What's really in a scoop of "protein powder"? In some products, a lot less protein and/or a lot more carbohydrates than you would expect, and perhaps even a serving of something you don't want—lead. That's according to recent tests by ConsumerLab.com which purchased, tested, and reviewed the quality of a broad range of protein powders and drinks used for everything from body building to dieting. Americans spend over $3 billion each year on sports nutrition powders and formulas according to Nutrition Business Journal.

ConsumerLab.com found problems with the quality of five the 16 protein products it selected for testing and confirmed these findings in a second independent laboratory:

  • a protein powder from a popular brand was missing 16 grams of protein per scoop—the majority of the protein it promised. Instead, it contained an extra 16 grams of carbohydrates (including an extra 3 grams of sugar)
  • a powdered meal replacement shake was contaminated with 12.7 mcg of lead per serving (far more than permitted in California without a warning label)
  • a popular protein energy meal with spirulina had an extra 6.7 grams of carbohydrates (including an extra 4 grams of sugar) and an additional 25.7 calories per serving
  • a protein powder—from a "GMP certified" facility—claiming "0" cholesterol really had 10.2 mg
  • a protein supplement claiming 5 mg of cholesterol actually had 14.2 mg

The cost of an equivalent serving of protein from products approved for quality by ConsumerLab.com ranged from just 61 cents to over $5.

"What sets these products apart from other types of supplements and energy foods is protein - typically about 10 to 30 grams per serving," said Tod Cooperman, MD, president of ConsumerLab.com. "They can be a convenient way to get specific types of protein to build and maintain muscle, but some protein powders come with unwanted surprises, like lead contamination, extra carbs, or even less protein than advertised."

The new Protein Powders and Drinks Review provides results and comparisons for 27 products - 16 selected by ConsumerLab.com and 11 that passed its voluntary Quality Certification Program. Products include those made with whey protein (concentrates, isolates, and hydrolysates), casein protein, soy protein, rice protein, and pea protein.

Products reviewed in the report are Atkins Day Break, Body Fortress Whey Isolate, Dymatize Nutrition Elite Casein, EAS 100% Whey Protein, Endurox R4, Genisoy Soy Protein Shake, GNC AMP Amplified Wheybolic Extreme 60, GNC Pro Performance 100% Whey Protein, GNC Total Lean - Lean Shake 25, GNC Total Lean - Lean Shake, Jay Robb Whey Protein, Marked 100% Whey Protein Complex Gourmet, Marked Mass Gainer Gourmet, Metagenics UltraMeal Rice, MET-RX Engineered Nutrition Meal Replacement, Muscletech Nitro Tech, Nature's Bounty Optimal Solutions Complete Protein Vitamin, Nature's Plus Spiru-Tein, Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Egg, Prolab Advanced Essential Whey, Pure Protein Shake, Shakeology Greenberry, Six Star Pro Nutrition Whey Protein Plus, Slim Fast 3-2-1 Plan Shake Mix, Solgar Whey To Go, The Biggest Loser Protein Powder, and Twinlab Whey Fuel Triple Thick.

The report also provides information regarding nutritional requirements and the relative pros and cons of the various types of protein used in these supplements.