We hear pretty frequently about different foods that are coming off the shelves due to a recall once contamination of a food is found. But what about supplements?
If you think that supplements are clean, just ask USA Swimmer, Madisyn Cox, who tested positive on a drug test due to a contaminated multivitamin.
Now the most prevalent supplements to have banned substances in them are protein powders, creatine, & individual amino acids/BCAA’s. Why is this? Well, if we think about it, these products are usually marketed to make you stronger & increase muscle mass, so why not include a little extra something in there that will make their product “work.” Cross contamination from machinery in the factory can also contribute to the issue. But even with other supplements, like a multivitamin, there’s a risk!
Supplements are NOT regulated like food is, which means a product can hit the shelves without the company proving that the supplement is safe, that it works as advertised, or that the supplement contains what is actually on the label. Yikes, right?
So what do we do? — we look for supplements that are third party tested. This means that the supplement company pays for a ‘third party’ to test their products for banned substances, making them safer for the consumer. This does not mean you are 100% safe from a contaminated supplement, but it absolutely decreases your risk. Look for the below logos on products, or check their website lists to see if the supplement you’re looking at is third party tested.
We recommend these tested supplements not only for athletes (because they’re subjected to random drug tests), but also to our other clients for safety reasons. You may not have to take a drug test for banned substances, but do you really want to be taking a supplement that has something in it without you knowing?
Here’s something that third party tested supplements aren’t tested for — contaminants like arsenic, lead, and other metals. The Clean Label Project has tested many products, including protein powders, to see how clean they really are. The results are eye opening. Take a look at some stats from CLP’s study where they tested 134 different protein powders:
- 75% of the plant-based protein powders tested positive for lead
- Organic products contained less BPA, but averaged twice as much heavy metals than the non-organic products
- Protein powders derived from egg were the cleanest, followed by whey protein, and then plant-based protein powders
With this in mind, how do we pick protein powders? Here are some tips:
- Whole food will always be better than a supplement! Choose whole food sources of protein over protein powder when you can (your body will utilize it better anyway!)
- Choose third party tested supplements to avoid unwanted/banned substances (especially important for athletes!)
- Check out Clean Label Project’s list of protein powders and how they rate the powders. In most cases, selecting egg or whey protein powders over plant-based will help you avoid other contaminants.
- Keep in mind that just because a supplement is organic, doesn’t mean it’s clean of everything! Do the research to see which products are best.
A reminder though, just because a supplement has gone through 3rd party testing and/or the Clean Label Project’s testing, does not necessarily mean you SHOULD take it. Schedule a consult with one of our sports dietitians to discuss if a supplement is the right fit for you. We’ll take into consideration your medical history, current diet, goals, and how a supplement may or may not benefit you!