Quality Control Supplement Knowledge

Your Protein Powder May Not Be Safe

Did you know your protein powder may not be safe even though it’s from a popular manufacturer? Your Protein Powder May Not Be Safe Knowing how to read and interpret supplement labels is one of the best ways to make sure you know what you’re getting with each serving. You know the key ingredients, preferably … Continue reading Your Protein Powder May Not Be Safe

Did you know your protein powder may not be safe even though it’s from a popular manufacturer?

Your Protein Powder May Not Be Safe

Knowing how to read and interpret supplement labels is one of the best ways to make sure you know what you’re getting with each serving. You know the key ingredients, preferably with their dosages and you have a general idea of how much protein, fat, and carbs you have in one scoop. You also know what fillers or non-key ingredients the company used in the Other Ingredients section.

In a perfect world, what’s inside a protein powder is always indicated on the label. However, that is simply not the case. 

According to non-profit organization Clean Label Project, 134 top rated protein powders and beverages were found to have traces of more than 130 different types of toxins. These toxins include heavy metals like arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium and Bisphenol A pesticides. Below are the numbers:

  • 70% of the protein powders they tested contained lead
  • 74% of the protein powders tested contained cadmium
  • 55% overall contained BPA pesticide
  • One protein powder (which they didn’t disclose) contained more than 25 times the allowed BPA regulatory limit in one serving.

To make it worse, the word “organic” doesn’t mean the supplement is any safer. In fact, organic protein powders were found to contain more traces of heavy metals than their non-organic counterparts! 

Researchers noted organic powders had:

  • 50% more arsenic
  • 50% more lead
  • Almost 500% more cadmium

These were powders with the label “USDA Organic.” Yes, the same label many people say guarantees food purity from GMO ingredients and additives.

Take note, they tested the top powders according to Nielsen and Amazon’s best sellers list. There’s a good chance the protein powder you have at home right now has these undeclared toxins. Surely, avoiding animal-based protein would be safer since plant-based proteins go through a much more rigorous series of quality control. 

Actually, no. 

Animal-based protein powders would come out “cleaner” because not only are they not the primary recipient of heavy metal contamination, but animals also help “filter” or diffuse these toxins. 

Why Pure Doesn’t Mean Safe

You often see the “100% pure” label on single-ingredient supplements especially protein powders. However, just because it says 100% pure doesn’t mean the company didn’t add any fillers in or spike its protein content to pass quality control tests. Not to mention that the company in question could have sourced their “pure” protein powder from a supplier with questionable test methods and farm sources.

First and foremost, it’s important to point out that supplement companies don’t have to prove that the supplement you’re taking is safe or effective. They can claim any benefit with any scientific paper all they want, but you will always notice how they have these asterisks at the end of every claim. These asterisks often mean:

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

The fact that they’re not regulated like drugs also poses a problem. Sure, the lack of regulation makes the supplements more affordable, but it also puts the consumers at risk for contaminants that the supplement company may not have even tested for.

How bad are these contaminants? 

The thing with contaminants is, the poison is always in the dose. A few micrograms won’t hurt because the body can still excrete these naturally. However, it takes time for the body to remove these from our system. This is where it gets messy for protein powder consumers. 

Most if not all protein powders always ask their consumers to take a serving or two on both training and non-training days. Meaning, you are supposed to ingest their product close to seven days a week. 

Since Clean Label Project designed the study to include the most popular supplements, there’s a good chance the protein powder you’re ingesting every day has these unwanted toxins in them. According to the NIH – Genetic and Rare Disease Information Center, if you take protein supplements with undetermined levels of heavy metals every day, and you let these dangerous compounds accumulate in your system, you’re putting yourself at risk for the following:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Heart abnormalities (cardiomyopathy and dysrhytmia)
  • Numbness
  • Tingling of hands and feet
  • Lethargy 
  • Anemia
  • Kidney, Liver damage
  • Lung irritation or fluid accumulation
  • Memory loss
  • Behavioral changes
  • For pregnant women, a possibility of a miscarriage

If not treated immediately, heavy metal poisoning can lead to various forms of cancer.

The Risks of Being A Professional Athlete

More than heavy metals and undeclared fillers, some supplements could also have ingredients and preservatives that are banned under anti-doping laws and regulations. There are almost 300 banned substances, some of which are openly included in popular supplements. Most of these banned substances come in the form of testosterone replacers, fat burners and stimulants, and growth hormones and steroids. 

The problem with these banned substances is, most of the time the athlete is unaware of what they’re taking. All they know is, the powders and capsules they get are helping them with practice and training. 

Once the sports organization finds out that your blood or urine tested positive for any banned substance at all, the athlete could immediately be disqualified or worse, banned from sports. Not to mention the public humiliation the athlete would have to endure, invalidating each and every one of their achievements.

Buying only the best and cleanest supplements

Obviously, the best way to get yourself protected from these types of brands is to make sure you don’t buy them in the first place. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. You want to go for a label that is proud to claim 100% purity, especially for protein powders. 100% whey protein is the highest form in terms of biological value. This makes each milligram count per serving.
  2. Always choose protein powders that have next to zero fillers or additives. You can do so by reading what the “Other Ingredients” say. It also has to be zero or at least low in everything else other than protein. We’re talking about low carb, low fat, low sugar, low sodium, etc. 
  3. Check the reputation of the manufacturer. There’s a good chance that customers as well as third party organizations have reviewed the company if they’ve been in business for years or decades. You can also check whether they’ve had some trouble with the FDA regarding ingredient usage.
  4. Check for a 3rd party certification stamp of approval, like NSF Certified for Sport, which guarantees the supplement is free of banned substances.

After all that, there’s also one extra step you can take just to be safe and that is to test either yourself or the protein powder you have. It may take some time or money, but you will get firsthand information on whether your powder has stuff you don’t want, or if your body already has panicking levels of toxins and other contaminants.

More on NSF Certified for Sport

The NSF tests various supplements for purity, heavy metal contamination, and banned substances. Supplements that have undergone and passed their rigorous testing bear the NSF Certified For Sport label. When you buy a product with NSF’s label or sticker, you can be sure that the protein powder you’re holding is safe and of high purity. Professional Athletes, this is the gold standard.

Take Home Points:

  • “Pure” supplements are often contaminated
  • The Clean Label Project declared 134 of the most popular protein supplements to contain detectable levels of toxins, heavy metals, and other contaminants.
  • Organic and Plant-based proteins have a much higher risk of containing lead.
  • The wrong protein powder could put your health and sports career at risk.
  • The NSF is an organization that safeguards athletes and consumers from low quality brands


  • CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. Accessdata.fda.gov. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=101.93. Published 2019. Accessed September 12, 2019.
  • Protein Powder – Clean Label Project. Clean Label Project. http://staging-cleanlabelproject.kinsta.com/protein-powder/. Published 2019. Accessed September 12, 2019.
  • Heavy metal poisoning | Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD) – an NCATS Program. Rarediseases.info.nih.gov. https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6577/heavy-metal-poisoning. Published 2019. Accessed September 12, 2019.Kim HS, Kim YJ, Seo YR.
  • An Overview of Carcinogenic Heavy Metal: Molecular Toxicity Mechanism and Prevention. J Cancer Prev. 2015;20(4):232–240. doi:10.15430/JCP.2015.20.4.232
    What Our Mark Means | Certified for Sport®. Nsfsport.com. https://www.nsfsport.com/our-mark.php. Published 2019. Accessed September 12, 2019.