Whether you workout or not, you have likely heard of whey protein powder. Whey protein is one of the most popular health and nutritional supplements ever sold and for good reason.
It lines the shelves of supplement stores and is packed tight in the form of ready to drink shakes in that little fridge next to the front desk of your gym.
Protein is a vital component for every cell in your body. Your body uses it to build and repair tissues. While it also assists in many other processes in the body, most people seek out protein supplements because they are looking to increase their muscle mass.
While Whey has a host of great benefits to assist you with your fitness goals, there is another type of protein that is not discussed nearly as much and that is casein protein.
What is casein protein?
Casein is often called the “other protein”. Similar to whey protein, casein protein is a type of milk protein created during the cheese making process. In fact, milk contains mostly casein protein. Casein makes up approximately 80 % of the protein in milk while whey makes up the other 20 %.
In order for casein protein powder to be created, the casein protein created during the above process is extracted and sold as a supplement in powder form.
While it is available in most big name supplement stores, casein is definitely not marketed to the extent that whey is. There is often far fewer flavors produced by companies and many companies that make a whey protein do not even bother to produce a casein protein.
Casein is almost solely consumed and marketed to bodybuilders looking to maintain their hard-earned muscle mass however, it has several other benefits for non-bodybuilders as well.
Casein and whey may look and taste similar, but they are definitely not the same.
How is casein different from whey?
While both whey and casein are excellent sources of protein, they differ in one major way, which is in their rate of digestion.
Both whey and casein contain the branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) your muscles so desperately need following a hard workout however, each protein delivers them to your body in different ways.
Whey protein is rapidly digested by the body which means that it is quickly able to raise amino acid levels in the blood and start protein synthesis immediately. I’m simple terms, that means that your body is going to be able to repair the damage to your muscles that just occurred from the workout while beginning to assist in growing new muscle.
Casein on the other hand digests far more gradually than whey protein. Casein provides a steady stream of amino acids to the body over time as opposed to delivering them all at once. Due to this, casein is ideal for those times in which you will have to go a long period without protein.
Think of it this way. While whey is used with the intention of growing new muscle, casein is used primarily with the intention of maintaining the muscle you already have and preventing it from wasting away. Here’s a great chart which visually demonstrates the digestion rate differences between the two proteins.
The last thing most people (particularly bodybuilders) want is for their muscle to waste away. The wasting away of muscle is also known as catabolism and can be a huge problem for bodybuilders. Luckily, casein is readily available for most people to combat this problem.
Where can you get casein?
Since it is a protein found in milk, you can obviously find casein in most dairy products. Casein can be found in milk, yogurt, cream, butter, cheese and cottage cheese amongst other dairy sources.
If, you are watching your calories, most of those sources will clearly not be ideal for you. Also, several of the sources such a butter, do not contain huge amounts of casein. You would have to shove numerous sticks of butter in your mouth to get the adequate amount of casein necessary to accomplish your anti-catabolism goals.
My favorite source of casein, aside from buying it as a powder, is cottage cheese. Cottage cheese is an excellent source of casein for those watching their calorie intake as it is high in protein and low in fat. Plain cottage cheese is also low in sugar.
Pro-tip: try mixing cottage cheese with a little maple syrup. I think you will find it far easier to eat.
Now that you know where it can be found, the next question naturally is when should you take it?
When is the best time to take casein?
The best time to take casein protein is when your body is going to go long stretches without consuming any protein or amino acids. The obvious time this will occur is during sleep, which makes casein ideal to take before bed. Most people who take casein take it right before bed.
Research has found that muscle breakdown during the hours you are asleep exceeds muscle protein synthesis. What this means is that your muscles are wasting away faster than they are growing, which presents a problem to someone looking to maintain or increase their lean muscle mass.
Aside from sleep, any other time you plan on going long stretches without a meal would be a great time to take casein. Although it goes against most of the dogma of intermittent fasting, casein would be an ideal protein to take during the fasting portions of the diet. Before the critics of intermittent fasting chime in telling me how wrong I am, I have done intermittent fasting on and off for years and did not find it detrimental in any way to have a shake during the fasting window.
Although they should be taken at different times, both whey and casein can be used in conjunction with each other.
At this point you may be questioning your loyalty to whey protein and asking yourself if you should perhaps make the switch over to casein protein instead. The good thing is that you don’t have to make that decision. It does not have to be one or the other.
If you like and use protein powder, then my recommendation would be to take both whey and casein protein. They are great combination to assist you with your goal of maintaining and adding lean muscle mass.
The ideal way to use both would be to consume whey protein around a workout (preferably right after) while consuming casein protein just before bed.
Adding both types of protein powder to your diet will ensure that your body is getting an adequate amount of protein and amino acids around the clock.
If you have a milk allergy than you will most likely want to avoid casein. Also, a small percentage of people have been found to have a specific casein allergy so please be aware of that and watch how your body reacts while taking it. Like any supplement, casein will not be for everybody.
Don’t sleep on casein
Casein is definitely not as popular as it’s brother whey but I would argue that it is just as important. Look, you work hard for all those gains in the gym. I see people at the gym constantly sucking down whey and that’s great but I know that most are not taking casein protein at night before they go to sleep to make sure their body does not start breaking down that muscle they just worked so hard to grow.
When you wake up in the morning, you don’t want to start two steps back from where you left off the night before in a catabolic state because your muscles were starved of protein and amino acids all night.
Do yourself a huge favor and try casein protein. I know that you will notice a difference in how you feel when you wake up. I certainly do.
Like my recommendations for all protein powders, try your best to find a casein powder that is grass fed, undenatured and free of toxic sweeteners, colorings and preservatives.
Questions or comments about casein protein? I would love to hear below.