OnUp Water

Do you know what’s really in your protein powder?

Do you know what’s really in your protein powder?

By Emily Niswanger, Founder, Anywhere Nutrition

Did you know that most marketing claims on the front of protein powder containers or bottles are not regulated? That’s why you MUST take a closer look at the back of the label every time you purchase one of these products. If you’re wondering what you should look for or avoid, use these tips below:

 Water source

Look for filtered water to avoid harmful contaminants such as lead, arsenic, and nitrates at are often found in city and well water. (1) 

Protein source

Not all protein is created equal so it is important to look for a high quality protein. The most recently accepted protein quality score is the Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score (DIAAS). While this might sound overly technical, simply put, DIAAS measures how protein quality stacks up against what our bodies need coupled with how available it is for us to actually digest.

The DIAAS method gives proteins a quality score. Anything <75% has no protein claim, a score of 76-99% means a good protein quality, and scores over 100% indicate excellent protein quality. Dairy proteins like whey have quality scores over 100 and lead the pack ahead of other incomplete proteins like soy, pea, or rice that have scores under 100. This means if you’re drinking plant protein, you will also need to find complementary protein sources to get everything your body needs. Whey checks ALL the protein boxes on its own! Read more about the benefits of whey in Ilene’s Why Whey blog post. 

If the protein is animal-based, I personally like to look for grass-fed sources because this assures me that the animals were raised ethically. (2)  Grass-fed claims, however, are not well-defined or regulated so you do need to be careful. In the case of OnUp, the cows have grazed outdoors for at least 6 hours per day for at least 120 days of the year.


Look for the electrolytes sodium, potassium and phosphorus on the ingredient list. These are important to consume within 30 minutes of activity to help regulate fluid balance. (3) Ilene’s past Why Electrolytes blog includes more details on why this is critical for our bodies. 


Look for natural flavors and avoid anything labeled artificial. Artificial flavors are not naturally occurring and are chemically constructed to mimic a natural flavor. (4) 

In many food products, including beverages, artificial flavors show up on the nutrition label as Red 40 or Blue 1. While Red 40 is approved by the FDA, experts are divided on its safety. Some believe that Red 40 can cause allergy-like symptoms in some people and cause behavior problems in some children. (5) In Europe, any product with Red 40 actually requires a warning label about potential adverse effects on activity and attention in children. 


Look for products made with a natural sweetener like stevia or monk fruit. Avoid products with added sugar and artificial sweeteners like sucralose. Sugar can be labeled in 50 different ways so always check for ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, glucose, fructose, and raw sugar. (6) Natural sweeteners are plant-based (stevia) or fruit-based (monk fruit is found in SE Asia).


  1. NIH. Safe Water and Your Health. August 2020. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/water-poll/index.cfm
  2. Manning, L. What is animal welfare really like in the Beef Industry. November 2019. https://www.sacredcow.info/blog/aspca-beef-industry-welfare 
  3. Kerksick et al. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (2018) 15:38  https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-018-0242-y 
  4. FDA. Synthetic flavoring substances and adjuvants. April 2020. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?FR=172.515
  5. Center for Science in the Public Interest. Seeing Red. 2016. https://cspinet.org/sites/default/files/attachment/Seeing%20Red.pdf
  6. S. K. Goyal, Samsher & R. K. Goyal (2010) Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) a bio-sweetener: a review, International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 61:1, 1-10, DOI: 10.3109/09637480903193049