By Coach Ashlynne
The best way to get protein in your diet is from food, however, it can be difficult to get enough in during the day. Protein supplements are very popular because of the convenience and because it is easy to consume either before, during, or after a workout. There is a wide variety of protein supplements but today we are going to go over whey and casein protein.
Whey and casein are protein sources derived from milk. They contain all essential amino acids which the body needs because it can’t produce them. Whey and casein are different in that whey contains a higher amount of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Casein contains a higher portion of the amino acids histidine, methionine, and phenylalanine (Wilborn).
Whey is the commonly preferred supplement because of its higher concentration of leucine which helps jumpstart muscle protein synthesis. The advantage of taking casein is that it digests slowly. In a study comparing the anabolic (building of muscle) and catabolic (breakdown of muscle) effect of whey versus casein protein in a 7-hour window, there were distinct differences. Whey resulted in a short spike of amino acids in the bloodstream and protein synthesis, while casein had a prolonged effect and resulted in 34% less muscle breakdown (Boirie).
Whey protein is most effective around workout times and/or first thing in the morning. Because whey doesn’t stay in the bloodstream for long, it is best to consume a meal with protein 20-60 minutes after your post-workout whey protein shake. Casein is optimal to take right before going to sleep because it takes longer to fully digest, promoting an anti-catabolic effect while you sleep.
When choosing a protein supplement, whey tends to mix better and is generally more cost-effective. There are protein blends that contain both so you can get the benefits of both whey and casein. If you choose to purchase both individually, whey is better timed around workouts while casein is most effective before bed. Protein powders are convenient and beneficial for building muscle but they should be treated as a supplement to a diet with protein rich foods. Protein supplementation may or may not be appropriate for you depending on your goals and how much protein you are consuming in meals. The best way to ensure you are building and maintaining muscle strength and size is in the total amount of protein you eat throughout the day.
Boirie, Y, et al. “Slow and Fast Dietary Proteins Differently Modulate Postprandial
Protein Accretion.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United
States of America, The National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 23 Dec. 1997,
Wilborn, Colin D, et al. “The Effects of Pre- and Post-Exercise Whey vs. Casein Protein Consumption on Body Composition and Performance Measures in Collegiate Female Athletes.” Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, Asist Group, 1 Mar. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3761774/.