So you’re trying to pack on some serious mass are you? That’s great to hear! Chances are you arrived here because you wanted help choosing the best protein out there to support your goals, so where’s the whey?
Just hold on a sec- while whey is undoubtedly an awesome muscle builder, what if we told you there was another, lesser known protein powder, the bigger brother if you will, of whey, which lies in the shadow of his younger celebrity sibling?
Introducing casein, a protein that you WILL want to get to know, and make use of pronto. Now onto a little bit about this mysterious chap, shall we?
What Is Casein?
Like whey, casein is also a milk derived protein. In fact, 80% of the protein content of milk is actually casein, while whey accounts for the other 20%. The curd of milk is the starting point of casein, which is washed several times to concentrate the casein, and then subsequently dehydrated (dried) to leave an approximately 96% pure protein.
Casein is a complete protein, like other animal based proteins, and is available in three forms:
- Micellar Casein- the slowest digesting variety of casein you can buy, it is considered the most nutritious form if you are looking for the best bang for your money. Best when consumed before bed when speed of digestion is not a pressing matter
- Caseinates- produced by treating casein with an alkaline solution, this type is classified as the second slowest digesting variety. Texture can vary depending on type of caseinate present, for instance, as calcium caseinate is not as smooth as sodium caseinate.
- Casein hydrolysate- hydrolysis of casein protein results in a somewhat pre-digested variety, which can be said to possess advantages specific to both whey and casein itself. For instance, this type of casein releases amino acids rapidly into the blood stream, but also slowly continuously yields more for several hours to come. This type of casein is best for addition to your post-workout shake.
What Makes Casein So Special?
If you haven’t spotted the trend with casein as yet, most of what sets it apart from whey is not mimicking what whey can do, but instead what it can’t. By this, we mean its unique speed of absorption. Casein specialized as a slow digesting protein, while whey is rapidly absorbed. This brings with it specific advantages for you as an athlete. These include:
Reduces Muscle Breakdown
Catabolism is the enemy of anyone looking for true muscle nirvana. Being a breakdown process, catabolism often causes breakdown of muscle tissue to help meet energy needs of the body and/or amino acid requirements.
This is bad, as your goal is about saving aminos; losing it only sets you back. Casein is uniquely poised to avoid this because it “tricks” your body into thinking that you are being continuously fed over the course of several hours.
Reduced muscle breakdown is especially important if you plan on dieting, since low calorie diets are notoriously known to cause muscle loss in addition to fat. If left unchecked, this can be very bad for your metabolic machine.
One study done compared whey and casein hydrolysates in their ability to help preserve muscle mass[i] on a hypocaloric diet combined with resistance training. The results? Group casein preserved more muscle, and also had greater increases in strength.
Excellent Muscle Builder
Let’s be real- the main reason you even started using a protein supplement is for the muscle gains, right? All of casein’s equally impressive benefits aside, without it being an impressive muscle builder, it would never get the nod it so deserves. And building muscle it does. Very well.
If you recall, muscle growth does not occur in the actual gym, or only in the short “anabolic window” following your workout, but throughout the day, and during sleep.
If that were not the case, you could bet that athletes everywhere would eat a truckload post-workout and not anytime else. But it has been said over and over again when it comes to muscle gain; timing is everything.
Casein is the king of time, acting over the course of many hours, compared to whey’s acute spike and crash. This means that casein supports better nitrogen retention and anabolism over the course of the day[ii], and does not require you to down a shake every 60 minutes to stabilize blood amino acid levels.
Increases Fat Loss
Higher protein content diets have generally been associated with superior weight loss, due in part to the greater thermic effect of protein compared to other macronutrients. But when it comes to casein, the presence of copious amounts of calcium[iii] also plays a large role in its ability to enhance weight loss.
A study even found that over the course of a 24 hour period, people that combine high levels of calcium with moderate protein intake utilize more calories from fat, and also have higher levels of faecal fat excretion that people who consume lower amounts of calcium.
Casein brings the best of both worlds to you; high protein and very good calcium levels.
Supports Colon Health
While you may not be enthusiastically reading about this benefit, it is very important to your longevity in any sport discipline. As it turns out, a large part of your body’s innate immune system resides in your digestive tract, especially the intestines.
The colon is technically the large intestine, and given that you do not have a sensitivity/ allergy to dairy, casein can help support the microbiota of this organ system better than many other protein sources.
The health of your immune system is also tied into how your body regulates its testosterone-cortisol balance, as the very same probiotic bacteria can play a supporting role in helping prevent nervous gut and the spike in stress hormones that occur.
For too long, casein has been in the shadow of whey. Yes, it does not elicit the same acute spike in amino acids like whey does, meaning that is not better than whey at the post workout interval.
But who ever said anything about better? Used in conjunction with whey, and at times of the day when speed is not important, casein is just as good as whey, and essential for you moving on up in muscleville.
Take a serving before bed, and as a part of a mid-morning snack to have amino acids at your beckon for many hours throughout the day, and gains on the fly.
[i] Demling RH, DeSanti L. Effect of a hypocaloric diet, increased protein intake and resistance training on lean mass gains and fat mass loss in overweight police officers. Ann Nutr Metab. 2000;44(1):21–29. doi:10.1159/000012817
[ii] Stark M, Lukaszuk J, Prawitz A, Salacinski A. Protein timing and its effects on muscular hypertrophy and strength in individuals engaged in weight-training. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012;9(1):54. Published 2012 Dec 14. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-9-54
[iii] Zhu, W., Cai, D., Wang, Y. et al. Calcium plus vitamin D3 supplementation facilitated Fat loss in overweight and obese college students with very-low calcium consumption: a randomized controlled trial. Nutr J 12, 8 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-12-8