If you read the label of almost any protein powder or pre workout drink you will likely find the ingredient Acesulfame potassium or Ace-K somewhere near the end. Acesulfame potassium is a quick acting non-nutritive sweetener that is about 100-150 times sweeter than sugar, The sweetness packs a immediate punch to your taste buds for instant gratification. Want your pre workout to taste like starburst or your protein powder to taste like cinnabon? If the answer is yes, then Acesulfame potassium is your secret weapon. Acesulfame potassium was approved by the FDA in 1998 as an artificial sweetener and the FDA set a safe limit threshold of 15mg/kg of bodyweight daily. While your protein powders or pre workout drinks probably will not list the exact amounts of acesulfame potassium, a good indicator of dosage is where it falls on the ingredient list. If listed as the very last ingredient, chances are there is only small amounts (less than 100mg). If listed more toward the middle, then the manufacturer is probably using higher amounts and you may want to avoid that product.
In Dr. Joseph Mercola’s book Sweet Deception: Why Splenda, NutraSweet, and the FDA May Be Hazardous to Your Health, he outlined his argument that there was a massive flaw in the production of acesulfame potassium. Methylene chloride, a carcinogenic chemical, is a potential impurity in acesulfame potassium resulting from its use as a solvent in the initial manufacturing step of the sweetener. While the FDA claims that there are no detectable amounts of methylene chloride in acesulfame potassium after purification, it is such a dangerous chemical that it was banned in home improvement stores as a paint thinner after reports surfaced that linked methylene chloride with numerous deaths.
The core argument against use of acesulfame potassium in nutritional supplements is lack of long-term safety data and the high risk, low reward value proposition it provides. While considered non-detectable by the FDA, there are serious risks to long-term exposure of methylene chloride including headaches, depression, nausea, liver effects, kidney effects, and cancer in humans. Since acesulfame potassium is non-nutritive, the only reason for use is to make your nutritional supplements taste like candy. If your willing to trade a little on taste, avoiding acesulfame potassium completely can yield a much healthier protein powder and safer pre workout drink.
Joanne Tull, former Fitness America, Fitness Canada and Fitness Universe finalist. Joanne is a Co-Founder of Nutrology, the naturally based sports nutrition company that has innovated clean label nutritional products used by thousands of athletes, including elites in the NFL, MLB, NHL and Professional Boxing. Having appeared on ESPN, Fox Sports and TSN after finishing a storied athletic career as a state champion, collegiate and national level gymnast. Joanne’s common sense approach to nutrition will educate and motivate people on how to live a healthy lifestyle while balancing career, kids and fitness goals.