Two of the most popular protein supplements on the market are often cause for debate and confusion.
What exactly is the difference between Casein and Whey protein...what do these protein drinks actually do for you and which one is better for your goals?
If you are an avid exerciser and have been faced with this dilemma, fear no more! I’m here to cut through the confusion and give you the inside scoop (pun intended) to what will work best for you!
What is the purpose of protein supplements?
We’ve all seen this before : the muscle head at the gym who whips out a giant shaker bottle immediately after finishing their last rep. They take a big scoop, mix in water, and start shaking like a mad man until the clumpy protein turns into a smooth shake.
For a long time protein supplements have been associated with this demographic. The muscle bound guy who wants to get even bigger muscles.
Now why is this guy even drinking the protein shake?
Well, protein supplements can provide an excellent boost in protein intake for the day.
Why is protein important?
Protein provides the body with amino acids which in turn do a few different things:
Protein builds muscle
Protein repairs muscles
Proteins carry out chemical reactions in your body
Proteins are hormones that coordinate cell signaling
Protein provides structure for your skin, bones, and tendons
Protein aides in fat loss (by decreasing appetite and boosting metabolism)
Protein is the only macronutrient that cannot be produced by itself , on it’s own within the body. Therefore the consumption of protein is highly important.
For most people, the recommended protein intake will be derived as 1 gram of protein per lb of body weight. For example if you weigh 150 lbs, you’ll want to eat about 150g of protein. This is a general rule and not meant to be taken as the holy grail here! (It’s okay if there’s days that are less, and days that there are more)
Ultimately Protein supplements help make it easier to get the proper amount of protein in your diet, on a daily basis. Drinking a protein shake can yield you anywhere from 20-60g of protein in ONE drink!
Casein and Whey are made from cheese!
Casein and Whey protein primarily consist of cow’s milk proteins. During the cheesemaking process special enzymes or acids are added to heated milk. During this , the milk begins to coagulate (or change to a solid state) and begins to separate from the liquid substance.
The liquid substance is the whey protein which is then washed and dried into a powdered form. Any leftover curds of casein can be washed and dried to create a powder as well.
Sounds so appetizing!
This is important for those who are lactose intolerant when considering a protein supplement. There are supplements on the market that are dairy free so just be mindful if you can’t stomach dairy products all that well!
What are the main differences between Casein and Whey Protein?
The big difference between the two supplements is the speed at which they get absorbed.
Casein protein is slow acting whereas Whey protein is fast acting.
During a training session your muscle fibers will have small micro tears that need to be repaired, which promotes muscle growth.
With Whey Protein, you can effectively begin the muscle repair process very quickly after finishing a workout. For example it only takes about 20 minutes for the body to digest, absorb and metabolize whey protein.
Casein Protein however will continue to absorb and reach its peak around 3-4 hours after consumption.
On an outwards glance, it might appear that Whey protein is the better option because it acts more quickly and therefore, can do more to help your workouts.
However a great benefit for Casein Protein is its ability to protect your body from protein breakdown, allowing your muscles to stay at their full strength through longer stretches of time.
When to use these supplements
Let’s keep this real simple…
Whey protein is best used before, during or after a workout so that you can benefit from the quick absorption of protein, which in turn can help protein synthesis (the repairing, and therefore growth of muscle) get started right away.
Casein protein is best used during fasting times so that you can continually absorb protein to help aid in protecting muscles from catabolizing (breakdown of muscle tissue).
So in your normal everyday life it might be beneficial for you to use a Whey protein around the time of your workout.
Casein protein might be good to use as an evening “snack” to help keep protein synthesis occurring even while you are sleeping. Casein protein can also be helpful during a long day of meetings where eating will be much harder to come by.
How to use these supplements
Now you can be like our buff friend at the gym and simply mix your powder with water and shake it up OR you can make it more fun and add in other things.
For example you might want to mix your whey protein with some oats, (for carbohydrates), Greek yogurt (additional protein), peanut butter (for added fat), or add some spinach (for added veggies!)
Just be mindful if you are planning on drinking a shake with added goodies before your workout, give yourself enough time to digest! More food will require your body to digest a little longer and the last thing I want for you is to start having stomach pains while in the middle of some sets of back squat!
With Casein protein it typically requires you add more water than whey because it forms into a much thicker liquid. Because of this - you can add Casein and add about 5-6 oz of water or milk and then place it in a freezer. After 10 minutes you have yourself a nice ice cream treat!
Final showdown - what do from here
So we’ve reached the end of this comparison of both Whey and Casein protein. Now that we are here...what’s right for you?
When we boil down the benefits of both these supplements we come to one conclusion.
More protein in your day = more muscle growth = higher resting metabolic rate = higher caloric burn at rest = more fat loss.
Regardless if you choose one of these supplements, both of these, or none of these...the biggest priority is getting enough protein in your day to avoid muscle catabolism (breakdown of muscle for energy). As mentioned above, you should be hitting about 1g of protein for every pound of bodyweight.
Now if you are looking to up level your muscle growth and muscle repair, adding in a shake is probably easier than munching down an extra 8oz. chicken every day.
Drinking calories has its benefits in this regard - you will find it much easier to drink an extra 20-40g of protein rather than eating it.
Protein shakes are a great choice for those who are running around a lot and often miss meals during the day. Protein shakes are also great to give the extra edge in building and repairing muscle either through the quick absorption of Whey protein, or by spreading it out over the long term with Casein protein.
The decision to add these to your daily habits is solely up to you and your goals, how much protein are you normally getting in with meals, and how much you enjoy drinking shakes!
Remember that you don’t NEED protein shakes to progress in the gym, lose weight, or feel better. Supplementation should ALWAYS come after you’ve focused on your food.
When you have a sound nutrition foundation (eating lean protein, smart carbohydrates, quality fat, and colorful vegetables) you can then begin to dive into the next level of nutrition and fitness.
Drinking protein supplements does not solve a “bad diet” of limited vegetables, overeating, and unbalanced macronutrient split. (Seriously, this is a topic for another post! There are no magic fixes, magic pills or magic drinks. Focus on the things that have the biggest impact on your health!)
However if you do feel as though protein supplements can help you, just remember that Whey protein is fast acting , and Casein is slow acting. You’ll be able to reap the biggest benefits when you are aware and use them in this way!