Whey? or Casein? Part 3

Is casein a better option than whey? Let's find out. 

We've been unpacking this topic of whey protein and the previous two emails strictly covered whey protein and when it is and isn't a good option. 

Aside from whey, there are other options to consider. Two of the most popular options are casein and branch chain amino acids. 

Before I dive in to each one let's make one thing very clear. The reason you need protein in your diet is to acquire essential amino acids (EAA's). There are amino acids your body already organically produces and those are non-essential amino acids. While we're discussing protein options, we're not just talking about taste, or convenience, we're talking about completeness. 

When sitting down for any meal, albeit whole food or powder, it's an opportunity to feed all of the processes in our bodies in a complete of a way as possible. When selecting a protein powder, the main question we're really trying to answer is, "Which option gives me the most EAA's for my money?"

Now let's start looking at casein.

What is casein?

Casein is the protein that makes up a large marjority of cow's milk. It's the only protein in cheese and strained yogurt as well. Casein is lower in EAA's so it is a less complete protein than whey. Digestion is a little slower than whey depending on the type. 

There are 3 types of casein:

Micellar - this is the previously mentioned casein found in milk. It takes whey close to 4 hours to digest whereas casein takes 6-7. Slower digestion means it has a dampened affect on muscle growth 

Hydrolysates -this is a broken down form of the natural micellar casein which actually makes for considerably faster digestion (close to whey). However, the fact whey still has more EAA's means that it stimulates more muscle protein synthesis (growth) than hydrolysates during the first 180 minutes of digestion. 

Caseinates - virtually the same as hydrolysates 

Is there a benefit to taking casein before bed?

Micellar casein is the slow digesting form of casein and has led some to take it before bed, under the impression they are supplying the body with amino acids all night, rather than fasting. However, although casein releases protein into the blood stream for 6-7 hours and whey for only 4, muscle protein synthesis only occurs for the first 3-4 hours after ingestion. This means that they both increase muscle growth for the same amount of time

Casein before bed: A tale of 3 studies

  1. Casein mix (half micellar, half hydrolyzed) Group 1: 28 grams of slow/fast casein before bedGroup 2: Placebo RESULT: In a 3 month time span the mixed casein group experienced larger muscle mass and strength increases than the placebo. 

  2. Micellar casein only - two groups of resistance-trained men and women (both men and women in each group).Group 1: 54 grams of micellar casein in the morningGroup 2: 54 grams of micellar casein near bedtime RESULT: In a 2 month time span the body composition did not change in either group.

  3. Caseinates only - two groups of resistance-trained young men took a daily dose of 35 grams of caseinates.

  • Group 1: 35 grams in the morningGroup 2: 35 grams near bed time

  • RESULT: After 10 weeks, both groups experienced a similar change in muscle size and strength.

So this collection of studies tells us a few things. The first thing that pops out is that the groups using fast digesting form of casein (caseinates) saw results whereas the groups using slow digesting forms of casein didn't. Secondly, there appears to be no difference between the groups who took it in the morning and the groups who took it in the evening. 

I understand the caveat of comparing these studies is that they were performed with different people under different protocols but there still seems to be no reason that timing matters. But there is evidence that the speed of ingestion is what ultimate helps to improve muscle protein synthesis (ie muscle growth).

Whey protein still appears to be a better choice for increasing strength and muscle mass than a slower digesting protein. If you seem to be unable to eat enough protein throughout the day, then taking casein before bed could be effective but the same could be said of any fast digesting protein. 

In the next and final short article on protein, we will look at branch chain amino acids vs. whey.

In good health,

Coach Mike


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