The most popular diary protein powder in the world is whey protein, loved by athletes and those both looking to lose or gain weight. Whey protein has been the go-to muscle enhancer for decades, but there’s another valuable dairy protein supplement out there: casein protein.
One of the top sources of long-lasting amino acids, casein protein — sometimes called “the other protein powder” — provides easy-to-digest protein in a similar fashion to whey.
What makes casein protein different from whey protein, pea protein powder, or even whole foods like eggs and chicken breast? One of casein’s greatest advantages is the timing of how it’s absorbed, plus how long it lingers in the body. Both factors make it beneficial for building muscle fast and preserving the body’s lean muscle tissue.
When it comes to nutrient timing, the type of protein matters.
What are the benefits of casein protein? It hits your bloodstream very quickly — plus its amino acids stay where they need to be in order to help build muscle tissue for many hours, as opposed to being flushed from the body relatively quickly.
So, looking to build lean muscle mass, curb hunger and see even more benefits from your exercise (and who isn’t)? Then perhaps you might want to start using casein protein … or is it better to have this protein in pure food form and stay away from this controversial protein powder? Answers are ahead.
What Is Casein Protein?
Derived from milk, just like whey protein, casein protein is actually a naturally more abundant source of branched-chain amino acids. That’s why it’s sometimes simply called “milk protein,” since around 80 percent of the protein found in cow’s milk is casein.
Within milk, casein is the “curd” that has gel-forming capabilities. It also makes up 20 percent to 40 percent of human breast milk. It’s also abundant in raw sheep cheese, a pure source of casein.
Casein, like whey and other protein foods, is made up of various “building blocks” called essential and non-essential amino acids. The human body is able to make certain amino acids on its own (called non-essential) while others it cannot (called essential), making the essential kinds crucial to get through the foods you eat.
Since plant foods don’t always provide the complete set of essential amino acids we need, animal foods — and sometimes convenient protein powders — are one way people make sure they cover their protein bases.
What is casein protein powder? It’s powder that’s created in a lab from dehydrating parts of milk.
The problem is that many forms are denatured and isolated, and may cause health issues. You’ll want to try to find casein protein that is from A2 beta-casein rather than A1 casein.
You can usually find it in most health food stores and might come across a variety of flavors. What you’ll probably notice is that for every brand of casein protein powder available, about five different whey protein powders are also sold.
Casein Protein vs. Whey Protein
For athletes, or really anyone who’s pretty active, protein is an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to muscle recovery, repair and growth. While most people living in developed nations are far from suffering a protein deficiency, keep in mind that protein requirements increase the more active you become, and they’re especially high when you regularly lift weights or do other types of lengthy training.
While you might think that protein powders are only for serious lifters, bulky men or pro athletes, nearly everyone can benefit from supplementing workouts with the right mix of nutrients — and protein powders simply make this easier to do.
Which is better, casein or whey protein?
- Whey protein and casein protein differ in terms of their bioavailability and effects on muscle synthesis. Casein is known as the slow-digesting component of milk protein. Although whey protein has many of the same benefits, it’s believed to cause more of a fast “amino acid spike” compared to casein.
- Compared to casein, whey is a fast protein source, which means it provides amino acids quickly after ingestion — however they also leave the body sooner than when you consume casein. When the body is flooded with more protein that it can use at one time, it’s possible for some to be flushed out through urine, oxidized or generally wasted. However, this isn’t always a bad thing — different types of proteins have their upsides — so don’t go writing off whey protein just yet. There are certainly benefits to consuming both faster- and slower-releasing proteins; it really just comes down to your goals and schedule.
- At the molecular level, within a protein source like casein various amino acids are branched together. Casein protein has a lower percentage of branched-chain amino acid compared to whey protein, which is one reason it’s slower to digest and also tends to work for longer. Because of its utilization and timing, research suggests that casein increases protein synthesis a bit less than whey does. On the plus side, it better stops the body from breaking down amino acids it already has available within the muscles. Casein has also been shown to slow intestinal motility.
- Whey protein has more sulfur than casein, which can also change the way the body uses it.
- In theory, the two should work differently to affect body composition, but not every study has shown this to be true. For example, researchers from the Metabolism Unit at the University of Texas Medical Branch found that short-term ingestion of both whey and casein after exercise resulted in similar increases in muscle protein net balance. They didn’t actually result in differences in muscle protein synthesis despite different patterns of blood amino acid responses.
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