style pizza, or even currency. Most of us would be surprised that fake products exist for many relatively simple things, and if you’ve spent any time in a supplement store, you know that includes protein powder.
Why would someone create a fake protein powder, you ask? Because it’s an opportunity to bring in some extra profit. Protein powders come in a variety of forms, and many people don’t know what they’re looking for. They’re also a product that is relatively tight in terms of margins for manufacturers, meaning that production costs almost meet the resulting revenues. So, there’s some incentive to try and make a bit more money for the effort of creating it.
Unfortunately, the only way to be absolutely certain you’re holding genuine protein powder is to get a lab test done — which you’re probably not going to do, since you don’t have the resources of the Kardashian family. You can also do some simple mixability tests. But if you’re in the store trying to make a purchase, that’s another option you don’t really have. So you’re stuck with your wits and intellect.
If you don’t want to get ripped off, here are four ways to spot fake protein powder.
1. Is it a mystery brand?
As discussed in our “fake supplements” piece, your first line of defense comes from doing a bit of research and knowing what brand names or companies to shop for. If you come across a strange, unfamiliar name, simply do some Binging to figure out if the company appears legit. You’re also likely to find some reviews, so you might get an easy tip-off that a product isn’t what it claims to be.
You can also dig through databases to get some more information on certain products, and look on sites like LabDoor to get ratings. If the product you’ve found isn’t showing up anywhere in any of these databases, you may want to steer clear.
2. Do a label inspection
If the product you’re eyeing passes the initial eyeball test, start digging through the label. Compare the label with that of a competitor (a well-known or established brand that you’re familiar with) to see if there are any major differences. If there are high doses of ingredients you’ve never seen before, that may be a sign that it’s not a superior product.
There are some specifics to look out for, and Indian Bodybuilding actually put together a pretty slick infographic with some of the details. Per that graphic, you’ll want to check for original packaging seals, brand-specific holograms and logos, and MRP stickers. Also, you can go even further and look at serial numbers and lot numbers.
3. Watch out for these ingredients
Remember how you were supposed to look out for a bunch of ingredients you’ve never heard of? Well, there are a couple in particular that are a fairly good sign that you’re holding a fake or watered-down product. Glycine and taurine are naturally produced by your body and are often added to powders in order to dilute it. These aren’t bad substances necessarily, but ingesting more isn’t really going to do you any good.
This is called “protein spiking” and is basically the process of selling you a less effective product to see more return on the margins (for manufacturers). It’s like when you go to Utah and all the beer is watered down. You’re getting less for your money.
4. Do the math
Your final line of defense is to simply crunch some numbers. If you go in ahead of time knowing what you should be getting out of a jug of protein powder, then you can tell if you’re getting a spiked or inferior product. For example, if an average scoop of whey powder gives you, say, 20 grams of protein, then deciphering what you’re getting from another brand can tell you if the jug is “spiked.” Take what you know as a baseline, and do some research beforehand. Know what to look for, and have some knowledge as to what you should expect from the product you want.
How many grams of protein should you get from a couple of scoops of whey? How about pea protein? Do the math, and it should become clear after checking out the label and ingredients if you’re looking at a potentially bad purchase.