If you take a look at the ingredients in bodybuilding supplements and protein powders at most health food stores, you'll find that they contain an array of questionable ingredients, such as aspartame, saccharin, fructose, and artificial colors. I've always found it interesting to note how unhealthy many of these bodybuilding products really are. Rather than being made with natural ingredients, and sweetened with items like stevia, they are sweetened with chemicals and made with ingredients that are certainly less than healthful. And why? Because bodybuilders continue to purchase these supplements. In other words, the supplement manufacturers are simply meeting the demands of bodybuilding consumers.
But one question remains: why are so many bodybuilders so unconcerned with their health? It's something that's been frequently observed in the bodybuilding community: people consuming any products, no matter how dangerous to their health, in order to build more lean body mass and look better for competitions and photo opportunities. This is the case, of course, with the use of illegal steroids for enhancing muscle mass. It's a dangerous trend -- not only in terms of steroids, but also with protein supplements that contain toxic ingredients such as aspartame.
Let's take a closer look at the problem with aspartame, and see how it affects the human body. In my opinion, aspartame should have been banned a long time ago due to its toxicity and potential for nerve damage. When aspartame is consumed, it breaks down into two chemical compounds in the human body: formic acid and formaldehyde. Formic acid is an irritant -- the same chemical produced by fire ants -- and doesn't belong in the bloodstream. But the bigger problem here is formaldehyde. Formaldehyde, as you may remember from high school biology class, is a preservative. Now, this doesn’t mean that by consuming aspartame you are going to stop aging. Rather, it means that you are going to suffer the side effects from ingesting this preservative chemical.
Formaldehyde is listed as an environmental toxin by the EPA, and when ingested in the human body, it causes widespread nerve damage: damage to the optic nerve, brain cells, and the nerve cells that control body movement. That's why aspartame has been so strongly linked to migraine headaches, muscle tremors, vision problems, and mental confusion. These are characteristics that most bodybuilders should hope to avoid. After all, how can you appear healthy if your nervous system is being destroyed by a toxic ingredient you are consuming on a regular basis?
The only sweetening ingredient that I recommend in a bodybuilding supplement is stevia. Stevia is derived from an herb -- the sweetleaf herb -- that's native to Central and South America. Stevia does not affect blood sugar levels, it has virtually no calories, and there are absolutely no toxicities associated with its use. It has been used safely around the world for literally thousands of years, and is, in fact the alternative sweetener of choice in diet soft drinks in countries such as Japan. However, in the United States, stevia has been oppressed by the FDA, which has denied its use in food and beverage products, most likely to protect the profits of aspartame manufacturers. Because, after all, if stevia were legalized, aspartame sales would plummet, and as we know, the FDA is far more interested in protecting the profits of private industry rather than public health.
However, it is perfectly legal to use stevia in nutritional supplements and whey protein powders, and this is the sweetener that I strongly recommend. Look for whey protein powders that are made with stevia and have no other sweeteners at all. The best protein powder I've found that meets these guidelines is Jay Robb's Whey Protein Powder, which comes in a variety of flavors: chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla. I've written up a separate review of Jay Robb's Protein Powders, but the short version is that these are absolutely the best whey protein products I've found yet, and I highly recommend them, not only to bodybuilders, but to anyone who wants a source of high-quality protein for their diet.
In the meantime, I urge bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts to start reading the labels of the foods, drinks, and energy bars they purchase, and check for chemical sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin. These chemical sweeteners should be avoided at all costs, and only products sweetened with natural sweeteners such as stevia should be consumed by any person concerned about their health.