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Consumer Reports Says Your Protein Drink May Contain Heavy Metals

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If you’re looking to get “all swole” after your workout, bring the gun show to town or just back up that “Quad-zilla” nickname on the bike, you might want to think twice about the protein powder you’re mixing up.

First up, we’re not generally alarmists, and being highly active, long riding and weight lifting individuals (most of us, anyway), we pretty much dismiss the extremely low amount of protein requirements that the FDA guidelines recommend. It’s fairly well established that those looking to build muscle and recover well can use and tolerate extra protein than what’s needed merely to conserve minimal body mass.

That said, the Consumer Reports article that goes along with the video above (the video shown basically lays Channel 7’s voice over the video created by Consumer Reports, which is ridiculous, but the CR version wasn’t loading properly) is fairly alarming, especially if you regularly consume protein or recovery drinks. Not to make totally baseless claims, but many supplement manufacturers buy their ingredients from the same suppliers. I (Tyler) used to work in the beverage industry, so I’ve seen it first hand, and not everyone does complete testing of their finished products.

But, should we be concerned?

Maybe. Maybe not.

We’ve sent inquiries to most major cycling related sports nutrition companies asking for comment on this and whether they specifically test for Cadmium, Arsenic, Lead and Mercury, which are the four heavy metals mentioned in the Consumer Reports health article.

We checked the websites of EAS and CytoSport (makes of Muscle Milk), the two mentioned as having the highest levels), and EAS and Cytosport offered statements on the matter, shown after the break along with the list of products they tested

From EAS’ website:

A recent Consumer Reports story (July 2010 issue) raised questions about the trace levels of cadmium and arsenic found in popular protein shakes including our Myoplex® Original Rich Dark Chocolate shakes. We want to assure you that there is no safety risk from the trace levels of cadmium and arsenic in Myoplex protein shakes.

The Consumer Reports testing was based on consumption of three shakes per day. Our recommended up to two servings of Myoplex daily, as stated on the label, is well below the current accepted standards and below the proposed U.S. Pharmacopeia limits.

Trace levels of these elements are naturally found in the environment and in many foods we eat daily (such as shellfish, potatoes, rice, and leafy greens). We conduct extensive testing to ensure the quality of our products. Each time the shakes have been tested for elements, such as arsenic and cadmium, the results are below the limit of all current, well-established safety standards.

You can continue to use Myoplex shakes with confidence. If you have questions about how much protein is appropriate for your needs, you should talk to your doctor or other health care professional.

If you have any other questions, please contact our Consumer Relations team at 1-800-297-9776.

Personally, I think it’s solid that they’ve posted this rather than ignore the issue.  I’ve called the number above and asked if they know what particular ingredient has the heavy metals piggy backing, but haven’t received a response yet…they said they’ll look into it and let me know.

Cytosport’s rebuttal is much better, and says the numbers in the Consumer Reports article are a) skewed because they represent an unrealistically lightweight human and b) don’t mention the naturally occuring heavy metals in foods as a reference:

Chart provided by Cytosport.

Cytosport’s commentary is worth reading, and it’s much longer so we’ll direct you to their website for the full text (Click here, then select the headline on the right about Consumer Reports…it’s Flash or something, so there’s no direct link). They also link to the NSF’s commentary (a different third party testing company) on the CR report which says that while it cannot comment, it says the CR article omits important information about how and where the products were tested, the control methods used and the type of equipment used. It also questions the amounts tested, and in the video you see the dude using a normal spoon to dump powder carelessly into a jar. This may have been just for the video, but it doesn’t reflect well on the, uh, scientific method.

Whether you use the products is up to you, and hopefully we’ll receive comment from the brands you see advertised in all the cycling publications shortly, too.

Here are the other products they tested:

  • BSN Core Series Lean Dessert Protein Shake (Chocolate Fudge Pudding)
  • BSN Core Series Syntha-6 Ultra (Chocolate Milk Shake)
  • Designer Whey 100% Whey Protein (Chocolate)
  • EAS Myoplex Original (Rich Dark Chocolate Shake – Liquid)
  • GNC Lean Shake (Chocolate)
  • GNC Pro Performance AMP Amplified Wheybolic Extreme 60 (Chocolate)
  • Jillian Michaels Natural Whey Protein (Vanilla Cream Shake)
  • Muscle Milk (Chocolate)
  • Muscle Milk Nutritional Shake (Chocolate – Liquid)
  • Muscle Milk (Vanilla Creme)
  • MuscleTech Nitro-Tech Hardcore Pro Series (Vanilla Milkshake)
  • Optimum Nutrition Platinum Hydro Whey (Velocity Vanilla)
  • Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey (Extreme Milk Chocolate)
  • Six Star Muscle Professional Strength Whey Protein (French Vanilla Cream)
  • Solgar Whey to Go Whey Protein Powder (Natural Vanilla Bean)

Of these, I’ve used three of them over the years and currently have one of them in my pantry. You’ll have to subscribe to Consumer Reports to see the levels, but the gist of this report should be that it’s highly likely that all protein powders have some of these heavy metals in them.  Three servings a day may be a bit more than what you’re probably taking, and the protein levels in these is two to four times higher than in most cycling-specific recovery drinks, and of course most of these things are found in our food supply anyway.

But still…just something to think about.


What are the Daily Limits?

The maximum daily limits proposed by the U.S. Pharmacopeia are:

  • Arsenic (inorganic), 15 micrograms (µg)
  • Cadmium, 5 µg
  • Lead, 10 µg
  • Mercury, 15 µg
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13 years ago

3 servings a day?Ummmm, who in the hell would mow down 120 grams of protein? I’m certain that 3 times of ANYTHING would make a dude crap the bed.

Expensive? 5lbs of protein at $30 ($6 per lb) is pretty advantageous to any meat/veggie on the market.

Dairy-only protein as a substitute? That’s not exactly the best way to go about it, and remember that cooking meats takes away half, yes half, of the protein. So grilled chicken, although delicious and always a great treat, isn’t packing the punch these “professionals” advertise…..Better make room on your plate for some beans or nuts to pick up you’ve cooked out of those meats. Better yet go eat some sushi, oh yeah never mind, there’s heavy metals in that as well…..

Remember what MD stands for, Medical Doctor. Not Nutritionist…. They feed pills, not vitamins. Without disease, doctors are stuck standing in the unemployment line.

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