The industry has been clamoring for more transparency and 3rd party testing for a few years now. Last year, this all came to a head with several massive lawsuits surrounding amino-spiking in protein powders. In case you don’t remember, here’s our write-up detailing the situation.
2015 has seen some of the bigger names in the industry decide to adopt independent testing to validate their products and set their customers at ease. MusclePharm is the latest big company to join the party. While this may seem revolutionary to some, several companies were ahead of this curve and already used 3rd party verification (i.e. Controlled Labs) before it became the hot item in the industry.
Until recently, rumors abounded around all of MP’s various protein powders as either being “spiked” or relatively poor quality. To combat the naysayers and disgruntled fan base, MP expanded their MusclePharm Sports Science Institute (MPSSI) to include protein testing.
What is the MPSSI?
The MPSSI is a 35,000 square foot training and research facility employing the latest equipment and technology available. The assembled team of doctors, nutritionists, and trainers work with athletes to develop the latest in sports supplementation to allow you take your training to the next level.
Part of MP’s new commitment to excellence in the field of sports nutrition has been to team with Eurofins for protein powder testing. Headquartered in Luxembourg, Eurofins is an international group of laboratories that tests supplements, foods, and pharmaceuticals for consumer safety and authenticity.
The entire purpose of MusclePharm teaming with Eurofins was to validate the quality of their protein powder and put to rest once and for all the rumors milling about their proteins being spiked.
To “put their money where their mouth is,” MP has published on MPSSI’s website the results of over 40 lots of protein powders that include all three of their current protein powders (Combat Powder, Arnold Iron Mass, and Arnold Iron Whey). Simply navigate to the product of your choice and you can view the results of the tests to see what’s actually in your powder.
Several questions immediately come to mind when we saw MP so openly promoting their 3rd party verification when for years, you couldn’t get a straight answer from the company in regards to the quality of their product.
- Is this testing adequate?
- Is it biased?
- Can we learn anything from these test results?
and most importantly…
Can we trust the results?
Two things that help us answer the above questions:
Alleviation #1: Testing Frequency
Normally, we would question the validity a third-party test where the supplement manufacturer sends their protein to the lab – after all, couldn’t they cherry pick the good ones and still have bad ones?
However, if MusclePharm continues to test every single batch like they say they will, then that fear of “cherry-picking” is alleviated.
You should be able to look at your tub and find the batch on the MPSSI website each and every time. If they stop publishing lab reports or miss batches, the tone of this post will be dramatically altered, so MusclePharm is now in this “for life” as far as we’re concerned.
Alleviation #2: Testing Thoroughness
The most important thing for us is that we need a full amino acid profile. Simply giving us nitrogen-based content is just not enough. MusclePharm also comes through on this point, which is why we’re excited — this has both the transparency and frequency we need.
With those points reasonably satisfied, let’s dig in and see how the products really hold up.
Example Test Results
Arnold Series Iron Mass
Here, we see that in a single serving (2 scoops = 95g) the label states that we should be getting a 40g dose of protein. Test results show the Total Protein Minus Free Amino-Acids to be 43.34g.
On the surface, this looks to be a great thing for MusclePharm and a strike against the naysayers and mudslingers accusing them of spiking. MP’s powder actually contains more “protein” per serving than they state on the label!
Upon Closer Inspection…
That’s not the end of the story though. Scrolling down through the rest of the test results, we can glean a little more insight into the supposed quality that MP promises with their supplements.
In our opinions, the most important key here is in the leucine content.
Looking at the breakdown of the amino acid content of the powder, we see that there is only 1.22g of leucine. However, there is a whole lot of glycine (10.00g to be exact)!
Why is this a big deal?
The biggest benefit of whey protein powder is supposed to be it’s high BCAA content. As you know, leucine is one of the BCAAs, and directly responsible for stimulating muscle protein synthesis (MPS).[4,5.6]
The relatively small 1.22g of leucine is hardly enough to get our anabolic engines revved up and kick muscle-building into high gear. And that, ultimately, is what nearly everybody buying a weight gainer wants!!
Iron Mass vs. Combat Powder
Now, let’s skip ahead compare it to another protein in MP’s catalog, the much beloved Combat Powder.
Taking a look at the test report from lot #252542052, we see that there is 24.96g of protein per serving (1 serving = 34.9g scoop)!. Furthermore, the leucine content is 2.67g/serving.
Read that again, then compare to Iron Mass. 2.67g of leucine out of 24.96g protein content is about 10.7% leucine – right on point in terms of our quality expectations.
But compared to 10.7% leucine in Combat, Iron Mass’s “protein” has 2.8% leucine content!
So Combat Powder contains over double the amount of leucine compared to Iron Mass in a serving size that is basically ⅓ its size!
Update: Facebook fan Mike P pointed out the following:
In terms of the high glycine count of Iron Mass, shouldn’t we expect a high percent of glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline due to the beef protein source? — Mike P, via Facebook
Bang on: Beef collagen vs. Whey is the different there. — Nick R, via Facebook (in response to Mike)
This is true, and something we completely fail to mention up above. Iron Mass uses beef protein, much of which is likely collagen based, which has a completely different (and inferior) amino acid profile. That’s another post for another day, though.
What does this mean?
Although MusclePharm’s Iron Mass does indeed contain the stated amount of nitrogen-based “protein” on the label (and then some), it is certainly not the highest quality protein powder you can find. In the battle for quantity vs. quality with protein, the ideal is likely somewhere in the middle – sheer quantity is not always best if something like leucine content is compromised.
This is really nothing new in the world of weight gainers though, and it’s why we almost NEVER recommend them. They’re all like this!
So MP isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel with Iron Mass. It’s a calorically dense, but not exactly what you’re really looking for. In laymen’s terms, save your money, we hardly ever recommend weight gainer products like this.
In this case, it’s as if MusclePharm not only followed every other supplement company in jumping off the bridge, they videotaped it and put it on the internet as well. Because they’re nearly all like this, unfortunately.
We chose to look at Iron Mass first because it’s the subject of a lawsuit against MusclePharm. The tests we’re seeing are far better than what the law firm produced, so it will be interesting to see where this all ends up.
Combat Powder, on the other hand…
But on the flip side, these tests definitely put Combat Powder back in our good graces.
Now, we do know that some free form amino acids have been added, yet it’s clearly not much, since the total protein nitrogen content was 25.18g, whereas the total protein minus free amino acids was 24.98g.
So we’re dealing with 0.2g of free form aminos here. This seems more like a point of confusion than a benefit at this point, but either way, the product now easily passes the test.
One more for the road. How’s Iron Whey?
We’re expecting 22g of Arnold-quality protein here.
We took a look at the latest test result, a chocolate Lot 19614 / Batch EUCAPE-00061500, and see that total protein minus free form aminos isn’t listed!
That isn’t very helpful, since there are added free form aminos here and we’d like the details. But it also seems to be a typo, since every other test has this number listed
So let’s check out peanut butter cup, Lot #17714MWPB.
- Total Protein Minus Free Amino Acids = 21.56g (just rounding to to 22g)
- Total Nitrogen-Based Protein = 22.85g.
So there’s 1.29g of free form amino acids added, but this easily meets both label claims and our “ethical claims”.
How’s the leucine content? 2.23g per serving, which is again over 10% – right on point.
Note that we don’t know how much of this leucine has been added vs. how much came bound in whey protein, but to some degree, we don’t totally care. If this whey needs to be “fortified” by extra BCAAs, that’s not the worst thing in the world, especially since this is a lower cost product.
If you’ll quickly glance through these Iron Whey tests, you’ll notice a fair amount of fluctuation in the protein numbers – from 21.14g to 23.26g in the best test, but all within a 10% window, to spec as desired.
So where are we now with MusclePharm’s proteins?
The overall points being this:
- Combat Powder has redeemed itself and is better than Iron Whey, but also costs more
- Iron Whey’s quality has improved to the point of being out of our doghouse, with the general understanding that this is a value protein (we still think it’s a metaphorical high crime to make Arnold’s protein the “value” one, but that’s another story altogether)
- If you really care about building muscle, you’re better off not using or relying on Iron Mass. Instead, build your own weight gainer with Combat (or Iron Whey) and toss in your mix of oats, healthy fats, fruits, spinach, etc..
So, we’re left at a crossroads here. Yes, this is certainly a step in the right direction for one of the biggest names in the industry. They are listening to their fans and detractors alike and providing 3rd party testing and verification of their products. We congratulate them on this huge step forward and are always fans of more transparency.
However, the next step for MP is to include a higher quality protein in all of their products – especially the weight gainer – so they can truly stand by their claim as providing products “on the edge of performance.”
Now how about reconsidering that Johnny Manziel contract?